Darren Weiss is the chef and owner of Darren’s in Manhattan Beach, CA, located just steps from the city’s iconic pier.
Weiss has always had a passion for cooking and has never let what some might consider a huge obstacle – Weiss has been deaf since birth – deter his career as a chef. After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America in New York in 1996, Weiss began his career at David Paul’s Lahaina Grill, which has been voted the best restaurant on Maui for 21 straight years. Weiss then moved on to Mark Ellman’s Avalon before joining the kitchen staff at the Grand Wailea Resort & Spa. Weiss’ time in Hawaii and the exposure to the island flavors has had a long-lasting influence on his cooking style.
In 1998, Darren left Hawaii for Santa Monica and a position at Rockenwagner under the guiding influence of Chef Hans Rockenwagner. Just two years later, Weiss left Rockenwagner to open his own restaurant, Café Catalina.
Word quickly spread about Weiss’ unique creations at Café Catalina and in no time he had built a loyal following and critical acclaim from Los Angeles-area food writers.
Following Café Catalina’s five-year run, Weiss served as the Executive Sous Chef at the Horseshoe Bay Resort in Texas, overseeing 7 outlets within the resort, followed by a stint at the Ritz Carlton Dallas before opening Darren’s in 2007.
The opening of his namesake restaurant allowed Weiss to showcase his American fare with Mediterranean and Asian influences. In 2014, Darren’s underwent substantial renovations to both the restaurant and the menu. The reimagined Darren’s still features the warm atmosphere guests have grown to love, but with a reinvigorated spirit.
Weiss resides in Redondo Beach with his wife and young son. When not working, Weiss enjoys fishing, skiing, hiking, traveling and spending time with his family.
With more than twenty years in the industry, Darren’s General Manager Bart Thompson knows a thing or two about running a restaurant. His guiding principle of “only exceptional food, only exceptional service, only friendly, knowledgeable people,” has helped elevate Darren’s from a beach-side hidden gem to a must-visit destination for Los Angeles foodies and visitors from afar.
Thompson has been a mainstay at Darren’s since 2007, when chef-owner Darren Weiss brought him on board to help assemble a best-in-class wait staff and assist with the restaurant’s grand opening. Since then, Thompson and Weiss have developed a relationship that allows each to play to his strengths: Thompson runs the front of house, while Weiss focuses on what he knows and loves best – the cuisine. Thompson, alongside resident mixologist Jonathan Dahl, was also instrumental in building the popular pre-prohibition style cocktail program that has become part of the restaurant’s identity, and a draw for many patrons.
Thompson prides himself in creating a refined, friendly atmosphere by seeking out warm, personable servers with considerable expertise who genuinely love what they do. His goal is to create a memorable experience for every guest, every time they dine at Darren’s, without exception.
Nadia Pavlevska is Darren’s in-house sommelier, responsible for all things wine-related, including building the restaurant’s boutique selection of international wines. Her passion for wine is infectious, and she can frequently be found offering pairing suggestions, recommending wineries to visit, and sharing her love for the art and craft of wine with the restaurant’s many patrons.
Nadia’s interest in wines began in her youth in her native Bulgaria, a region that was once one of the world’s largest wine producers. Education eventually brought her to California, where she fell in love with the state’s food and wine culture, and was recruited by Darren’s General Manager Bart Thompson to help build the restaurant’s wine list. She describes working at Darren’s as being part of a family, both for the small, tight-knit staff, and the steady crowd of regulars and repeat customers, many of whom she considers close friends.
Nadia recently became a Certified Sommelier (CS) with the Court of Master Sommeliers, a title she earned after passing an exacting three-part examination, which included blind tastings, a written theoretical section, and a practical service exam. Nadia is also a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) with the American Society of Wine Educators, a Certified International Etiquette and Business Protocol Consultant with the Washington School of Protocol, and a member of the Guild of Master Sommeliers. She uses this wealth of knowledge daily in her duties at Darren’s, educating servers and guests alike on the intricacies of each variety.
Jonathan Dahl runs the cocktail program at Darren’s, and helped build it from the ground up more than five years ago. On a nightly basis, Dahl will handcraft more than fifty custom pre-prohibition style cocktails, improvising layered, made-to-order drinks that suit each guest and complement Darren’s innovative cuisine. Dahl sees it as his personal responsibility to provide an exceptional experience at Darren’s; in his view, if he hasn’t exceeded expectations, he hasn’t done his job.
A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Dahl is a veteran of the restaurant business. After moving to Los Angeles three months after graduation, Dahl settled in the South Bay, where he held management positions at South Bay bars and restaurants and tended bar at Rande Gerber’s Station Hollywood at the W Hotel in Hollywood. After a brief hiatus from the industry, Dahl returned at the behest of General Manager Bart Thompson, and helped him develop the cocktail experience that would soon become an integral part of the restaurant’s identity, and help bolster its reputation amongst Los Angeles food and drink connoisseurs.
For Dahl, mixology truly is a labor of love – with an emphasis on labor. Dahl makes every drink by hand, using only fresh-squeezed juices, and fresh, hand-muddled ingredients. He has even been known to make specialty cocktails with ingredients brought in by customers, including homegrown habanero peppers. “In a way, this is the hardest, most labor intensive bartending job I’ve ever had,” he explains, “but definitely the most rewarding.”