Croft Alley is a fairly new restaurant, tucked away shoulder-to-shoulder with an alley opening in the storied Melrose Place district of West Hollywood. Although they haven’t even reached their one-year anniversary (a few weeks away), they’ve already achieved praise from the Wall Street Journal, Living Out Loud LA, Urban Daddy, La Eater, and countless LA chatter to name a few.
When building the business, resident chef Phuong Tran’s gifted eye for food quickly translated into creating the feel for the restaurant. As he puts it, one of the difficulties with the space was “striking the balance between function and form”, an idea born of the same mindful attitude he brings to his dishes. His upbringing was shaped by both his father (who specialized in running hotels) and his birthplace, the culinary heart of the country, New Orleans. With dual influences of food and business, Phuong went on to seek formal education, receiving training in New York, Napa Valley and finally Los Angeles. He’s been opening and operating restaurants and concepts since 2005.
Michael Della Femina, on the other hand, spends more of his time in front of the counter making sure the hospitality feels like home. Like Phuong, this is far from Michael’s first foray into the restaurant business. He has worked extensively in all capacities of this business in New York as well as Los Angeles. Outside of Croft Alley, Michael exercises his business skills as the founder of the production and marketing studio StoreFront and as CEO of Della Femina Hospitality.
When it comes to Croft Alley, they let their actions speak louder than their words. Their brand was built organically, forming over time with each conscious decision they choose to put forth. Though their passion may be of the culinary kind, the business sense Michael and Phuong serve up is nothing short of impressive. In terms of vision, they’ve held onto it through the grueling process of building the business and the Croft Alley you see today bears a strong resemblance to the one they imagined over a year ago.
One of the other reasons we’re huge fans of these community-minded creatives is that they don’t hesitate to give thanks to those that have shown them support in the past and to those who continue to keep the operation running on a daily basis. Friends and family first, that’s their brand, that’s Croft Alley.
But that’s just an overview of the insights into their business that they gave me. Read beneath for all of the divulged details from the back and forth between The Sampler and the two owners of Croft Alley (Michael Della Femina and Phuong Tran) to hear about what they’re doing today and what they have planned for the future…
TS: When did Croft Alley officially open?
MDF: We opened to the public Dec 1. Prior to that we had been doing private events.
TS: What was your original vision for the Croft Alley brand?
PT: The original concept was to be this ‘design your own sandwich and salad’ idea with abundant choices of charcuterie and artisan lettuces from great local farms. It was empowering the guest to design their own meal.
MDF: I dont work that way as per starting a “brand” as it becomes too contrived. I have a lot of respect for the process. We give a lot of thought to everything we do at Croft Alley and I feel its more about what your brand does then what it says. Your brand changes over time based on the decisions your business makes and the identity that it communicates.
TS: Now that you’re open has it changed?
PT: Yes, it has changed.
TS: What have you learned the most so far from this project?
PT: Patience is so key – the time it takes to open will test everything you have and is character building.
MDF: To trust your instincts and remember you’re wrong at least 60%of the time.
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