Few cultures have mastered the art of respect as well as the Japanese over the millennia, so it should come as no surprise that one of the culinary world’s most respectful phrases, Omakase, was borrowed from the heart of Japanese culture.
Omakase (pronounced oh-mah-ka-see) simply means “I’ll leave it up to you.” The Japanese phrase has become de rigueur at sushi bars, leaving the selection entirely up to the chef. Restaurateur Adam Fleischman recognized early on that this sentiment translates across culinary cultural lines.
Umami is known as the fifth unique taste (the other four being sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). At Umami Burger, the goal is to create singularly distinct creations (such as the innovative and wildly popular Truffle Burger) that are not open to alteration requests. For Fleischman and his team, Omakase has come to mean “trust us.”
Sitting in an Umami booth at The Grove – 1 of 20 California locations for the craveable comfort delicacy, Fleischman describes the success of Umami Burger as proof positive of his devout faith in his palette and an unwavering understanding that he could indeed succeed in spite of no formal culinary training to draw from.
After almost a decade in Los Angeles working originally as a writer, then in finance, then in wine, Fleischman sold his stake in BottleRock, a Culver City wine bar. With newfound freedom and enough financial means to do something with that freedom, Fleischman traversed Los Angeles restaurants and markets, gathering ingredients that, prior to Umami, would never have found their way into the same sentence as “burger.”
It would take two months and umpteen tastings, but ultimately, after perfecting the patty, the cheese, and the bun (one by one), Fleischman struck gold.
The first Umami Burger opened on La Brea in February 2009; today there are 24 locations across the country with global opportunities knocking on the door. “We get calls from Paris and London, asking us to open there all the time,” Fleischman states in a matter-of-fact tone.
Shortly thereafter, Fleischman began to apply his ideas to other styles, bringing in chefs of great repute to help him realize his vision. In 2012, he co-founded 800 Degrees Pizza with Anthony Carron (of the Michael Mina talent tree) under the Umami Restaurant Group umbrella, further demonstrating that his passion for the fast-casual, high-quality meal garnered results.
Having built Umami Restaurant Group to a certain level of success, Fleischman was able to relinquish his post as CEO, redirecting his energies to new pursuits – and menus.
Founder, Umami Restaurant Group and AdVantage Restaurant Partners
Education B.A., University of Maryland
Family 2 kids, ages 4 and 7
Umami Restaurant Group
HQ Los Angeles
Umami Burger 24 locations in four states
800 Degrees Pizza 6 locations in CA and NV
Enter AdVantage Restaurant Partners. Founded by Fleischman along with attorney and friend Lee Weinberg in 2013, the culinary venture group affords Fleischman creativity without burden. Since its founding, ARP has partnered with unique brands, helping to open their doors and allowing each to become established in the ever-fickle predilections of LA restaurant-goers.
Of the established brands in play thus far, Fleischman admits that Fat Noodle has the biggest upside. The fast-casual concept, envisioned by Chef Josh Skenes (of Saison in San Francisco), was suggested by Skenes when Fleischman was dining with Carron at Saison.
“There are only eight or nine 3-star [Michelin] chefs in the U.S. and [Skenes] is the youngest,” Fleischman proclaims, adding that “this will be best thing I’ve done; it has the best chef and the concept is focused and authentic and it hits all the best notes.” His passion for the brand is inconcealable. The experience he’s had working with Skenes has been overwhelmingly positive. “We gave him full creative control of the menu and he is open to collaborations,” Fleischman says, “giving us a good level of trust.”
Shedding some light on the role ARP will be playing, Fleischman explains, “we have say in everything … in terms of how much work is actually being done, we will have to babysit certain brands more than others.” Not surprisingly, he mentions that Fat Noodle will require plenty of hands-on support. “With Fat Noodle, even though we have the best chef, it will require a lot of work, because it will grow a lot,” he says. “There will be a lot of business, which is where Lee and I come in.”
Accompanying Fleischman’s success has been a steady trajectory of increased notoriety as he joins the ranks of accomplished chefs and restaurateurs around the globe. By surrounding himself with like-minded individuals such as José Andres (Minibar, Bazaar), Albert Adria (El Bulli, Tickets), and Frederik Burselies (Aska), Fleischman’s opinion has become seasoned to the point of holding exceptional merit.
As the conversation turns to the growth in high-concept, fast-casual dining, Fleischman notes, “People are eating out more, but more casually. Chefs known for fine dining want to get into the casual space.” He cites Andres, who has previously related that “in the fast-casual space you can feed more people and touch more people with your food … you can serve 800 people a day rather than 100 or 200.”
Though much of the afternoon is spent discussing 800 Degrees in Chicago and Umami Burger in Asia, picking his brain with regard to the region’s culinary strengths and weaknesses seemed necessary. He explains that San Francisco does French better and New York City does Italian better, mentioning that Los Angeles does plenty well – Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Mexican specifically. “I’ve been living here for 15 years and seen much of [the food scene] it change; I wasn’t focused on what it needed until AdVantage,” Fleischman says. “Though it is not all about needs, it is about what we want to do.”
With a second Choco Chicken coming and a new brand – Tacoteca – slated to debut in Santa Monica, the aroma of Fleischman’s creations will permeate all corners of the LA region in 2015. Your taste buds are in Adam’s hands. Omakase.
Have to Try ChocoCombo – fried chocolate chicken, sides, cornbread
Location 403 West 12th St., Los Angeles (Santa Monica location opens in 2015)
Opened April 2014
Have to Try The Big Daddy – Pulled pork topped with crispy pork belly bacon, tater tots, cheese sauce and spicy aioli
Location 1146 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
The Buzz Hand-pulled noodles and the cuisine of the Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces of Western China
Location 92 Second St., San Francisco
Have to Try Braves Trencades, fried potatoes, serrano ham, chorizo, fried egg
Location 7274 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles
Opened May 2014
The Buzz Emphasis on indigenous Mexican flavors, like tejuino, pulque, and tepache
Location 2460 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica
Opening Early 2015