Josef Centeno made a name for himself in the food world by taking over Downtown Los Angeles with a bevy of creative, successful restaurants. His latest move—fresh off of the introduction of PYT, his new vegetable-centric concept—comes as a surprise to those familiar with his legacy. Not only did he go fast casual, he did it clear across town.
BäcoShop sits on a sunny street corner of Culver City, an LA neighborhood teeming with hungry corporate-types every weekday around noon. It's the perfect spot for Centeno's counter service operation focused on one of his culinary inventions, the bäco.
"Bäco is a filled flatbread I developed years ago that holds all the flavors I love to eat," Centeno said. "I made it first as a staff meal, then for some friends who would come by the restaurant late at night, and then it just grew from there."
The naan-like bread is made with leavening, some yogurt, and ghee, ingredients that keep the little dough baby flavorful, chewy, and moist. It's the perfect vehicle for the meats and/or farm-fresh vegetables that get stuffed inside.
While fast casual seems like an unusual departure for the restaurateur, Centeno had wanted to make the foray into something more laid-back for years.
"Bäco Mercat was always supposed to be fast casual by day and full service by night. But because the restaurant was designed for full service it was just easier to keep consistent," he said, referring to one of his four DTLA restaurants that opened in 2011.
"So this is partly getting back to what I intended to do. It's something I've been thinking about for a while. The restaurant landscape is always changing, and there are a lot of ways that people like to eat."
Centeno has ample experience opening restaurants, but going fast casual came with its own unique set of challenges.
"It's an entirely different system, from the way we provide service to the way the cook line is set up," he said.
Unlike the other spots, BäcoShop has to operate with speed in mind. The people of Culver City do not have time to linger over long lunches.
"The menu is designed with customers' convenience in mind.That means we have to provide food as quickly as possible while also making sure it is up to the standards of all of our restaurants," Centeno said.
"It means streamlining and simplifying in some cases, while also making food that is as big in flavor as at the other restaurants, too. We're not making compromises, and I think we are dialing it in and are moving full speed ahead."
BäcoShop has the semblance of a Chipotle, minus the things that make Chipotle shitty. You walk up and order, building your bowl or bäco or bäcorrito or whatever you're going for that afternoon. The ingredients are bright and fresh, served in biodegradable containers alongside house-made condiments, like Bus Driver Sauce born from Centeno's restaurant Bar Amá.
"These are all items that I have used over the years because I wanted to create specific condiments for the restaurants," Centeno said of making his own accouterments. "We love sauces and all the flavors they bring, and some of them have become mainstays."
And for people looking to make a bäco or some of Centeno's sauces at home, the chef's cookbook is set to hit shelves in September.