THE MADERA GROUP
LEADING THE WAY WITH TOCA MADERA & TOCAYA ORGANICA
Three years ago, entrepreneurs Tosh Berman and Amrou Manaseer and their Madera Group redefined the L.A. dining scene with the opening of Toca Madera, which aimed to reimagine traditional Mexican cuisine by taking a modern approach using locally-sourced and sustainable ingredients paired with bold flavors. The result was a high-end Mexican restaurant in a lounge setting that soon launched multiple locations before creating Tocaya Organica—a casual and healthy restaurant whose success was felt instantly.
While Toca Maderas has firmly established itself in West Hollywood, locations will be opening in Dubai and Scottsdale. There are Tocaya Organica locations in Venice, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Playa Vista, Century City, and San Diego, with locations opening in San Diego and Scottsdale. And now the group has launched M/O/M (Modern Organic Mexican), an affordable high-quality delivery service via Postmates and Ubereats.
Over a decade ago, Tosh Berman was a hospitality industry leader owning and operating numerous hotspots, including AV Nightclub in Hollywood. The ability to create exciting venues that people clamored to get into has been used to create dining destinations that deliver dynamic and delicious cuisine. What follows is a conversation with Tosh Berman about the success of Toca Madera, and Tocaya Orangica, as well as the launch of M/O/M and what’s in store from a man with his finger firmly on the pulse of nightlife culture.
What was your original concept for Toca Madera and how has it changed or exceeded expectations?
Tosh Berman: Toca Madera was a personal evolution in hospitality for me and my business partner, Amrou Manaseer. Transitioning from nightlife to restaurants was a representation of our maturity within the industry. The concept came about after living in Mexico for seven years. I learned that true Mexican cuisine is incredibly healthy, simple and fresh. In the U.S. there’s been a mass misconception of the essence of Mexican food and we wanted to change that perception with Toca Madera. We wanted to create something interesting, high-end and that was exciting—not only for your average customer, but also for the neighborhood. Our music also plays a big role in our concept. Our signature deep house is expertly curated and balanced to create the perfect lively dining atmosphere. We are approaching our three-year mark and after staying true to our concept and brand, we’ve found tremendous growth and success that’s exceeded our expectations. We will be opening our second location in Dubai later this year along with a Toca Madera in Scottsdale, Arizona.
What was the idea behind Tocaya Organica?
On the heels of Toca Madera's success, Tocaya Organica was created as the fresh-casual spin-off, offering an everyday version of our cuisine predicated on health and fitness. We wanted to take a vegan-first approach, while offering non-vegans the decision to opt in with their choice of queso and protein, such as sustainable fish, free-range chicken and grass-fed meat that is free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics.
What is it about that concept that has seen it grow so quickly? Faster than Toca Madera, right?
At Tocaya, we created accessibility and a sustainable dining environment where guests can enjoy our food every day or even multiple times a day. We’ve bridged that gap for vegans and non-vegans and created a place where they can go to have great tasting food using high-quality ingredients.
Are you ever worried about competing against yourself?
No, while our signature cuisine is modern organic Mexican, all of our concepts differ and offer something unique.
What was the idea behind M/O/M?
M|O|M is a concept that fulfills a different aspect of our business, which is a focus on the comfort dishes of traditional homestyle Mexican cuisine. We’ve seen proven success with delivery, especially with Tocaya Organica, which represents 40% of our overall business. We also wanted to use this model to develop data and to see if whether or not non-brick-and-mortar locations for our venues could service areas that don't potentially fit our current demographic model.
Talk about the concept of creating a "ghost kitchen".
We have a designated kitchen and pick up area specifically for M|O|M. We staff current employees as our kitchen can vary depending on location.
As far as being a delivery service, what do you think sets M/O/M apart from other Mexican food options?
We've value-engineered the menu and created dishes that we know carry well. For example, we use corn tortillas instead of flour as we've found that it carries cheese better when it comes to delivery. We also serve the comfort food you typically would crave with traditional home style Mexican but use only high-quality and fresh ingredients.
With M/O/M, you offer a very impressive price point. Again, you don't feel like you're competing with yourself?
No, as M|O|M is an entirely new and is less predicated on health and fitness. M|O|M focuses more on the comfort dishes of traditional homestyle Mexican cuisine. We also kept M|O|M's price point in mind as we wanted to offer a lower price point than our full-service restaurant, Toca Madera, which is more premium (average is around $70 per person), but yet higher than our fresh casual concept, Tocaya Organica, which averages around $17.50 a person.
I've always felt that Toca Madera overcharged for guacamole and salsa. I think the argument was that avocados are too expensive but you offer the same guacamole at Tocaya Organica and M/O/M for much less. How is that possible?
The guacamole portion at Toca is three times the size of the one we serve at Tocaya and M|O|M. You also have to keep in mind that at Toca, you’re there to have a premium dining experience, so it’s a different level of service.
Your menus are very similar. Do you eventually want to see them become more independent of one another?
While our brands serve our signature modern Mexican cuisine, each concept is independent of one another, so our menu differs. M|O|M serves comfort food, Toca Madera provides a premium offering and Tocaya Organica offers fresh, casual food you can eat every day.
You're well established in nightlife culture. How does hospitality, specifically restaurants, differ?
I think they differ for most people, but I don’t think it differs to me. Part of our success is to apply that same nightlife mindset to restaurants—from setting, operations, etc. In nightlife, concept planning can take weeks if not months to implement and you’re only as good as your previous night of operation, which puts you in the position to have to reinvent yourself every day. Obviously, we don’t have to do that daily, but by being much more adaptive and willing to make lateral moves, we’ve been able to build concepts that have proven themselves, especially in markets like L.A. where your client base can be extremely transient.
How have you seen the L.A. nightlife landscape change over the years?
It’s morphed multiple times from small lounge-style venues like the original Hyde on Sunset to large format DJ-driven venues. Now we are seeing a shift again, which is to move backwards from the heavily DJ-driven concepts and to focus more on high-energy lounges.
What would you say has been the key or secret to your success?
I’d say the only path to success is just straight hard work. There’s really no shortcut. It’s working long hours. Also, with age comes humility. You need to be willing to recognize what your gaps are and to bring in the best people to fill that bench in order to build a great team rather than being a one-person show.
What do you hope someone takes away from their experience at either Toca Madera, Tocaya Organica or M/O/M? What's the lasting impression you hope they take away?
For our restaurant concepts, I want them to recognize that you don’t have to choose between quality of product over quality of environment or vice versa, and that it’s possible to find both.
Story by Jose Martinez
Photography by: AVABLU.com