Getting to Know: SUMAC


It’s March 2020. You’re living in Lebanon but find yourself in Los Angeles for a conference. Suddenly, the world shuts down. You can’t leave. You can’t go home. What would you do? Well, if you’re Eli Berchan, you might start a business. Eli's journey to founding SUMAC, a popular Lebanese restaurant in Hollywood, is a story of serendipity, resilience, and passion. What began as a conference trip in March 2020 turned into an unexpected adventure in the culinary world of Los Angeles and a decision that would shape his future in unexpected ways.

The Stars Align

Staying in an Airbnb, Eli found a sense of community and camaraderie during the uncertain times of the pandemic. "We used to meet up once a week because we were volunteering in the Hollywood neighborhood for the elderly," Eli recalls. This regular interaction and a shared heritage led to a unique partnership. The Airbnb owner, who was also Lebanese, who turned out to own a significant portion of Hollywood real estate, offered to invest in Eli's dream of opening a restaurant.

"We would talk about dreams and aspirations. Then one day, I wake up to a message asking me whether I'd like to partner with him to open a restaurant in Hollywood. I was like, 'You read my mind, man.'" Eli says. What seemed like a dream was quickly becoming a reality. The location they chose, just three minutes from their residence, was conveniently owned by Eli's new friend and investor. "God is there, obviously, and he is aligning the stars for us to do business," Eli says.

Weathering the Storms

With the location secured, SUMAC was born. However, the journey was not without its challenges. Opening a restaurant during the pandemic meant no dine-in options for almost a year. Eli adapted by focusing on catering, which quickly took off. "Catering took off like crazy because I'm coming freshly from Europe and the Middle East, and I have new ideas and stuff," Eli explains. The restaurant gained significant attention, landing prestigious gigs like catering for the NFL's Super Bowl and providing meals for Netflix employees.

Despite the success, Eli faced personal challenges. His twins were born prematurely and spent nine weeks in the NICU. During this difficult time, the support from SUMAC's customers was overwhelming. "Our customers offered to do some bussing at the restaurant. They sent us flowers, letters, food even knowing that we're a restaurant. SUMAC had somehow become an extension of our home," Eli shares.

Home is Where the Heart is

Through all the ups and downs, Eli's entrepreneurial spirit and passion for hospitality have been the driving forces behind SUMAC's success. "I enjoy these challenges, and my background is hospitality and food. I love this," Eli says. And he's not kidding. Eli honed his skills at the Institute Hotelier Cezar Ritz and Les Roches Hotel Management School in Switzerland. He has played a pivotal role in opening and cooking for some of the world's most prestigious hotels, including Raffles Dubai and Armani Hotel, with extensive experience in Paris, Geneva, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the Maldives. His journey is a testament to the power of resilience, adaptability, and the unexpected blessings that come from seizing opportunities even in the face of adversity.

Eli's philosophy on food is simple yet profound. "Our food is mainly home food that is being served in a restaurant environment or in a catering setting. The food we serve is food we eat all the time," he says. This authenticity and personal touch resonate with customers, making them feel appreciated and part of a family. "We don't cook it if we don't eat it, and we don't pretend to be experts at it because we just want people to try the food that we like and the way we like it."

Looking to the future, Eli has ambitious plans. He recently acquired a beer and wine license and is exploring catering for in-flight meals for four airlines. "We do their business class and first class meals. It's a very niche sector," Eli notes. Additionally, he is venturing into other concepts including one for healthy Greek food as well as a readymade meal prep concept.

As Eli continues to expand SUMAC and embark on new culinary ventures, he remains grounded in his values and grateful for the support of his community. "When you do good, you end up finding good," he believes. And indeed, Eli's story is one of finding goodness and success through hard work, determination, and a bit of serendipity.

For those looking to experience the warmth and flavors of SUMAC, a visit to Hollywood's beloved Lebanese restaurant is more than just a meal; it's a homecoming.

Praise for SUMAC

Elor S.

Jun, 2024

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