By Claudia S. Palma
Photo by Walt Mancini
It’s been said you are what you eat.
At Tender Greens’ Pasadena location, that means fresh, local, organic when possible, and innovative yet familiar.
But most of all, delightful.
“We’re blending high-end market and the low-end fast food (concepts) — I wanted to borrow a little from both ends,” said co-owner Erik Oberholtzer.
The concept of Tender Greens isn’t far from how he had been cooking for 20 years in various restaurants on the East Coast and in California, using locally grown produce and ingredients, he said.
“It really came down to a time in my life and my partner’s (co-owner Matt Lyman) and a need in the market,” Oberholtzer said.
That need, Oberholtzer and Lyman felt, was a homey place where one can enjoy healthy and delectable dishes, prepared in a reasonably quick time and still be gentle on the wallet.
Tender Greens Pasadena, the seventh location in the chain, is celebrating its first birthday this July.
“We capture a broad demographic with different price points, and the fact that our food is not intimidating,” Oberholtzer said.
Most of the restaurant’s produce comes from Scarborough Farms in Oxnard. A select group of small local farms bring in other produce Scarborough may not grow. The beef is from grain-fed cows free from antibiotics and hormones. Grain-fed chickens are raised on the range in Northern California. Tuna is Pacific line-caught.
Breads and desserts are baked and prepared fresh daily. The beverage menu features local organic tea blenders, boutique wineries and microbreweries.
“We try to keep a couple different house beers on tap and we change and rotate a couple beers a month,” said Oberholtzer. “There’s a real trend in Pasadena for craft beer.
“We remember when we were the small guys starting out, so we try and support the small guys.”
Pasadena is also the first Tender Greens restaurant to go 100 percent bottle-free as part of their dedication to sustainability.
Oberholtzer turned to a former colleague to be the executive chef in Pasadena; he knew chef Daniel Schauffhauser could embrace the Tender Greens culture and that he shares the owners’ values. He also has creative freedom.
Schauffhauser brings his 30-plus years of experience as a chef as well as his childhood memories growing up in a small town in France to the Pasadena location.
“I very much appreciate what Tender Greens culture is (about),” he said. “I’m very comfortable here. It’s definitely something I’m very used to, farm-to-table.
“California has a lot to offer: the environment, it’s a big plus.
Schauffhauser said he knows his dishes are well received when he hears how guests enjoy the freshness of the food.
The chef said he gets inspiration for menu items from various places like farmers’ markets, magazines, books and his own experiences from growing up.
“I’m always reworking (dishes) such as goat cheese in an onion tart — we make it more SoCal,” said Schauffhauser.
“He’s reaching back into his roots,” Oberholtzer added. “(Certain dishes) can be commonplace to him, but can be very novel and be romanticized for (local diners.)”
There is also a lot of collaboration going on among the chefs at all seven restaurants and the pastry team.
“There’s some friendly competition and lots of creativity,” said Oberholtzer.
To round out the dining experience, Pasadena artist Chris Reccardi was commissioned to create a new permanent art installation for this location. “Love, Pasadena” features various paintings starring Pasadena landmarks. Reccardi, an award-winning animator, has worked on “Ren and Stimpy,” “Samurai Jack,” “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”
In Pasadena, “we started with the artwork as a way of expressing ourselves and showing that we understand the community we’re in,” Oberholtzer said. “This is a great city. They’ve been very welcoming to us.”
Tender Greens is also dedicated to being socially responsible through community partnerships and events. They offer an intern program for at-risk youth with the Los Angeles County foster care system.
Tender Greens, 621 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 626-405-1511, tendergreensfood.com