Chef David Pese’s journey as a member of the culinary world started with a taco cart and a dream. While he grew up in Missouri, both of his parents came from the islands (Samoa and Hawaii), implementing a focus on these cultures and their flavors throughout his childhood. In high school, opening his own restaurant seemed like a pipe dream, but he never gave up on it. In 2011 he made his way to California, looking for a change.
Prior to opening Faka’s Island Grill, David’s restaurant experience was limited. He worked as a bartender for a couple of years in his early twenties, and a few years later he became the General Manager of a family member’s restaurant, eventually giving him the confidence he needed to start his own place. However, he feared the inconsistency of the restaurant business and felt he needed a ‘secure career’, and ended up back in school to become an RN. While enrolled at Mount San Jacinto College, he participated in their first-ever ‘Shark Tank’-inspired competition, and entered his business plan for a restaurant. He won first place, providing him with not only a sign to pursue his restaurant dreams, but also a prize of $5k to start his business.
David used his prize money to purchase equipment and to get the word out, while utilizing resources like Craigslist and Facebook to book gigs and advertise their offerings.
“We took every catering gig we could and signed up to participate in any event that would take us.”
As a chef, David and his team at Faka’s Island Grill have come quite a way since then, with a location in Covina, CA and now one of the latest stalls to serve at the Santa Ana food hall, 4th Street Market.
David draws inspiration for his dishes from his favorite memories, including visits to grandma’s house, Fourth of July barbecues, late-night drunken feasts with friends, and more. He firmly believes that using another dish as inspiration is important, but that making it his own is key. Copying something he’s already tasted or experienced elsewhere is the one thing he completely avoids when creating a new dish.
David is thankful for all who have assisted with his journey, particularly his family. His parents and sisters have been instrumental in helping Faka’s come to life as well as a great source of inspiration. His wife will often assist with the creation of dishes; David will create something and she will come along and help take the flavors to the next level. In addition, his mother-in-law often uses her instinct to tweak his dishes after tasting them.
“I want my food to tell a story; I feel like it should take you to where I’m from, introduce you to my people, and show you where we’ve been. Most of the dishes offered at Faka’s Island Grill are inspired by fond memories, which I believe elevates the food to a special place.”
David looks forward to Faka’s Island Grill bringing a fresh new story and cultural dining experience to 4th Street Market and the SoCal community.