Fourteen years ago, South Bay native Nicolle Howarth and her husband, Doug, owners of longtime Hermosa Beach Brazilian restaurant Silvio’s South American Lounge and Grill, got a phone call they’d never forget.
“It was like winning the location lottery,” recalls Nicolle of landing the site on the highly coveted Hermosa Beach Pier. “I remember we got the call [and we were driving], and we were screaming with excitement. We had young kids at the time. It was tough, but it was exciting. We got together a bunch of investors, and we were lucky enough to have people believe in us. There was nothing like this when we first opened.”
But realizing changing needs and customer preferences, Nicolle and Doug decided that the restaurant design and menu needed an upgrade. The casual eatery, based on a Brazilian food idea first conceived by Doug (also CEO of Howarth Hospitality Inc., a food innovation and concept-creation consulting business) and former partner Silvio Correa, serves up regional dishes by Chef Paul Bentsen. These include arepas de choclo—fresh corn cakes stuffed with mozzarella and provolone; chargrilled plates such as tri-tip drizzled with rock salt and beer; and the house favorite, BBQ chicken dubbed “golden chicken” (Silvio’s grandmother’s recipe.)
“Coming out of the pandemic, we understood that the community was looking for something more than what we offered,” explains Doug. “They wanted a chef-driven food and beverage program and something more than just Brazilian. We kept the core Brazilian menu that the community loves and expanded on that to include traditional South American dishes.”
They also knew the interior needed a major face-lift. “It had started to feel kind of stale, and we thought it was time to elevate the space and the menu and give our location new life,” explains Nicolle, who grew up in Torrance and worked for interior designer Kate Lester for four years. “The culture has changed here a little bit, and people’s expectations are higher. We needed to up our game and reinvigorate. I wanted to keep it coastal and keep the cool factor, but I wanted to make what was existing in our dining room flow better.”
Working within the current footprint, Nicolle and Doug turned to Nicolle’s brother, James Mitchell of DC Mitchell Design & Construction, to help with the transformation. “Design is a hobby of mine, and I thought, ‘How can we do this within a budget?’” explains Nicolle. “We wanted to make the interior cohesive, and we needed a new floor, a redo of the bathrooms and a little bit of eye candy without making it look too cluttered. Before, it was darker and the colors were orange, bright yellow and terra cotta with travertine. It didn’t weather well. We used to have a lot of sports memorabilia in the restaurant, but the downtown aspect is changing a little. We wanted to get away from the sports scene and make it more of a destination for a date night or brunch with girlfriends.”
The changes are apparent throughout, including new lighting, paint, linen napkins, silverware and staff uniforms. They also introduced an upgraded beer system and internal technology, including an LED sign and “Copacabana” tile-inspired mural.
“The lighting and paint made the biggest impact, and the mural pays homage to the boardwalk,” explains Nicolle. “I went to HomeGoods and Ikea for baskets in different shapes and sizes, took off the handles and turned them upside down. And I got some really cool light bulbs. It was a budget-friendly way of adding about 30 light fixtures.”
To help overhaul the beverage program and assist with day-to-day operations, they hired Michele Gutierrez (formerly of Patrick Molloys), who invented new libations including the Li’mosa with prosecco, fresh-squeezed lemonade, vodka, charred lemon and a brown sugar or Tajín rim, and the Frosé, a California rosé slushy with vodka, strawberry and raspberry puree. “I wanted to create a higher-level cocktail list, and I added the Li’mosa during COVID,” says Michele. “It’s a beautiful drink with a charred lemon on the side, and it’s low-calorie. That and the Frosé are now our two biggest sellers.”
She’s also been instrumental in procuring local bands such as Dani Armstrong, Kevin Sousa Band and Nate Amor for live music on the patio. “We have all kinds of music. It has been really fun, and the locals love it,” Michele points out.
The team has added a weekend brunch with offerings spanning deep-fried carnitas, Breakwater chimichangas, and a churrasco bowl comprised of two fried eggs, brown rice or breakfast potatoes, chargrilled tri-tip, bacon, Brazilian black beans, vinaigrette, shredded cheddar, chopped cilantro, diced tomato and topped with an orange slice. Future plans include reinstating quarterly craft beer and wine dinners replete with four- and five-course tasting menus and offering tap takeovers for local and emerging breweries.
“There are always ups and downs, and we thought about not continuing many times,” explains Nicolle. “But we felt like there was still some life and some things we could do to bring it back up on top and give it another chance. I’m so glad we did. It’s a labor of love.”