When someone suggests grabbing a bite at 4th Street Market, an OC outsider might not know what to expect. Is 4th Street like in LA’s Arts District with pie and gourmet hot dogs? Or like the Japanese markets in Little Tokyo filled with our favorite green tea KitKats?

Truth is 4th Street Market is its own thing- a ground zero if you will, where entrepreneurs and chefs collaborate to bring cutting edge cuisine and dynamic ideas to the people. 4th Street is a new way of dining whether you’re looking for a bite for lunch or quality sourced ingredients for your own foodie fantasies. Just celebrating its one year anniversary in March we have a feeling this is just a taste of things to come.

Bobby Navarro, a spokesman for 4th Street Market in Downtown Santa Ana, knows his stuff when it comes to food trends, fine dining, and hospitality. Creator of 100eats.com, Bobby is also the president of Inspire Artistic Minds, a scholarship experience unlike any other. Our team at OC Foodie Fest, Donna Estudillo and Rob Asghar, were lucky enough to sit down with him.

So, word is that you’re the hardest working man in the food business.

No, I can’t imagine that I work harder than any of the chefs or anyone that we represent! I like what we do and I’m glad that we veered what we have into this industry. It’s more of a labor of love for me.

Describe your inspiration for your 100eats blog.

I based 100eats off of the idea of wanting to visit 100 places to eat in 100 days and blogging about it. But it all started because in the summertime, The Riviera launches its top 100 restaurants in LA and top 50 OC restaurants, and I was going through the list realizing that I’ve never gone to any of these restaurants. From there, I decided that I was going to visit a hundred of those restaurants in a very short amount of time. There’s this restaurant called Urasawa in LA and you have to book three months in advance, so I planned all the other restaurants around that and was going to have it be my 100th and final restaurant.It was around my birthday so that was a perfect way to end it!

You said that there were 100 LA restaurants and 50 OC restaurants; do you see any differences between LA dining and OC dining?

I think as they’ve started to grow, there for sure is a divergence of how the OC consumer perceives food and is able to consume food and that directs what changes are happening in the Orange County food scene. There’s a range in LA of high end to low end capabilities, just because of the amount of people there, that tailors the longevity of the fine dining life. Those restaurants are able to survive because of that dichotomy of their economic structure whereas in OC, there are pockets of more wealthy people that don’t overlap with the other pockets. That’s why I think the food hall scene kind of butted in here because it’s a way for young entrepreneurs to have a low impact on their finances and be creative. It then also created a place for that genre of people who wanted to try and share new foods.

Do you think OC people appreciate the food hall scene or is it your mission right now to grow and build that appreciation? How has this affected 4th Street Market?

Yeah! We travel a lot and I take a lot of OC restaurateurs and entrepreneurs to LA to show that dichotomy and the scene of the thriving, moving monster! It’s good to take them there to be inspired and excited about what they’re doing and bring new ideas back here — it’s kind of like what our mission is in our non-profit: encourage people to learn something somewhere else and come back to your community and strengthen local economy with new ideas. This has all been instilled in 4th Street Market. Additionally, I tell our restaurants that the best thing they can do for their business is focus on R&D. If a product doesn’t move, change it. That also applies to them as a business. I don’t expect our vendors to stay with us. In fact, I assume they will only stay for a year. 4th Street is built on one-year leases and each place has the kitchen already built out. I want the businesses to thrive and 4th Street allows them the platform to do so.

We’d love to hear more about your non-profit.

It’s a scholarship based program for individuals or a group that want to study to expand their knowledge in their craft and in return they come back to reinstill that knowledge into the program that they’re in. For example, we’ve sent people to Belgium to study breweries and to Spain for Spanish wine. It’s pretty cool because the people who come to the charity events to support directly contribute to the individuals working there; the people sitting at the bar are helping fund their bartenders to learn new things and bring it back to the community. It was important for me to create this type of non-profit where we were able to see the progress and see where our contributions were going towards. With that, we’re unlike any non-profit organization in the industry; we’re the only program that offers working individuals an opportunity like this.

What first got you obsessed with food, besides the taste?

Well my family never really had a passion for food. We were about that Salisbury steak and microwavable food. If we wanted something fresh, we’d go to Subway once a month! We didn’t really have that food culture. When I was in high school, The Block had just opened up next to my school and there was a Wolfgang Puck there. I signed up for Open Table when I was 15 years old, and Wolfgang Puck had a 1,000 point reservation program. If you booked at lunch time, you’d get 1,000 points, and if you had 10,000 points, you’d get a $100 check - like a real check! I was like, “Well, that chicken tortilla soup only cost me $8. I’m going to make a reservation for every other day and make that $100 check!” So basically, I never paid for lunch after that first time because it perpetuated. They told me where other 1,000 point restaurants were so as soon as I got a car, I explored everywhere.

What is your favorite dining experience?

Well I feel like the purpose of a restaurant is to transport you to a different place, mindset, and feeling. The restaurants I’ve had the most exciting experiences at are the ones that challenge themselves in their time and place, because in that moment, you’re totally somewhere else. Next Restaurant in Chicago sticks out in my mind. Every three months, they change their menu and ambience to a new time and place. When I went for my 22nd birthday, it was a “Childhood in the Midwest” theme, and they did a poll on their website asking what everyone’s version of mac and cheese was in their respective countries. People contributed their answers online and at the dinner, there were ten little divots of mac and cheese. Each had different flavor add-ins and when you lifted the mac and cheese, it separated into the divots and you got a bite from everyone’s childhood! Such a cool way to introduce food and have it mean something to you and have it connect you to other people.

Last question: Do you think hole-in-the-wall dining experiences get credit because they’re considered “authentic” or “unique”?

Not in my terms -I’m the other way! I have a bunch of food friends who are like that, but I’d rather pay more for an exponentially good experience rather than feeling like I’m eating in someone’s home — I could just cook in my own home then! The goal is to not be in the world where you started. I don’t want just the great food. I want the feeling that I’m not somewhere I’ve been before.

4th Street Market is comprised of sixteen different businesses. Everything can be found here — from the ingredients to food and drinks. It is definitely a place to go if you never have been before, and a place that even if you have gone before you can never run out of new things to try. Check them out at www.4thStreetMarket.com. If you need a consultant look into their event planning, brand promotion, or their section on Food News. 100eats can be found at www.100eats.com (obviously).

Christina Kim

Christina Kim keeps her days very busy with work, school writing for other blogs, and updating her personal blog. She is a recent UCLA graduate and is currently attending USC working on getting her Masters Degree in teaching with a concentration in Secondary Single Subject English.

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