After 22 years working his way up the ranks at Hollywood mainstay Dan Tana’s, Craig Susser is more than familiar with the concepts of loyalty and family familiarity. He now employs these same qualities at his first restaurant, the New American eatery Craig’s. Here, he shares why a cheeseburger and a martini will always be on his menu, why he feels like the luckiest man alive and how the support of George Clooney helped him to create the hautest new spot in Tinseltown.
What inspired you to open Craig’s?
I grew up going to restaurants in New York like The 21 Club: cool, elegant, sexy restaurants that really knew how to take care of people. My dad had a table every Thursday night at Frankie & Johnnies. Twenty years later, I go in there and the [maitre’d] looks at me and says, ‘You’re not Al’s kid, are you?’ He remembered me, and sat me right away. I wanted to create that same feeling at Craig’s. We want people to feel unique and special, to serve them really good food in an environment that feels like home. The question I get the most is ‘How long have you been here?’ It’s the greatest compliment in the world.
Oscar night is the only night I’ll consider [shutting the restaurant down]. I want it to available to the regulars and for them to feel welcome at all times.
The restaurant has a Mad Men feel. Was the show an inspiration at all?
I honestly didn’t start watching the show until recently. I know [star] Jon Hamm in a different light: as a customer. It’s interesting that I get that comparison, but the true inspiration is from the places I went to with my dad as a child in Manhattan. Also, we’ve lost a lot of restaurants in the last few years that have a place in Hollywood history. I wanted to bring that back.
How did you begin your career in the restaurant business?
I worked at a high-end restaurant called Antonio’s, then moved on to Dan Tana’s for 22 years. I was a bartender, waiter, captain and Maître’d. But I didn’t open my own restaurant because I was tired of being a Maître’d. I love being in the middle of this world. People say there’s no community in LA: I’m living proof that there is. I’m the lucky one.
What dishes do you personally recommend?
The filet with homemade blue cheese ravioli is really flavorful, and the rib eye with creamed spinach and a side of Mac ‘n cheese is great, too. We also offer vegan and gluten-free options.
Your restaurant is known as a celebrity hotspot: George Clooney even hosted his Oscar night party there. How did that come about?
Oscar night is the only night I’ll consider [shutting the restaurant down]. I want it to available to the regulars and for them to feel welcome at all times, but then, Oscar night everyone is either at the show itself or at home watching. Plus, when George calls and says, ‘Hey, can we throw a party at your place?’ you kind of want to say yes. He’s been so sweet and supportive; it’s been pretty lovely.
When you’re not enjoying your own cuisine, where can we find you eating?
I think it’s important that we restaurateurs support each other, so I go to Boa, Madeo, Cecconi’s. My wife and I love Jan’s, an old-school diner on Beverly. For breakfast, we go to Jack n’ Jill’s in Beverly Hills. The Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel is our favorite lunch spot. There’s something about sitting out on that patio that makes you feel like you’re on vacation.
Is your dad’s influence present anywhere on the menu?
My dad sadly didn’t live to see the restaurant, but he used to tell me that every great restaurant has a great cheeseburger in an elegant setting. I named the cheeseburger Big Al’s after my dad.