Photos by CJ Parel
Chris Alfaro co-founded The Crosby in Orange County, California four-years-ago. It’s basically what we’d hope to open if we had our shit together and sacked everything in to set up a proper venue. I’ve already slung props here and sneaked peaked some tasters here. And as promised we caught up with producer, DJ and restauranteur Chris Alfaro aka Free The Robots to chat more ahead of their guest column for On Plate. If you ever find yourself in Southern California, however far away from Orange County you are. Trust me, take the drive.
Terence Teh: Can you introduce the current team at The Crosby?
Chris Alfaro: Marc Yamaoka, Phil Nisco and myself are the three original owners and operators. Head chef Aron Habiger, and Sous Chef Linh Nguyen design the menu and leading the operations in the kitchen. Also, general manager, Dante Parel who runs the front of the house (food and bar service) and designs the bar menu.
TT: Four years ago, how did you go from working in a gallery to opening up your own bar and restaurant!
Chris Alfaro: Phil and I were working at the Subject Matter gallery and it was like a dream job. It was the one spot in the area that was actually interesting, and became the building ground for a collective group of like-minded folks sparking collaborations in art, design, music, life.. (including Marc, chefs Aron and Linh and our manager Dante). The downfall was the rising problems with upper management which got us to a point where we had to move on, and do something for ourselves.
Our Ideas and efforts to keep the place going were always shot down, so our company moral did the same. We saw the end so we just said fuck it, time for our next move. A daily journal started between Phil and I, for the random stupid ideas we would come up with, and we used the gallery as the meeting spot. If Phil was working, I would come in on my day off, to talk shop, and vice-versa. A lot of it was messing around on MySpace, while skateboarding around the shop, enjoying during / after work cocktails.
TT: Was it always the idea to open in Orange County?
Chris Alfaro: As odd as that seems, yes. Though OC may not be the cultural center of Southern California, it does have many people frustrated enough to make the drive to LA every week to find something different. Before The Crosby opened, that was Phil, myself, and all the other random friends from home we would always see. We figured, why not just build something in the local area for people like us and finally kick start something proper. Their were a few spots in OC that we would frequent, and as long as their was a community, we knew we could contribute to the building of it in our own way.
TT: Did you always know that the food had to be a priority too?
Chris Alfaro: Yes, but not to the degree of what The Crosby has grown in to. It really started out as a small theatre that would play old films, serve gourmet grilled cheese, beer & wine, and would have a, front of the house, shop that would pretty much sell everything we were into, from books, toys, weird things and records. We were young, and blindly ambitious. We knew what we liked, but didn’t know exactly what was possible.
TT: Can you tell us about your chef?
Chris Alfaro: Chef Habiger is an extremely impulsive guy who’s pretty much in his own world. We let him do his thing, creatively, and he delivers constantly exceeding expectation. He’s also kind of a madman. If you spend five minutes in the kitchen with him and the team, it’s like war, and you can’t help but turn into a madman yourself.
TT: Didn’t you meet him straight out of culinary school?
Chris Alfaro: I met Chef Aron before his plan to go to culinary school. It was actually during the gallery days, while I was DJing the Agenda Tradeshow in LA. Those weekends are long and boring so naturally, quick friendships build with people who had to endure the same pain. We talked music, parted ways, and three months later I saw him on the street next to where I was living in OC. It turned out he lived two blocks away from me. His pad was my new spot for random family BBQs and cocktails; he would always be cooking something.
TT: What’s a sample menu at The Crosby these days?
Chris Alfaro: Just a couple of my favorites from the current chef specials include the Duck Breast with sourdough toast, frisée, fontina fondue, tomato jam and duck chicharrones and the Loup De Mer with asparagus, spinach puree, white balsamic, grapefruit gel and salsify.
TT: I remember you going from insane pizzas to full on crazy chef specials, can you tell us about that and what was your favourite pizza topping from back in day?
Chris Alfaro: We started as a simple food concept to ease in to the business, but what we were really doing was holding the chefs back. They were too talented, and it showed when they started experimenting with specials they would make these limited, off the wall, dishes that would go out, and people would be questioning “Whats that?!” It really caught on, and the specials were starting to out sell our regular menu. As for pizza topping in those days, the fruit pizza was top choice.
TT: You guys still addicted to Sriracha? Where ya’ll rooster tattoos?!
Chris Alfaro: Might was well hook it into our veins by now. Definitely still working on the roostaats.
TT: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned over the past four years?
Chris Alfaro: My partners and I have learned so much going into this… Getting over the fear of failure, the importance of team work and playing your own role, the struggle, the hustle, appreciation, staying humble… every week is like going to battle, getting battered, bruised up and starting all over again. But it’s like family, and we love it.
TT: What’s next?
Chris Alfaro: We are currently working another restaurant which is a bit like part of the original concept. Stay tuned for ‘The Grilled Cheese Spot!’
by Terence Teh