“This Is Us” star Jon Huertas, who’s being honored at the Napa Valley Film Festival with Variety Vivant’s Spice Award Nov. 13, has always known he wanted a career in Hollywood. But he’s something of an accidental restaurateur. No, he didn’t exactly stumble into co-owning Clutch, one of the hottest upscale casual restaurants in Venice, Calif. — but the East Coast native didn’t exactly come from a family of foodies.
“They weren’t big into cooking at my house,” he recalls. “I learned to cook for myself as a kid. My experience with having great food came when I moved to California.”
So it’s unsurprising that when Huertas speaks about Clutch — which he co-owns with wife Nicole, Norma Alvarado and Oscar Hermosillo — he emphasizes that the roadhouse-themed outpost was an effort to not just create food, but community.
“We wanted a place where people would stop not to refuel their cars, but their bodies,” he says. “It’s our neighborhood roadhouse.”
It all started when Huertas took Nicole out on their first date — and they noticed a distinct lack of places to truly gather and eat in Venice. But a chance meeting at Alvarado and Hermosillo’s Venice Beach Wines (and adjoining restaurant Cerveteca), and the couple wanted in on their next big project. That became Clutch, which opened in 2015; the name is a partial shout-out to the mechanics of motorcycles and cars, which make up its theme — but also urban slang for “perfect, what is needed,” he says.
Five years on, the 88-seater serves dry rub barbecue with sauce on the side, surf-and-turf, tortillas, wings and other hearty Cal-Mex fusion cuisine, attracting fans including Will Forte and Ryan Seacrest, who rented the place out for a company Christmas party. And as per Huertas’ vision of community, the tables are long wooden communal affairs with stools. An outdoor patio for further seating faces Lincoln Boulevard.
“Food has always brought people together,” he says, and evokes King Arthur’s round table as a partial inspiration: “No one would ever stand at the head of his table.
“You can solve conflicts, come up with grand ideas, invent things over dinner.”
Does he have a favorite item on the menu? That’s easy: Wings, dipped in a bitter orange sauce. “I never had wings like our wings,” he chuckles, noting that the recipes are primarily from Hermosillo’s mother.
Aspirational family and community feel like throughlines in Huertas’ life; “This Is Us” is all about the way family interacts in loving and challenging ways, which is part of its appeal, he says. “The writers have created a family dynamic that speaks to every single individual in a family,” he says. “That’s why it resonates with people. It touches everybody in the household.”
He’s not planning more Clutches at the moment, but Huertas says he has fantasized about opening “a really cool café.” And — no surprise — he wants it to feel like a person’s own living room, not like a business. “I want a place where you feel really comfortable.”
But until that cool, comfortable, communal brand can expand, Huertas still wants to do at least one thing: Feed his “This Is Us” family. So far, the distance between the restaurant and the studio where it shoots is too far a drive to randomly bring over food, but he has a plan.
“One day, I might get Oscar to make the biggest batch of wings ever made and bring them up to Hollywood.”