Photography by Becky Reams
Rather, eyes mist over because upon seeing Zoe and Josh, two people who are so genuinely and thoroughly kind in such an immediately tangible way, an automatic wellspring of emotion rises up to meet them. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, a sort of natural selective device that the body uses to indicate that you are with good people. Good people who apparently have been genetically programmed to produce only things which are beautiful and warm.
Most restaurant industry professionals would not admit this at all, much less wear it as badge of honor. But Zoe and Josh are not most restaurateurs. Many companies pay lip service to the idea of a professional family, but fall short of really engaging with their employees in any meaningful way. But as a business, Rustic Canyon Restaurant Group can hardly do anything else. Here relationships have become synonymous with success and progress, mainly because the idea of family is the central tenet of both their business and personal philosophies. This is illustrated marvelously by the fact that neither philosophy would exist at all without the help of one person: Josh’s mom, Shirley.
After meeting Zoe’s mother, Jesse, one time at a book club, Shirley decided that she absolutely had to set Zoe up with her son. It was a great plan and she had a perfect excuse to introduce them: He had just opened a restaurant in need of a pastry chef, and she was a pastry chef in need of a job. The problem was: She didn’t tell Josh.
Shirley called Zoe, and kept calling her until she finally agreed to contact Josh at Rustic Canyon. Zoe remembers leaving a silly, giggling message on his voicemail. She recalls, “Hey, Josh! This is Zoe Nathan. My mom is friends with your mom, I guess? Anyway, she says that you need a pastry chef, or that we should be friends, or both? Basically, I don’t really know why, but she keeps calling me and so here we are. Call me back!”
He called back, and what ensued was the budding of her career at Rustic Canyon and their romantic relationship with each other. Right away, the partnership brought balance. While they were revamping menus and refining the niche of their restaurant, Zoe and Josh also pushed their limits as individuals and as a couple. They quickly learned to respect those limits, Zoe admits. “It’s always the front versus the back in a restaurant, and it’s really hard to marry those two things.” And as in any marriage, communication is key.
In the dining room, Josh found his go-to manager, Anastasia Smith, through a decidedly impersonal culinary recruiter. However, in soon-to-be classic Rustic Canyon way, Josh chose her instinctively when he sensed their easy rapport and her rare ability to “speak the Rustic language.”
Now the Director of Operations for the restaurant group, Anastasia is one half of an enviable symbiotic relationship. “I admire and am in awe of Josh’s ability to paint a picture on a blank canvas. I can’t do that,” she says. “I like to look at an image and then figure out how each piece operates.” Combine that with Zoe’s ability to create these delicious “pieces” out of thin air—“She is a bright brilliant light of a human being!” Anastasia adds—and you have a perfect culinary circle.
The end result of all this professional affection is that Josh and Zoe raise their restaurants as if they were children. For Zoe, “It became clear early on that our places were very different, and we really wanted each of them to have their own identity and personality—a young energy. You have to foster that.” For that reason, they’ve thrown everything they have into these restaurants. This includes everything from Zoe’s father working as a line cook during Saturday morning breakfasts at Rustic Canyon, to Josh’s brother filling in as manager, to Zoe’s mother greeting guests at Huckleberry, to Zoe herself carrying a sleeping Milo around during staff meetings and meals.
When asked about their legendary staff meals, Josh admits, “To me, any meal is a really good indicator of how much people care. You can tell a lot about a cook by how much love they put into their family meal. You can see their reflection in the food.” This is just as true of their guests. Zoe points out, “People know that there’s somebody in the back cooking with love and purpose; they see it and taste it. They can feel it.” And Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb are giving it to them.
Rustic Canyon Restaurant Group