Garlic Noodles. That was the dish that put Calvin Johnson, known as Chef Grubby, on the map.
“Everybody loves garlic noodles,” says Johnson. “That's that's the dish that got me to this point.”
Johnson credits some of the success of his garlic noodles to the popularity of a similar dish at Crustacean, an Asian fusion restaurant in Beverly Hills, though he won’t reveal how he makes his version and neither will Crustacean, which makes their noodles in a secret room that not even Guy Fieri was allowed into when he filmed his TV show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” there.
What Johnson will say is that he got the idea from a dish he ate as a kid.
“My best friend’s mom used to make fried spaghetti and I was doing my research on it and I was like, this is like garlic noodles. That's that's what made me want to do garlic noodles.”
Johnson who goes by Chef Grubby, is the owner of Bleu Kitchen. He’s one of a handful of African American chefs who use Instagram as a platform to sell food out of their home kitchens.
Johnson started by selling his signature dishes twice a month, then as business picked up he started posting his menu weekly. In 2013 he quit his job and started cooking full time setting up a pop up inside a convenience store, then launching two food trucks.
Today his best selling dishes are his garlic noodles, oxtail chili mac, snow crab egg rolls and a lobster grilled cheese sandwich that with the right Instagram filter became a celebrity in its own right.
“He created the lobster grilled cheese but I encouraged him to put it on the menu,” says Johnson’s wife Sunni.
She is the official taster and co creator of new dishes.
“The oxtail chili mac, That was me.”
She also encouraged him to do a take on chicken and waffles, replacing the fried chicken with lobster tail. In addition to helping out with the menu, Sunni also takes care of a lot of the hiring and bookkeeping for their businesses.
“I'm the backbone. It doesn’t bother us to be around each other all the time. Like most couples we have fun. We like doing what we do,” she says.
This Saturday will be the grand opening of their latest business, The Court Cafe, a partnership with Jermelle Henderson and Keith Garett, two other chefs who came up together through the Instagram scene and bonded over similar trajectories. They didn’t go to expensive culinary schools or work under more established chefs, they built their businesses from scratch.
When they first dreamed up the idea of opening a restaurant together they thought it would be a mini food court serving up dishes from each of the chefs individual menus. But instead decided to focus exclusively on breakfast dishes.
For the most part this is an original menu with new dishes and a couple old school items like Henderson’s signature breakfast burrito and Garret’s ocho burrito which comes with lobster, chicken sausage, shrimp, bell peppers, spinach, eggs, etouffee sauce, and smoked gouda cheese sauce.
There will also be grits with your choice of shrimp lobster or catfish. And a trio of waffle dishes
“I know that we'll have some of the best lobster and waffles as well as chicken and waffles,” says Keith Garett the owner of the food truck, All Flavor No Grease. Garrett was one of the early breakout stars of the Instagram food scene, known for his decadent quesadillas and inspirational speaking videos he posts.
View this post on Instagram
Don’t forget we offer catering services for any and all occasions! Production/Staff parties, company lunches, family gatherings and more!!! Email: Book@AFNG108.com TODAY and book #AllFlavorNoGrease for your next occasion! #Catering #CraftServices #WrapParty #FoodTruck #AFNG #Tacos #Hollywood
Jermelle Henderson, owner of Taco Mell, was the first of the trio to open a brick and mortar restaurant when he opened Taco Mell on Crenshaw.
“When I was 24 years old I saved up my little $7,000 and put down first and last month’s rent and deposit.”
View this post on Instagram
Then he had a rude awakening when he went to the restaurant supply store and they explained that he needed plans drawn up by an architect and submitted to the city health department. But he persisted and two years later opened the first of his two storefront locations.
He says he learned a lot from those experiences and it made him more confident about opening The Court Cafe with his friends. Together these three chefs call themselves the Foodminati, a term that Garett just made up off the top of his head one time when he was being interviewed.
“It's us coming together. You know how everybody says there's an Illuminati like we feel like we're the best of the best,” says Johnson.
This will be the first dine-in restaurant for these chefs and that means they will get to serve their food on plates, which is a big deal to Johnson.
“I've always stressed that I can't wait to plate because selling out the house, I used to try to make the styrofoam box look like it was on a plane and now it gets to come on out on a plate which means more fancy garnishes. And that's that's what I'm into. That's what I study. That's what I love doing.”
Johnson says his goal is for his customers to see the plate when it hits the table and immediately reach for their phone to photograph it. “If they don't pick up their phone then we failed. I want it to look so pretty you don't even want to eat it. You just want to just admire it.”
Together these three chefs have nearly 400,000 Instagram followers and they’ve already out the word out about their grand opening. They say if they can get just .1% of their followers to show up they will be successful.
Johnson gets asked a lot about the best way to build a successful business without any real capital, basically from scratch. His advice is to keep it small at first and build up a following, sell food anywhere you can and don’t worry about the law.
“So what if it's illegal. I haven't met anybody and went to jail for it. People look at us like we started it but we really didn’t. We started it on Instagram in L.A. My grandparents were selling fish dinners every Friday at the house when I was growing up. So you know the best way to start is to start from home.”