How Great White Became the Quintessential Cafe for Los Angeles
By Australian standards, Great White is about as Southern Californian as it gets. Equal parts great food, airy design, and perfect light meld into a laid-back casualness that sort of defines Los Angeles.
The original location has gone from a daytime counter-service stop for flat whites and grain bowls near the beach to a full-fledged restaurant with Cali-centric offerings taking you from breakfast through dinner, a place where you can plant yourself practically from sunrise to sunset and not skip a beat. And it’s definitely something you’d expect to find near the beach.
The menu is full of morning smoothies and fresh salads, fish tacos and kale pesto pasta, wood-fired pizzas, and a pretty stellar burger. Natural and biodynamic wines — of course — join shaken turmeric lattes and margaritas. It’s a little bit of everything for any time of day, one that pulls influences from all over the globe without feeling “global.”
And it’s exactly the kind of place co-owners Sam Trude and Sam Cooper loved while growing up in Sydney, Australia, but couldn’t exactly find here in L.A.
“We really noticed a gap in the market for an all-day, fast-casual cafe that we knew at home,” Trude says. “The kind of place where great coffee bleeds into lunch with a glass of wine in the afternoon and then dinner. It’s not any particular food trend or style, just a cultural mashup, like Australia itself which is just a bunch of cultures all jammed together.”
That in itself sounds like the quintessential Southern Californian spot, even if what they were after was more restaurant than what most Americans think of as a “cafe.” They didn’t want a coffee shop with pastries, nor a 24-hour diner, or hotel dining room serving brunch and limited breakfast — L.A. has plenty of those. They wanted a bit more style and substance.
It’s a wildly successful formula. The original Great White doubled in size during the pandemic, a a second outpost opened in the Larchmont neighborhood in September, and a third will open in West Hollywood next year. Trude and Cooper also own Gran Blanco, a nighttime and weekend brunch spot under the “VENICE” sign just across from Great White.
When anyone asks Trude what kind of food they serve, he simply says, “Californian.” Because to him, that’s what this is: L.A. by way of Sydney, with a few extra stops in between. We talked to one half of the Sam duo about creating exactly the kind of place they knew people would want, and how the original beachside concept fits any neighborhood, even the most landlocked.
It’s interesting that Great White is often called an Australian cafe. Because it’s really not.
Sam Trude: We didn’t set out to create an Australian cafe. We wanted an all-day California restaurant. We adapted a lot of things from all over. You won’t see any Australian references on our menu. Why limit yourself to one particular geography? We draw from Latin American, North American, Asian Pacific. There’s so many great influences that permeate our design to our menu.
That sounds more like the quintessential California cafe, especially right now. What does that mean to you?
I think it’s a combination of all of it — interesting decor and architecture, great food and drinks, the music, even our uniforms, which are done with cool collaborations with different streetwear companies. None of it is Australian at all. The cultures between there and here are very similar in the sense we have the same weather. We share the Pacific. Our lifestyles are similar, laid-back, health conscious. But with Great White, we bridged the gap between fast casual and full service. One sounds too formal, one sounds too casual. It’s really California casual.
Funny that so many Australian places opened here in the last five years, like the chain from NYC, Bluestone Lane. When there’s a proliferation like that, how do you stand out?
We didn’t push the Australian angle. Some people might say this reminds me of an Australian cafe in that it’s sort of global. We felt like we didn’t need to limit ourselves. There’s no Vegemite on the menu, for instance. Doesn’t mean you won’t get it if you ask for it (laughs). There’s probably some in the kitchen.
The menu has a bit of everything, falafel, ceviche, pizzas. But there are some subtle seasonal changes. Is that all your chef?
It’s a part of the Southern California experience, isn’t it? To ignore the produce here would be at your own peril. We change our menus seasonally. As we open new locations, we’re really cognizant of that. Each menu will have its own farmers market directing it. We get almost all of our produce from the Larchmont market for that location, and Santa Monica for Venice.
We do have an executive chef, Juan Ferriero. He’s young, only 25, from Chile. He worked at Per Se and with Francis Mallmann. We sort of do the creative process together. We all look at style trends, look forward to seasonality and produce. We pull out books, go to restaurants. We bring in consultants, too. For instance, the last six months we’ve been working with Matt Armistead, who was at Soho House. We bring him here for a week every three months or so, and he assists us in the creative process.
How did you weather the pandemic rough patches? You were already counter service, so that must’ve been easier.
We shifted quickly at the beginning of the pandemic with takeout, selling pantry items, doing family meals, etc. That was a natural shift for us, because we were already doing takeout options. But we expanded into the space next door during the height of it, and that was challenging. When we were allowed to open up, we almost had this whole new thing, a whole new restaurant. We had pizza, dinner, and drinks. Coming out of it, people were so bullish to get out, it really helped catapult this new concept to success. We were also in the middle of building Larchmont, and we were a quarter of the way through and had to stop. But we picked that back up and just recently opened.
With the Larchmont and West Hollywood locations, you’re moving a very beach-centric cafe to the heart of the city. How is that working out?
Every location we do, we try to give the decor its own feel specific to that market. Larchmont is a little more grown up. The finishes are a little more thoughtful and refined. I think for that demographic and market, it fits better. Larchmont is such a great neighborhood. One of the best walkable neighborhoods, a captive audience, creative young artists there. A great community. I felt like we’d do well being we’re casual and all day. That street is pretty underserved, too. I think we really filled a bit of a gap. People are just loving it. In West Hollywood, we’ll be right next to Gracias Madre. Couldn’t ask for a better location.
How does Gran Blanco differ from Great White?
Gran Blanco is a small-plate, bar-focused restaurant. It’s dinner only plus weekend brunch. The service is more refined. It’s always been more of a traditional kind of restaurant. That sort of happened in 2019, about a year before the pandemic. It was an optimistic thing for us. The landlord offered us the space, and it’s such a beautiful building. The area needed something like that. We feel like we crossed that border between a bar and a restaurant. We always took reservations. Of course we do at Great White now, too.
Do you see either concept working in other cities, even outside of California?
I think it would work in other parts of California, for sure. There’s just so much opportunity here, and we’d be crazy to reach too far so you can’t control it. I think there are a lot more Australian cafes in New York than L.A., to tell you the truth.
The big question: What’s with the name?
The shark really spoke to us. When we were talking about this idea, we thought, what’s something you can tie Australia and California together, something ocean-related, something about the Pacific. A great white shark is what we came up with. Sam was sketching this little head with the teeth, it was cute and fun. And as we continued to develop the concept more, we kept coming back to this little shark. We thought the place needed to be cute but serious and playful. That’s what we stuck with. We’d send it off to designers, and they sent back something that was so off the mark. It’s a serious animal, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. It’s lighthearted. It works!
Lesley Balla writes about restaurants, travel, and wine from the West Coast. Her work can be found in Los Angeles magazine, Angeleno, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Seattle Times. In a previous life she was the L.A. editor for Zagat and Eater. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.
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