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When we think about a perfect California beach day, Chulita comes to mind. This Michelin Guide, Alta California-style modern Mexican restaurant and mezcal/tequila bar is in the heart of Venice on Rose Avenue. With a founding staff of all women, we can’t think of a better time than right around International Women’s Day to share our conversation with Chulita founder and owner Shireen Imani.
Shireen let us behind the scenes of her Tulum- and Venice Beach-style restaurant to taste-test their famous esquites (Underwood Farms corn, chipotle butter, and cotija), tacos, and margaritas.
Chulita’s menu showcases a modern approach to traditional Mexican cuisine. Its fresh, organic produce comes from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, which supports producers and their families throughout California. All tequilas and mezcals on their shelves are distilled in batches from a selection of artisanal Mexican palenques.
Read on to learn how Shireen founded this neighborhood favorite and how she and her staff utilize Otter to stay on delivery platforms’ Top Eats.
My name is Shireen Imani; I'm the owner of Chulita restaurant in Venice, California. I was born and raised in Utah, and went to college there. Upon graduating, I accepted a job in New York, where I lived for about 12-13 years, often going back and forth between New York and California. About five years ago, I officially moved to Los Angeles. When I moved, I wanted to create a cute local neighborhood restaurant for my friends and me.
Well, my new passion is food. Chulita was started as a passion project between friends to create a community spot; a place for the neighbors. It’s been so interesting learning about the different aspects of having a restaurant. When you're creating a space that you want to be in, you start to think about all the creative ways that you can express yourself and who you are, from music and design to drinks and food. And so the hospitality industry has become something that I'm passionate about.
I've always loved Mexican food. I grew up around Mexican food. My sister-in-law is Mexican, and at Chulita, we’ve always been interested in creating something that truly represents Mexico–its culture, cuisine, and drinks. It's so interesting how many flavors are put together to create beautiful sauces, and how refreshing it is. It’s something that I've really grown to love. And we've been able to showcase really, really beautiful handmade vases and pottery and tabletops and lamps from Mexico to tequilas and mezcals that are made from small families in Wahaca and Jalisco, to Mexico’s cuisine. It’s all been very interesting.
I think it’s everything, the entire process. With restaurants, you need to be good at everything all at once to please a lot of different people. That’s a challenge. But that's also what makes it rewarding–creating items that become universally liked, which are both unique to you and interesting to the guest. Maybe a margarita, appetizer, or taco you make becomes a customer’s favorite they’ve ever had. So I think it’s all difficult, but becomes really rewarding when you get it right.
It starts with a concept. When you start a business, you start thinking, well, what do I want? What do I see that's missing? And then, very quickly, it evolves into “What do I think everybody else is going to like?” It becomes thinking about your staff and what is best for the group. How do we function best together? How do we best create something for everyone? And so it very quickly goes from “I” to “we”. And it's really rewarding when you can figure out that level of consistency that everyone agrees to, the standard that everyone holds themselves accountable to, and that translates into really satisfied customers and guests who come back week after week.
We started as a group of women, and we wanted the name of the restaurant to be reflective of a female-led team, and we landed on Chulita. From our accountant, to our chef, to our bar manager, to our bookkeeper, to our DJ, we started out fully run by women. We wanted to showcase what we could do as a group.
I mean, it's big to us, right? I don't know how big we are in the scope of restaurants, there are so many people that are doing it right, or trying to get it right and doing the work. For us, we started as a small local business, and we still are a small local business. I'm in my restaurant every single day, my servers have been here for a while, and we all share a common passion and a goal for hospitality. We want to be able to convert our customers, one by one, and not really so much through Instagram or social media, but through meeting us and coming here in person and trying our food and drinks, talking to us, and connecting with us daily.
What's interesting for us is that we didn't really want delivery initially. Chulita was just a place that we wanted to be local to the neighborhood, a small little spot where people popped in, and so delivery really wasn't on my mind until the pandemic. We then very quickly pivoted and launched a take-out business across all of the apps.
It started with trying to figure out how we were going to function effectively with three different delivery tablets in our restaurant going off all the time. I wanted to find the best company to streamline all of the take-out and to-go apps that we were using at the time.
The setup was really easy and convenient. In fact, Otter even helped us set up DoorDash when we couldn't. Other tech companies were overwhelming, and Otter helped streamline a lot of the onboarding for us.
Because of Otter, we were able to get through to all of the platforms very quickly and start maximizing as much revenue as possible. Chulita is on Uber Eats' and Door Dash’s’ Top Eats, so we don’t have a lot of down time. We don't have order cancellations, and we're able to stay in the top tier of dining options online. So that’s been great for us.
Our revenue has also increased since using Otter. There’s not a lot of downtime in the app, and we're able to get things done really quickly. If we find ourselves overwhelmed, we can very easily toggle the app off, pausing delivery. Otter stays consistent among all of the platforms, and we're able to really maximize what we can do with delivery through one app.
Wow, great question. I think our esquites (Underwood Farms corn, chipotle butter, and cotija) is number one. We make it vegan or non-vegan–it's creamy, tangy, spicy, and delicious. I recommend getting the corn with every single order. We also have great tacos. I mean, our chicken tacos are fantastic, and they travel well. They’re light and flavorful. And then of course, just guacamole–It's just a must.