What is a Gastroteca?
A gastroteca is a popular concept in the Mediterranean, particularly in Spain and Italy. Gastroteca’s are comfortable, local neighborhood restaurants that feature farm to table dishes that support local producers. The décor is chic and the offerings are sophisticated. The Chef’s Counter allows diners to experience the action as they see how ingredients are being used and how they go from the kitchen to the plate.
Chef will feature a menu of tastes and techniques from the Mediterranean, including flavors of Italy, Spain, and France. The menu will be supplemented with Chef Specials to highlight his creativity and the seasonal products of the Baja peninsula.
With fabulous modern cuisine, signature craft cocktails, and boutique Baja California wines, gastroteca A Z U L is not just another meal out; it’s an experience.
Juliann & Mario Lopez
Proprietors and your Hosts
Juliann and Mario met in 2000 while working together at UCLA’s On Campus Housing department. Mario was tasked with on-boarding Juliann, who was the newest member to the department. They hit it off immediately! They managed adjacent Residence Halls as facility and operations managers, overseeing career and student staff. With her background in apartment management and his in hospitality they realized they both had an entrepreneurial spirit about them. They made a great team!
Mario always dreamed of opening a restaurant. Juliann had previously considered becoming a Chef. When the moment was right, and with Juliann’s encouragement and support, Mario made the leap to enroll in culinary school.
In 2014, while Mario spent nights, weekends, and holidays in kitchens across the country, Juliann saw a program of House Hunters International on HGTV. This episode was focused on the town of Loreto, specifically Loreto Bay. For some strange reason, the episode was intriguing enough for Juliann to record it for Mario to view later. Loreto Bay was a short 2-hour flight from their home in Los Angeles. A future trip was in the making!
A few months later, they made that 3-day weekend trip to Loreto Bay. They spent the time amazed with the natural beauty of Loreto, meandering through the manicured paseos, and touring homes for sale. They dreamed of buying a casita, but owned a condo in Hawaii that they were forced to rent when they left the islands during the 2008 market crash. There was no way they could afford another investment!
But just three days after returning to Los Angeles, Juliann received an email from a realtor in Honolulu. She had a client that was interested in purchasing a condo – in their exact building! Long story short, her client made an all-cash offer to purchase the condo. “It’s a sign!”, Juliann said to Mario. With the close of that sale, the door opened for Mario and Juliann to purchase their casa chica in Loreto Bay. It was impulsive, but clearly there was some serendipitous plan!
A little over a year into owning and renovating their casa chica from afar, Juliann and Mario were contacted by local realtor and developer, Nellie Hutchinson. She was developing a commercial space in Loreto Bay, specifically an empty shell in Agua Viva, an area semi-abandoned after the 2008 market crash. There is a small indoor area with a patio space that could be developed for a restaurant, she said. They were hesitant. Would customers want to travel to that side of the community? Juliann asked Mario, “How often does someone contact YOU to offer space and help with building out your own restaurant?” Not very often!
It was time for this team to get back to working together again! They took the leap, sold everything they owned, and invested in the creation of A Z U L! Mario designed the kitchen spaces and menu and Juliann designed the dining room spaces, decor, and developed their restaurant systems and operations.
The doors to A Z U L were opened to welcome its first guests in November 2016.
Mario grew up in the San Jeronimo neighborhood of Mexico City, Mexico. He moved to the U.S. when he was 20 years old where he began managing rooms and housekeeping departments for elite hotel properties such as the Westin Bonaventure and Biltmore. Mario discovered his talent for serving others, whether it be the general traveler or celebrity clientele.
Mario graduated from the California School of Culinary Arts Le Cordon Bleu program. At graduation, a Professor recommended him for a coveted externship at the highly celebrated Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco. For years, it has been on the top 10 restaurants list in the U.S. and maintains Relais & Chateaux designation. Working with Chef Danko was a great learning experience for Mario and, still today, shapes him as a working Chef/Owner.
Upon returning to L.A., Mario joined French Chef Christoph Eme at his newly opened restaurant, Ortolan. Later, he joined the elite team at the Hotel Bel Air, under the lead of Chef Bruno Lopez, another French chef that he would later learn was good friends with his next mentor.
In 2006, Mario and Juliann moved to Honolulu, Hawaii where he joined the Halekulani Hotel, a AAA 5 Diamond hotel with Leading Hotel of the World designation. Mario was a part of the hotel’s fine dining team at “La Mer” with French Chef Yves Garnier at the helm of the kitchen.
Back on the mainland U.S. in 2008, Mario worked and studied under distinguished chefs and in quality establishments over the next several years. Annisette in Santa Monica, California was the newest restaurant of French Chef Alain Giraud, named Chef of the Year by Bon Appétit Magazine. Later, Mario worked Craig Strong at fine dining outlet “Studio” in the prestigious Montage Resort, Laguna Beach. The next few years he worked for Fairmont Hotels refining his banquet and catering skills.
After his time in hotels, in 2013, Mario entered a new arena – the culinary department at SpaceX. SpaceX is a rocket and satellite developer created by entrepreneur Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla). SpaceX brought chefs from around the U.S. that were tasked with providing high-level culinary services to the growing company and associate base. Mario was a key component to developing creative culinary outlets for this fast-growing aeronautic powerhouse.
After years in the culinary industry, Mario felt it was time for his next adventure – opening his own establishment! A Z U L opened in November 2016, expanding into the adjacent retail space to create bar A Z U L and Lounge in 2019.
Sky’s the limit for the next creation!