“Restaurant owners are not cool,” grins Akira Akuto, one of the two chefs at Osso. “Let’s be clear about that – we’re not cool!” laughs Nick Montgomery, his longtime friend and the kitchen’s other half. Akuto just joined Montgomery, Ami Lourie, and the team in October and with twice the brain space now inhabiting Osso’s kitchen, the menu will inevitably evolve, though only slowly at first.
“We’ll keep testing stuff, tearing it apart on our end and then put it on the menu,” says Akuto. “We’re not gonna’ serve something that we’re not sure is as good as we’re capable of making it,” Montgomery adds, because “everything that is on the menu is a representation of ourselves and who we are.” Based on the fried-chicken, seared squid, and gnocchi – these are great men.
Their spacious, stripped-back interior is unique; capturing the subtleties of North Africa’s Bohemian & Mediterranean polish, without trespassing into the kitsch that so frequently dogs such an attempt. The team didn’t throw money at their space to create the relaxed and unassertive Arabian Nights atmosphere though. They came in and worked — morning until night — and made it what it is. Maybe that’s why the space feels authentic, and why their next iteration will follow the same initial contours.
Lourie, a partner at Osso, endeavors for perfection, but understands it is unattainable, especially given the living wage model with which they are operating. The model, which does not give guests the option to tip, but instead includes a service fee, allows Osso to pay all of its employees at least $15 per hour. It is intended to facilitate an environment where the business doesn’t have to adjust to the diffi culties that will arise as LA’s minimum wage rises over the next five years.
A $13 per hour minimum is only two years away, and within the existing economic and culinary climate there are very few, if any, traditional restaurant models that can possibly survive far beyond it. Osso’s model provides a platform where they can remain profi table – though perhaps only minimally so – throughout the changes.
There is so much liability in the restaurant industry though. Many owners are waiting, unsure of what move, if any, to make. “We had the luxury of making a choice,” says Lourie, though the team had already decided on a living wage before Mayor Garcetti signed the wage ordinance in June. “It’s an opportunity to do something we already felt was right,” says Montogmery. “We’re proud to be on what we think is the right side of history,” Lourie agrees. “[The wage rise] is a good thing, so let’s fi gure out how to make it work rather than fi gure out how to get around it when it comes.”
Restaurants don’t make money — they create culture. They simply don’t have capital leverage that is comparable to hotels and bigger businesses, but by the time the minimum wage is raised to $15/hour by 2020, Osso will have already fi gured out how to operate there and be poised to take advantage of the changing climate.