CITYWIDE — Less than 10 years ago, Josh Loeb was making dinners for friends in his parent’s Santa Monica home. He’d never met Zoe Nathan, and the city had fewer renowned restaurants.
Last month, Nathan and Loeb had their second child and opened their sixth eatery (four in Santa Monica) with two more on the way (eateries, not children).
The foodies behind Rustic Canyon, Milo and Olive, Huckleberry, and Sweet Rose Creamery are deeply rooted in the city by the sea. They grew up less than two miles from each other on the north side of town.
“My brother is the same age as Zoe,” Loeb said. “He went to Crossroads and she went to Windward so they had same mutual friends but I had never met her.”
When they left Santa Monica they seemed to unknowingly follow one another to cities, never crossing paths. He went to school at Berkeley, then moved to New York and Vermont. She went to school in Vermont and then moved to New York and San Francisco.
It wasn’t until after Loeb opened Rustic Canyon in 2006 that fate — or rather mothers — brought them together.
“We were introduced by our moms,” he said. “It was a set-up.”
Nathan, a pastry chef, came to work for Rustic Canyon and soon after they were married. It was her work with breads, Loeb said, that sparked their next set of restaurants. They started doing brunches at Rustic Canyon and people would line up before they opened. Nathan would get to the restaurant at 1 a.m. to start baking.
She suggested that they open another place that would make bread and desserts the star of the show. Huckleberry Cafe was born in 2009 and took off from the beginning.
“I think all along her goal was to have one place that was just her shop and my goal was to open a bunch of places that really complement each other,” Loeb said. “We both kind of learned to support each other. She knows I want to open places so she finds her role in opening them and I support her in having Huckleberry be the best that it can be.”
After Huckleberry, Loeb’s dream of expanding took off. They opened the first Sweet Rose Creamery, an ice cream shop, in May of 2010. When Nathan got pregnant with their first child, Milo, they decided to take a month and visit Barcelona with plans of getting bored and not working.
“And of course our minds started racing as soon as we got away,” Loeb said. “Huckleberry was too tight to be able to do all the bread we wanted to do. Bread takes up so much space. We thought we should find a wholesale bakery somewhere, with a little front. We’ll make all of our breads.”
They felt like Santa Monica was lacking good pizza options. Milo and Olive opened in 2011 and, once again, reviews were glowing.
“They’ve really taken Santa Monica and if they see that it’s missing anything great they bring that here,” said Erin Eastland, a Santa Monica resident who’s been working as the couple’s chef for the past seven months. “They really nailed what Santa Monica needed.”
Eastland has been working in the food industry for the past 18 years and she said that the environment at the restaurant is different from anywhere else she’s worked.
“There are a lot of ‘this is why I love my job’ moments,” she said.
Since then Loeb and Nathan opened two more Sweet Rose Creameries.
Last year they thought it might be time to take a break with the expansion but they couldn’t help themselves. An old acquaintance took them on a tour of an old building on the corner of on Seventh Street at Arizona Avenue and soon they were having that familiar conversation about what Santa Monica lacks. This time? Asian-fusion.
“There’s some good sushi around here but not a lot of any other kind of Asian food,” Loeb said.
They hope to open a Southeast Asian joint and a wine bar in the building by the end of the year.
Their plate is full right now, Loeb said, and they don’t have plans for any expansion. But they’ve said that before.
“I always used to say I would do 10 restaurants in 10 years,” Loeb said. “It’s pretty close and Zoe always kicked me in the leg for saying that. I’m confident that when it feels like it’s done I’ll know it. Some years we’ll take a break from expansion and refine what’s already open. So it’s a constant process: expand, refine, expand, refine.”