CRIS BENNETT HELPS LOCALS EAT ‘GOOD STUFF’
When he opened up his first Good Stuff burger stand in West L.A. back in 1979, Cris Bennett never imagined it would become a South Bay institution. A fixture of the community with locations in Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, El Segundo and West L.A., Good Stuff restaurant keeps locals coming back for more with its affordable, healthy food in a fun, beach-themed atmosphere.
South Bay Digs caught up with Bennett at his Redondo Beach restaurant about how he got his start in the restaurant business, how Good Stuff has evolved over the years and just how much he still loves his job.
How did you get involved in the restaurant business?
I grew up in Woodland Hills, and I really wanted to buy a car when I turned 16. I convinced my parents to ask this Mexican restaurant in our neighborhood if I could bus tables one night a week and I immediately fell in love with it. I fell in love with the vibe, the business, the fact that each Saturday was a little different. I thought I was going to be a dentist and then I decided to be in the restaurant business.
I worked in restaurants throughout college and then in Beverly Hills after I graduated. After that restaurant was sold, I got transferred down to the South Bay and started working at the Criterion. After that, things fell into place and I opened my first restaurant in 1979. I found a tiny shack of a burger stand in West L.A. and turned itinto Good Stuff.
How did you come up with the name ‘Good Stuff’?
We ran through a bunch of names and stumbled upon the name after Good Stuff Bakery. We thought that would make a great name for a restaurant, so we asked the bakery owner if we could use the name and he said yes. So, we got the name, trademarked it, and have had the name ever since.
Why has Good Stuff been such a ‘good’ fit for the South Bay?
We have been really involved in the community, which has helped us a lot. Supporting local charities, functions, sports teams and schools, I think that has helped blend us into the fabric of the community. People really support people that really support the community.
How is Good Stuff involved in the community?
We do a lot of things to support the local schools through athletics and academics, including scholarships and work and mentoring programs. I also take part at career days at different schools in the area, so the kids get a sense of what the restaurant business is like. We have a list of people that we help, but I usually like to go out and do it myself if I can, to really be the face of the restaurant.
Is it important for you to consistently be at the different restaurant locations?
I never wanted to get so big where I couldn’t be at the restaurants. I didn’t want to be in some office somewhere negotiating prices for hamburger patties. I really wanted to stay involved so everyone knows who I am. I try to have a relationship with the 150 people on our team.
How much do you enjoy what you do and how much have your 16-year-old expectations been fulfilled?
I’ve had long 13-hour days, others where I’ve come home and cried on the kitchen floor, but it isn’t like that anymore. I love what I do. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, working weekends and late nights. Now luckily, I’m home by 5p.m. and try to have most weekends off.
How has the restaurant evolved since you first opened?
We have always had the mentality to be on the healthier side and to try to make sure that we are serving as healthy a product as we can. We want people to have that option, but also have people be able to get a burger and fries. We are sort of a California coffee shop. It works really well, especially bythe beach.
How did you come up with the menu for Good Stuff and what are some of the most popular menu items?
A lot of the recipes I have come up with myself. I’ll think of the idea or we’ll be using products that can be used in multiple ways. One of the menu items that evolved that way was the ground turkey, grilled veggie and brown rice tostada, which is extremely popular. Cris’ breakfast salad was my idea, which sort of has a cult following and is a favorite of people. The zucchini parmesan has also been on since day one. It is probably our key item. It is what we are known for. We make it fresh every day.
I’ll also give my cooks a lot of freedom with the specials board, where we’ll test out different items, like the chicken lime soup. Some of them sell well and others not as much. The worst thing you can do is have to throw things away.
What are some of the craziest stories from the restaurants?
I had a friend who was an actor and screenwriter who once called me up in Hermosa asking if I was at the restaurant. He wanted to make sure that I would be there if he brought a few guys down and that it wasn’t very crowded. It was a nice day and he brought John Travolta and Nicolas Cage down (and this is when they were pretty young). They came in, had lunch right by the window and then walked out on the strand after. It was really classic.
One time a movie called Men at Work with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen filmed a scene at the Hermosa restaurant in which they had breakfast. I couldn’t believe a movie was filmed there. That was really fun. Janet Jackson also would come into the restaurant in Redondo Beach and sit in the corner with a Good Stuff sweatshirt and a few bodyguards. She always kept to herself, but was always nice to the servers the more she came in.
Have your goals for what you wanted Good Stuff to be been fulfilled?
If you would have asked me 35 years ago what kind of restaurant I would have owned, I had no idea. I just knew that I wanted to be in the restaurant business and open a restaurant. I think it really was decided early when I got a job at the Criterion. It was very similar to the restaurant I am running now.
I was such a valley boy and would occasionally go to Malibu, but coming down here, I realized that I was in heaven. The first day I went down to Manhattan Beach, I wore a Hawaiian shirt to fit in, thinking I was so cool. I came down here and thought it was paradise.
I’ve had people talk to me about opening more restaurants across the country, but I just want to enjoy my life here in this community and the restaurants we do own. I have four restaurants, they do well. I’m able to spend time with my kids, play golf andgo on vacation. I really love coming to work and getting that instant gratification from customers when they enjoy a meal.
** reposted from http://www.southbaydigs.com/good-stuff-restaurant/