Q & A with Adam Fleischman of Umami Burger, Part 2: the Drawbacks of Standardization, a Certain Controversy + Umami Universality
photo courtesy of Adam Fleischman Adam Fleischman
In the first part of our interview with Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman, he discussed Umami's origin -- which coincided with L.A.'s burger mania -- how Umami Burger's going national won't change its identity, and why In-N-Out can claim real umami street cred. In the second part, Fleischman talks about tailoring each Umami to its own neighborhood, the downside of standardization, l'affaire Red Medicine vs. Virbila, and the universal appeal of umami as an overall idea and experience. And check back later for a recipe.
Squid Ink: What about the design aspect of your restaurants? Do you go by neighborhood feel?
Adam Fleischman: Yeah, we go by neighborhood feel. We usually hire a different designer for each one, we kind of tailor them. We do different things. With the Valley we wanted it to be more posh. We play around with it and have fun with it, so each one has its own identity and its own feel based on the neighborhood.
SI: But the prices don't change?
AF: The prices don't change. The menus are 80% the same, and about 20% latitude. And the alcohol is all different. None of them have the same alcohol or bar program. The one in the Valley has a full bar, the one in Los Feliz has beer. Which makes it more fun for me not to standardize. To me standardization is overrated. The Baja Freshes and Boston Markets are failing and that's one of the reasons I think they are, because they just weren't exciting to people. You have to let your chefs have some experimentation in the kitchen.
SI: How do you go about finding people who you think can execute that vision?
AF: It's tough. It's usually word of mouth. Most of the kitchen staff has been with us since the beginning, so we keep the same people, and add new people that they train. The same crew opens each Umami.
SI: And how will you do that when you expand to other cities?
AF: We'll send them also, or we'll ship the people here to L.A. for training. In Northern California which we're doing now, I think we'll go there.
SI: And how about your process for finding investors?
AF: It was friends and family for the first five, and now we're raising eight figures.
SI: Is this something you're doing on your own, or do you have people advising you?
AF: All on my own. Well, I have a legal team that's advising me.
SI: So you've been traveling up to San Francisco a lot? Is it a totally different real estate culture?