For Andrea Mollenauer every night is a party—but not everyone would think so.
She works on her feet as many as 14 hours a day. But that’s what makes her happy: serving dynamic food and teaching others to do the same.
She’s getting a Nextie for creating a new kind of place to eat, a restaurant that’s like a permanent pop-up, with different chefs and menus every night.
Her Food Lounge at 1001 Center St. (the old Center Street Grill), which opened in March, has nine tenants, including a very successful Monday night Dim Sum maker, Mortal Dumpling; a Sunday brunch spot, Ty’s Eatery, which also serves casual comfort foods on Wednesdays; and a chocolate house called Mutari Chocolate House and Factory. She also has Fogline Farm for barbecues, and La Marea, which makes ceviche and has an oyster bar.
“My business is complex,” says the 35-year-old Montreal native. “I wear a lot of hats.”
She teaches cooking for public high schools; she is on the board of Cabrillo College’s culinary program, she caters events, and she used to own Lifestyle Culinary Arts on Front Street.
How crazy is her life? On Wednesday, when she accepts her Nextie, she is also catering the event for 225 people.
“I think it’s cool that I was asked to cater it before I won,” she says. “They gave me a chance to back out, but this is what I do—I serve people food.”
She’s also entertaining her mother from Montreal the same week, just to add to her feeling of “mildly overwhelmed.”
Mollenauer considers the Food Lounge a daily party because she and other chefs cook for each other and exchange ideas. She does little marketing, except for posting events on her Santa Cruz Food Lounge page on Facebook.
She says the Lounge is a difficult concept for people to understand because it’s different every night. But some have become regulars—venturing out to try a different featured restaurant every night.
Mollenauer never wanted a restaurant; she was happy owning a kitchen and renting it to people while teaching others. But she considers the Food Lounge to be a place for events, arts, live music.
“There’s no walk-by traffic, but I think if you give people good food and dynamic events, they will show up.”