Orange County chef and restaurateur David Wilhelm is a Midwest native, a lover of the gastropub, and a managing partner of Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern (JFAT), which is opening its third location at The Village at Westfield Topanga in Woodland Hills, California, in in late September/early October.

Wilhelm became enamored with European gastropubs and the sense of community they promote while researching the history of pubs in England, and he saw a growing niche for the establishments back home in the states. Still, he wanted to pay homage to his Midwestern upbringing by taking on the concept of the European gastropub and executing it with a rich Americana approach.

“I really wanted the concept for Jimmy’s to be a kind of unabashed celebration of American cooking,” Wilhelm says. “This country has so much rich culinary heritage and so many distinctive regions and areas and dishes and styles of cooking.”

In the American tradition, Wilhelm chose to preserve some regional classics, like New England-style fish and chips, while adding a little topspin to other dishes to create fun and diversity on the menu; and in the European tradition, he also liked the idea of having a tavern that served as a social gathering place for the community.

After kicking the tires for a few years after the restaurant’s first opening in 2010 in San Diego, California, the second JFAT opened up in Dana Point, where Wilhelm was able to implement the ideas he had been brewing since the first opening—namely, expanding the menu, introducing a new wine program, and aiming for higher dinner check averages.

The restaurant at Dana Point opened without much promotion on a quiet Tuesday night and did 300 dinners at what Wilhelm refers to as JFAT's “2.0 version.”

The Dana Point location has now become the prototype for the brand’s expansion, and will be the model for the restaurant that is soon to open in Woodland Hills, and for all three locations the brand plans to open in the coming year. 

The newest JFAT represents a bit of a departure for the brand, which up until now has been located on or near harbors. The third location will be a part of Woodland Hills’ first outdoor lifestyle center. Developers anticipate 40-50,000 people per day coming into the new center on opening weekend.  

“We really wanted to break away to demonstrate that the concept had legs in a very different type of locations, even ones that are substantially different in terms of trade areas,” Wilhelm says.

Wilhelm has found that the concept’s “Frycook-meets-Foodie” recipes have a remarkably broad range of appeal—from 20-somethings to 80-somethings, and with equal interest from both men and women, retirees and young families, military and fisherman. “I’ve developed a lot of different concepts, and this was surprising even to me in terms of how broad the appeal has been and how often people dine here,” he adds.

The menu is comprised of American comfort food classics—like the Honey-Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Thyme Cream Gravy—that are freshly prepared in small batches, representing a creative re-imagining of favorite childhood meals. These offerings are complemented by an extensive selection of spirits, domestic wines, and craft beers; and the restaurant also boasts national certification as a GRA ‘Green Restaurant’, with a commitment to environmentally sustainable practices and local sourcing whenever possible.

The Village at Westfield Topanga center is planning a 1,000-person VIP preview on September 17, with an official opening on Friday, September 18. JFAT will be participating in opening events, and will open to the public shortly after. 

By Emily Byrd

Industry News, NextGen Casual, Philanthropy, Restaurant Design, Jimmy's Famous American Tavern