Chef Justin Saunders on Expressing Culinary Creativity
Hollywood has a new restaurant concept launching every so often, but a globally influenced hotspot is enticing passersby on Sunset Boulevard. Opening its doors in December 2018, AllSpice Kitchen and Grill by chef Justin Saunders, who hails from London, features Mediterranean basics to build upon as he unleashes innovative flavor profiles over an eclectic menu representing cuisines from around the world.
“I am partial, being from England, to a good curry and kabob. I was tired of eating pizza and burgers, and wanted to bring in another option,” says Saunders matter-of-factly. “I wanted something for all and so AllSpice was born. Lure of large numbers dictates you take care of everybody. I am cognizant of the fact that this is a big population and there is something for everyone here.”
Getting Creative with Cuisine
In his quest to offer a variety of options to guests, Saunders’ best sellers are the big juicy wraps, which are the first items you will see on the menu. Lamb kebab and chicken tikka are joint leaders with some Indian spices shining, while the rotisserie jerk chicken has Caribbean flavors added. Ingredients are all fresh and natural, coming in every morning from local suppliers, aligned with a healthy menu esthetic.
“Mediterranean cuisine is one of my favorites and a good starting point — kebobs are simple and easy. Caribbean is where my roots are from, and I am a health nut so I wanted that aspect to be relatable for the general population,” shares Saunders. “This is a spot where people come look at the menu teasers and everyone finds something they want rather than this being just one type of cuisine.”
Creating the Maker’s Space
Sharing his culinary prowess required apt ambience and Saunders’ design flair shows in this area. “My visions of grandeur took forever,” he says, “from the architectural plans and contracting to finding a cohesive team and building up a menu. Start to finish was just over a year and a half.” In that time, the chef and owner took a deep dive into how he can incorporate elements in his restaurant to make the community feel welcome.
The human eye is drawn to green, so he included plants in his décor. Shiny gold fixtures bring in focal points, while natural elements such as wood and ample sunlight through large ceiling-high windows give an overall clean and crisp look and feel, an inviting architectural style aligned with a healthy dining venue. Saunders’ education in fine arts and design from England served him well in this regard.
On the Creator’s Journey
During his time at college in Canterbury back home in London, he also earned a certification in cooking, among other optional courses. From there, the first seeds were planted toward the creation of AllSpice. His evening job during college was at the Marks and Spencer restaurant where he learned everything about the restaurant business to help launch his own eventually. Being a people person who loved to entertain was a bonus.
Moving to the United States, Saunders hoped his arts background could be put to use working as an artist in Los Angeles. That plan didn’t quite come to fruition as soon as he would have liked. A part-time position he took on at a real estate brokerage quickly turned into a full-time gig where he stayed for eight years, gleaning the ins and outs of that industry.
Finances in hand now, older and wiser from his experiences, Saunders decided the opportunity was ripe for his restaurant dream to take shape. Putting his creative juices to work, his knowledge of the local real estate scene, aptitude for the culinary world and design know-how all came together in realizing the vision that is now his first self-funded venture. “I always wanted a restaurant space and this has been 20 years in the making,” he says.
Expressing Creativity for Community
Saunders envisions AllSpice as a venue for the community to experience his culinary creations inspired by global cultures. “I am a creative expressing myself through cuisine,” he says. “I am offering something new that is another option for everyone to enjoy.” He has even put to effect insights from the neighborhood, offering coffee, smoothies, breakfast and brunch, none of which were part of his original business plan.
Seasonal specialties and signature offerings will soon be added to the menu as foot traffic increases daily. He will also display his art for sale at the restaurant, another way for the community to interact with the space. Saunders hopes to include events such as open mic nights and other performance opportunities in the future.
Excited for what the future has in store for his first restaurant venture and sharing it with the community, he says, “We are a pit stop for all. We are here for the community, AllSpice is for everyone.”