JL: Who specifically has been a mentor to you, and in what ways?
AC: There are a few people. When I worked at Castagna, Justin Woodward and Matt Lightner were very influential to me, but I didn’t know it yet. I was still a young kid. I had my own ego and I was like, “Oh, man, I’m on the fast track to doing something amazing. I’m ready to bypass everything.” They taught me the discipline and hard work it takes to do high level food with low labor. We were literally working for hours. I would leave there at 2 in the morning and show up at 8 a.m. It was for free. I wanted to do that, and I learned so much about discipline from them.
Then I moved to Ten 01 with Michael Hannigan and Colin Stafford, who was actually my biggest mentor in terms of being a chef, taking the time and always having a sharp knife, working small, neatly labeling things, throwing things away that need to be thrown away, keeping a clean refrigerator. All that stuff, I learned at Ten 01.
When I moved back to L.A., I learned how to work really fast, at high volume, with David LeFevre [at M.B. Post]. He knows how to run a restaurant. Off the bat, we were doing 400 covers a night. I was coming from Portland, where a 400-cover night is never heard of. You can’t find 400 people to show up to your restaurant in one night, unless you’re Pine State Biscuits or Toro Bravo. In fine dining, we were doing 125 covers, 150 covers. Then I came here and totally saw the big city life… It was nuts, which was great, because it helped me to do Eggslut. When we started to hit volume at Eggslut, I knew exactly what to do because I learned it at M.B. Post. Learning from the mentors, and them being as successful as they were, helped me be who I am today.
JL: Why did you decide to focus on egg dishes with Eggslut, and why on a truck?
AC: In Portland, I was coming off a time where everybody was putting eggs on things. It’s still like that in Portland. Everyone loves eggs, because everybody has chickens in their backyard. I came over here. I had to rush to work to M.B. Post in the morning, stuff in traffic and saying, “Crap, I have to buy something to eat because if I don’t eat now, I eat until 2 in the morning the next day.” I’d run in and get a croissant somewhere, and that wasn’t enough. I was like, “That’s weird. L.A. doesn’t have anything fast, where you can get a breakfast sandwich.” … Towards the end of my stint at M.B. Post, I had this really cool truck. I bought this truck a really long time ago. It had a lot of value. “What if I traded it in and put a down payment on a food truck to lease? Then get a cheaper car.” I did it. The truck had no concept yet. I was going to do a burger place. Then I went to a food truck round-up, and everyone did burgers. I was driving to Santa Monica with my brother [Anthony Cailan]. We’d just had a waffle, and I was like, “There’s no one that does breakfast sandwiches.” … I text my cousin Jeff [Vales] who runs Eggslut right now, and said, “What do you think of the word Eggslut? He put, “WTF.” “Design that out and show me what you can do.” He’s a graphic designer by trade. He came up with a real simple font. There wasn’t an egg on it yet, just Eggslut… I had it pasted on the truck on Monday, and I had a menu by that Wednesday. Thursday night we launched it in Little Tokyo in front of a bail bonds place on 1st & Central.
JL: What do you remember about that first night?
AC: It was nuts. It was all family and friends. “Okay, let’s go drive to a nightclub.” We drove over to the Echoplex and immediately, police were like, “You can’t park here.” Okay, we’re going to go through this a lot. We went through the whole Wilshire thing, in front of Museum Row, and it wasn’t sustainable, so I reached out to a couple coffee places… We parked in front of Intelligentsia, because I knew someone over there [Justin Lacher]… We parked there for three weeks, then we got kicked out. Café Stella’s there. Kokomo 2, K2, was there. There was a lot of competition, and we were doing unreal numbers. It was like Christmas every day. They said, “You have to leave,” so we moved across the street, right in front of Intelligentsia, but on the other side of the street, because it gave us enough legal distance to be away from them, and people wouldn’t walk across the street. We dropped 75% in sales purely because we were 100 steps away. I ended up talking to Coffee Commissary. We did our operations there for two years, Hart & The Hunter for another year, and then did weekends downtown at Handsome Coffee. We became a coffee and eggs kind of thing. It was great.
JL: Would you ever do another food truck?