Location: 320 Sunset Ave, Venice, CA 90291. (310) 314-0320
Date: July 17, 2017
Cuisine: American Deli
Rating: Good food, anoying format
A few minor reservations aside, I’ve loved Gjelina since it opened. It helped pioneer the wood communal table, paper menu, 21st century LA thing. And the food is very tasty. For some reason it took me a while to try Gjusta and I’m going to use this review as an opportunity to snark on even newer restaurant trends. IMHO most of these are driven by rising labor costs and Gjusta is working to optimize their business — but I believe it makes the overall experience far inferior.
Nothing wrong with the Gjusta shabby chic decor. It could use some parking (it’s got like zilch) but that is a Venice hazard.Inside is basically a deli.But not exactly with deli food. First time in the “system” was completely incomprehnsible. I had no idea what to do. Took 5 minutes to discover the old fashioned “take a number” machine.As a deli should, they have smoked fishes and the likes on their very baroque menu.Pizza like “flat breads” too — too bad I hate pizza that isn’t right out of the oven.There are a lot of stations. But none really serve to help you (the customer). It’s crowded and people are eating wherever they can. Counter, leaning against the wall, outside, patio. It was kinda odd.See. Doesn’t look like the most comfortable spot to eat does it? See any silverware? Napkins? god forbid a chair?The kitchen is large, however, and bustling.The patio playing at being attractive. It was very crowded and we had to camp tables, leaning over the previous guests to make them uncomfortable.This, of course, meant that we had to sit with their dirty dishes for 10 minutes until the table got bussed. Oh, and had to get our own silverware, and our own water, and all that. Who needs servers when you can do it all yourself?The menu.Ice Tea. Of course I had to go hover by the drink dispensary area inside (after setting my own table) to get this.Same with my cappuccino. But it was a good cappuccino at least!Some sour dough.An empanada. Fine, nice buttery crust, but it was still just an empanada. I did like the pickles though.Whole grain waffles. Would have been better less whole grain. Certainly onm the plain side.Falafel plate. The chef likes pickles. This is like all the ingredients — but where is the pita? How do you eat it?Smoked Brisket Banh Mi. Baguette, smoked brisket, pickled daikon-carrot-cucumber, cilantro, chili dressing, garlic aioli. Not bad. More pickles. I’ve had better Banh Mi, and it was $15.
The food at Gjusta is fine. I’ll have to go back and try some more items. It’s a weird menu, and not one I will necessarily drive 20 minutes for or struggle with parking for.
The problem is the experience. I wanted to sit with my people and talk and eat. Instead I had to find parking, wait in line to order, camp for a table, find the silverware, find the water, find and wait at the drink area. By then — 10 minutes later — the food had arrived and we ate it and left. Which is precisely the intended point, as I shall explain.
Gjusta undoubtedly pays some high rent (Abbot Kinney is a very pricey area these days). And they have a good number of employees – who are simultaneously underpaid for the work they do absolutely, probably relatively well compensated by Gjusta (who is reportedly a decent employer) compared to other restaurants, and way too expensive given the price of the food. But wait you say, don’t they charge $15 for a small sandwich? True. But it’s also a labor intensive operation (fairly artisanal) and the food isn’t absolutely pricey so the per person cover averages are probably in the teens ($15-20 maybe?). It’s not a booze driven format either to drive up revenues. It’s also designed to be crowded, after all being the 3rd joint by the Gjelina team. And the limited (and inconvenient) seating helps determine throughput.
If they had normal waiter service, not only would they need more employees, but the customers would seat, figure out what they want to order, wait for it to come, then eat, then wait for the check etc. Maybe 50% eating time. By selling at the counter people seat more or less when they have their food and because they have already paid are — laptop users aside — more likely to get up right away. Perhaps 80-90% eating time! More throughput. Plus, while Gjusta has bussers to bring the food out (but somehow not the drinks) and clear tables, they just don’t have waiters. Nor, at least when it’s busy, do bussers seem to set tables.
The customers do.
So the experience is very different. I can’t imagine coming here with more than 2 people. And even so, you have to spend a good chunk of your time “working” before you can relax and eat. And unlikely a more streamlined (and sometimes equally annoying straight up fast casual like the wretched Chipotle), it isn’t necessarily much faster than a casual sit down. Maybe a bit. Certainly if it wasn’t crowded. I could imagine coming here by myself or maybe with one co-worker or something like that. But sandwich prices are somewhere between $0 and $1 cheaper than Gjelina, so if I had the time, I’d just go there.
Hmmm. But it seems crowded. Maybe Millennials don’t mind. And/or maybe the restaurant has to do this to make real money. I tried fast table service with cheap food at Ramen Roll and the labor costs ate us alive and put us out of business. Go figure.