Ash Amir appears to be everything you’d want in a Santa Monica small business owner. He’s optimistic about opening his new café, Manchego, just a few weeks ago despite all the current economic upheaval. He loves his location, he’s exuberant about his Spanish-influenced menu, and he’s the kind of guy who names one of his entrees in honor of a friend. The Mirror sat down for a cup of coffee, and some olives, with this energetic and friendly new tenant at 2510 Main Street.
You’re the owner and…?
I’m the owner-owner! [LAUGHS] Basically, I just graduated last year from Cal State Northridge, business major… and I always had a dream of opening a restaurant. Because as a student, basically my source of income was always working in a restaurant. So I came up with the idea of looking for a place about a year ago and getting involved with this little spot. And I thought, “You know, I can do a concept which wouldn’t necessarily cost me a lot of money.”
A Spanish café or place…
I kind of had a vision of what I wanted to build, a café with a little different kind of atmosphere. So I opened a Spanish restaurant because four of my best friends are from Spain. Last year I went to Madrid and Malaga and checked it out. I loved the culture and I felt like, okay, that’s what I’d love to do… Spanish food. Because the people are very happy and the coffee places aren’t necessarily people going there to eat something, but more like [they’re] out for the atmosphere and having fun but there’s good quality food that you can’t find anywhere else.
There are Don Quixote pictures and names in the menu.
Don Quixote is my whole inspiration of building the place because, while they’re fictional stories, they go back to La Mancha. And La Mancha is that city that makes manchego cheese which we use in every single salad and sandwich we have. Because manchego cheese has a unique taste, and a lot of people know that and right away they can say, “It’s a Spanish place.”
All your food is Spanish inspired?
Absolutely. Everything is coming from Spain. Most of the items we use are imported from Spain. The olive oil, the tuna is coming from Spain. And we have gazpacho, and it’s approved by four or five good Spanish chefs. We’re not expensive, we’re not cheap, but we are a little different and that’s what I think is interesting about the place.
Right now we have four different manchego cheeses, from three months aged up to three years aged. It gets drier and drier. The three- year-old is like parmesan.
I know ham is very big in Spain. You see it everywhere there. A roadside place will have these large cured hams hanging on the wall.
Absolutely. One of the things that I wanted to have here was dried ham hanging on the bar wall, but with the health department here in Santa Monica we couldn’t get that approved. But we have Jamon Serrano, which is expensive but, hey, we have to have something unique. And one of the sandwiches is called “Lucas”… I don’t know if you want to put this in…
Lucas, probably my favorite sandwich that I have and, well, it’s sad but two and half months ago I lost my best friend in an accident. Lucas was his name and we knew each other from college and he has a little son.
Even your hours are Spanish-influenced.
We try to go the Spanish way with the hours. 3[p.m.] to 5[p.m.] is basically closing time for restaurants in Spain. And then from 5[p.m.] we start serving tapas. Then in the morning from 11[a.m.] to 3[p.m.] we have lunch and the sandwiches.
What made you look at Main Street Santa Monica for your business?
I used to live on Marine Street here, and that’s my favorite area in the whole– I don’t know, that’s my favorite area and I love Main Street. And that’s why I’m here [joking because he’s busy doing so many things]… 24 hours a day! But I love this area. I used to bike up and down here all the time.
Is it good or competitive that you have so many other restaurants around you here?
Very good. Because nobody has what we have, a little more Spanish and longer hours with a smaller menu. And a Spanish attitude… friendly. A café where people can go and have a little bit different feeling.
You had your plans in place, and then this thing happens to the economy. Has that been hard for you?
[LAUGHS] I believe it has touched everyone a little bit. That’s why I can calm myself down and say, “Well, it’s bad everywhere…” Yeah, it did affect a lot of prices for us, the last eight or nine months. It’s like a whole chain, rolling down, it affects everything. But the one thing we all have to do is eat. And if we can mix the pleasure of eating out with the pleasure of being together, then you have a right niche to survive.
Is it in your plans to have other cafes?
I look at it as a whole. I’ll probably focus on this and make it successful. Hopefully we duplicate it when we have the right system. But yes, expanding was one of the first five things on my list.
Manchego, 2510 Main Street, Santa Monica. 310-450-3900. Lunch salads and sandwiches from 11 to 3, with tapas beginning at 5 p.m.