Isla has found its forever home. After a month of pop-ups, the new restaurant from Crudo e Nudo chef Brian Bornemann and designer Leena Culhane will move into the Santa Monica space currently occupied by Little Prince, located just a few blocks north on Main Street. With a focus on wood-fired seafood and fowl, Isla will operate with a different service model than Crudo e Nudo, the tiny sidewalk raw bar that first put Bornemann and Culhane on the map.
The plan is to open Isla on March 29 in partnership with Little Prince’s current owner-operator Shane Murphy, after a quick design overhaul that includes pulling out a pandemic-era bottle shop wall and restoring 20 seats in that space. The trio will keep 30 parklet seats, despite Santa Monica’s controversial outdoor dining fees, for a total of 80 seats, including a full bar.
The new Isla will replace Little Prince’s existing menu and will run from noon to 11 p.m. featuring the greatest hits from its pop-ups. There will be an assortment of skewers, pasture-raised birds, sustainable local seafood, charcuterie, and lots of grilled vegetables. And while Crudo serves only wine, Little Prince has a full liquor license, which means cocktails will accompany the food.
While dinner will be full service, the rest of the time Isla will be far more casual, meant “for more people to be able to drop in and have something to eat whenever they want. This isn’t an omakase or an 18-course tasting menu,” says Bornemann, who plans to offer a five-course tasting menu in addition to a la carte. “We want to serve all day long.”
Isla will be open five days a week at first — closed Monday and Tuesday like much of Main Street, with pop-ups from Malli and Little Fish filling in on those two nights. Weekend brunch service will run from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a drinks-only interlude until dinner service begins at 5:30 p.m. Not for long, though: expect seven-day service within two months of opening (or three, says the more cautious Murphy).
Bornemann, Culhane, and Murphy hope to work collaboratively to define a sustainable business model, one whose operations are as responsible as the food it serves. The all-day menu gives people in the neighborhood a resource for a quick lunchtime meal, while also opening a larger profit window for the restaurant. “It’s so hard to survive on dinner alone,” says Bornemann. More hours improve work culture as well, making it easier to offer employees a four-day week.
There was no talk of looking for a giant developer or big-money partner. Prior to meeting with Murphy at Little Prince, the Crudo e Nudo team had dissolved an agreement with the owners of nearby Chez Tex due to operational differences. Murphy, who is a hospitality real estate consultant, has worked on big projects like Vespertine, but says the trio is “in alignment” on wanting a smaller, like-minded group to be in charge of Isla’s future.
He and Bornemann have been friends for years — Crudo’s final pre-opening pop-up, two years ago, was at Little Prince — and Murphy had been helping to look for a home for Isla when suddenly the lightbulb went off. “We could do it together,” says Bornemann, “without being tied to a big real estate group, who just want attractive restaurants to enhance the value of their property.”
After five years and a pandemic reboot at Little Prince, including the addition of a wine bottle shop, Murphy was eager to step back from some of his day-to-day responsibilities, so the timing made sense. Better still (and on a much more practical level), a crossover population of regulars from both Crudo and Little Prince should provide an initial base of support for Isla when it opens in March at 2424 Main Street in Santa Monica. “It might be an overused phrase,” says Bornemann, “But it’s true. Our restaurants are about community. We like being local.”