I watched a program on TV last week that chronicled the life of a very successful restaurant owner in New York City. What I learned from him was that location is mildly important, food quality is important, but above all what makes a restaurant successful is making the customer feel good.
That concept came to mind recently when I had a cheeseburger at Little Ruby, a reasonably new café just off Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. The people there were so friendly, that I felt really good about having lunch there, and for some reason (maybe that’s it) my cheeseburger tasted remarkably delicious. So, I went back again another day and had the same thing, and felt the same way.
I took a picture of the staff, who were also having a good time serving the customers. There was Bre, Nick, Sibylla, and Tim. Because I saw Vegemite on the menu and heard an accent, my guess was they come from Australia. That is reinforced by the slogan “delicious brekkie” on the breakfast part of the menu.
Do you know the difference between a café and a diner? I didn’t, but found out there: a diner is primarily a breakfast and lunch place, usually not open for dinner. A café is usually open three meals a day, serving to middle America. Little Ruby is clearly a café, serving three meals a day. You can sit inside or outside, and maybe get an ocean view. The menu is incredibly full: a dozen breakfast entries with plates you can’t find everywhere, such as sweet corn fritters, banana bread, and ricotta hotcakes.
Lunch and dinner selections include bowls, burgers, salads, and pasta, with great sides — although everyone I saw was eating French fries.
You can get a beer, like me, a glass or bottle of wine, a good mimosa or another cocktail, organic tea, great coffee selections from their espresso machine, and one of five fresh juices (I had a fresh squeezed orange juice). Or try a smoothie like the banana and date, my favorite.
In short, for a small, narrow little restaurant, they turn out a fantastic selection of top-notch café food and drink — it’s really incredible for such a small place. And they turn it out with a really friendly attitude. They even have time for small talk!
That is, no doubt, why the place is usually pretty full, day and night, and why it gets mostly 5-star reviews on Yelp — Little Ruby gets better reviews than most of the high-priced restaurants in the neighborhood. The guy from New York is right.
109 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 9040
Phone number (424) 322-8353
I received several responses to my article on the restaurant “MEAT.” Some chastised me for not being sensitive to the way cattle are slaughtered. The company PR firm chastised me for not using the full legal name, “Meat on Ocean,” but I replied that the sign on Ocean Avenue just says MEAT. They also mentioned that the waiter that told me that the restaurant is affiliated with Santa Monica Seafood is wrong. Keep those comments coming.
Merv Hecht, like many Harvard Law School graduates, went into the wine business after law. In 1988, he began writing restaurant reviews and books. His latest book is “The Instant Wine Connoisseur, 3d edition” available on Amazon. He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and wine products internationally. Send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.