CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — Chris Garza, his co-manager and the main chef at the newly opened Flat Rock grew up in the Bay Area and have been friends since they were teens. But they took very different paths to get to Cardiff.
After graduating high school, they went their separate ways, working their way up the ladder in different parts of the restaurant industry. It just so happened the stars aligned and they were able to reunite for a restaurant of their own vision.
“The food, the décor — those are all us,” Garza said. “This is the first time we’ve each been able to make something all our own.”
Garza said they’re eager to share their menu, and they’ll have the chance to reach a wider audience as the newest restaurant competing in the annual Taste of Cardiff competition May 16 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in downtown Cardiff. At the event, they’ll serve up bit-sized samples of their toffee sandwich and pastrami slider. The dissimilar dishes are a glimpse of the restaurant’s larger goal: appeal to all senses with fare drawing from a variety of cultures.
On a related noted, Flat Rock aims to occupy the space between self-serve and upscale restaurants.
“There’s a huge disparity between what’s in the local dining market,” Garza said. “You have your self-serve places with great food. And then there’s fine dining that’s good as well. Our food is a bit more in the upscale range but everything else is very casual — sandy feet to sandy chic.”
Garza, who oversaw the openings of restaurants in Los Angeles, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach for a couple of years, said he’s looking forward to laying down roots in Cardiff.
“I jumped around — I’m looking forward to making this a long-term, sustainable restaurant,” Garza said. “I want to be living in the neighborhood and cooking good food for the next 10 years.”
He acknowledged that building Flat Rock into a successful business will be no easy task. The spot, which last hosted Kooks Café, has changed hands several times in the past five years.
Backed by an investor, Garza and his co-manager bought the space in March. They began remodeling soon after, opening only a month a later. So far, he said the reception has been positive.
“In only a month or so, we’re starting to get repeat customers,” Garza said. “We’re coming in humbly — having regulars stop by is amazing.”
And he sees the momentum continuing, in part because of a beer and wine license.
“We’re hoping our application for a beer and wine license is approved in the next month,” Garza said. “Our dishes would pair very, very well with certain kinds of beer and wine.”
Drawing from different backgrounds, Garza said each of his friends brings something different to the table.
“I’m more of the front-house operations,” Garza said. “My co-manager handles a lot of the back end by covering the financial information. And then our chef, of course, handles the cooking.”
“From high school to now, it’s funny that it all came together like this,” Garza said.
Josh Perkins, the executive chef, concurred.
He has leant his hand to menus at restaurants across California. But he said living in Cardiff and developing a menu all on his own is “the chance of a lifetime.”
“It’s helped me grow as a chef,” Perkins said.
In regards to Taste of Cardiff, Colin Franke, the co-manager, said that being the new kid on the block certainly has its challenges, because the restaurant has to make a good impression with a small sample of its fare. But he’s confident the event will be a nice introduction for those who have yet to try Flat Rock.
“We think we’re a good fit for the community; we want to show that,” Franke said.
Currently, Flat Rock serves lunch and dinner every day, and also breakfast on weekends.