Chef Andrew Gruel
Meet Andrew Gruel, the founder and CEO of Huntington Beach-based Slapfish Restaurant Group. Known as a modern seafood shack serving fresh, sustainable seafood in a casual setting, Slapfish has six locations in Orange County (Huntington Beach, Irvine, Tustin, Laguna Beach, San Clemente, and Brea), as well as Raw Bar by Slapfish in Huntington Beach, and Two Birds Chicken and vegetarian concept Butterleaf in Irvine. He's appeared on multiple television series, including as a judge on Food Network’s “Chopped Junior” and “Food Truck Face Off.” I wanted to check in on him to see how he's managing the pandemic and find out what's new with this local celebrity chef.
1. The restaurant industry was heavily impacted by Covid-19; how did Slapfish adapt during the shutdown?
We immediately pivoted and focused on our take-out packaging and products. We put a ton of R&D into making our food more delivery worthy. We have set up protocols and procedures to make sure our employees are distancing as much as possible within the kitchen.
2. Now that OC restaurants are reopening, what does dining look like moving forward?
I have a feeling the storm isn’t even close to over. Restaurants should still focus on delivery and take-out. Hopefully, alcohol to-go remains the norm.
3. Slapfish is one of Orange County’s most popular casual seafood eateries. How does your concept differ from similar restaurants?
We offer the quality of fine dining in a quick-service setting. We are always trying to walk the line between high-quality but approachable.
4. It’s hard to believe Slapfish was a food truck in 2011 and just a year later you opened a brick and mortar Slapfish in Huntington Beach, which is now just one of the multiple locations. At that time, you’ve also become a family man and father of three young children. Do you have any tips for husbands and dads on how to balance it all?
Once you become a family man, business should always take a back seat. If your family life is strong it will shine through in your business.
5. What are you most proud of with Slapfish?
I am most proud of the team members who have come through Slapfish - those that are still team members and those that have moved on. The people within are what have made this brand.
6. If you had to begin a different career, what would you do?
I would join the military in culinary arts. We traveled with the US Army last summer teaching young cooks how to be stronger in the kitchen. Our soldiers need to eat better.
7. What’s your most prized possession?
Any old photos I have of my parents.
8. What can’t you live without?
Coffee. I drink 6 to 10 cups per day, which can take the form of McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, La Colombe, and any cold brew. What I don’t drink is Starbucks.
9. What’s next on your “to-do” list?
Learn a martial art with my kids.
10. Cause that you’re most interested/involved in?
Illumination Foundation and Bracken’s Kitchen - in general, helping these great causes feed those who are hungry or have food insecurity.
11. Your dream day in Orange County?
Fishing in the morning, an afternoon Angel’s game, and Kappo Honda for dinner.
12. Favorite place for breakfast?
McDonald's - this is what happens with three kids.
13. What was the best day of your life?
The day I got married (in Las Vegas!)
14. Last concert that you went to?
Air Supply, which was my first concert.
15. Favorite vacation spot?
Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu.
16. If you had to live somewhere else, where would you like to move?
17. Other than Slapfish, of course, what are your favorite restaurants in Orange County?
King’s Fish House, Gulfstream, Taqueria Mexico, and Paderia Bakehouse.
18. Biggest accomplishment?
Being a father.
19. What’s your biggest fear?
Not being able to protect my kids.
20. A secret most people don’t know about you?
I use ladies' deodorant. Works better and it reminds me of my wife.
Candace Rock Photography