5 Questions for Tosh Berman


Published by Hospitality Design

The Madera Group launched in 2013 by Amrou Manaseer and Tosh Berman. Pooling their collective nightlife histories, the two embarked on a fruitful transition into restaurants. Here, Berman discusses the firm’s design language, crafting a localized and organic concept, and its Eastward expansion.

What was the statement you sought to make with the first Toca Madera in Los Angeles?
The concept of Toca Madera came about after living in Mexico for seven years. I learned that true Mexican cuisine is incredibly healthy, simple, and fresh. In the U.S., there’s been a mass misconception of the essence of Mexican food,  and we wanted to change that perception by taking a modern approach to traditional Mexican cuisine using high-quality, locally sourced ingredients.

We wanted a design that reflected this, so you’ll find handcrafted, custom woodwork and fire elements that create a modern, organic aesthetic that is alluring and inviting. The restaurant also features a mix of contrasting materials such as aged metal, concrete tile, quartz stone, rope, lush upholstery, and tooled leather. We used Arabesque lights and exposed Edison bulbs to give off a candle-like glow to create a moody, intimate, and warm atmosphere. We took advantage of the space’s existing bar footprint and opened it up as much as possible to create a 4,800-square-foot, 150-seat restaurant and lounge with a retractable roof for an open-air dining environment with a 100-foot-long crystal quartz bar that serves as the centerpiece of the restaurant. Our indoor garden patio is intimate and features retractable skylights, a variety of hanging live succulents and a skull art installation that is Día de los Muertos inspired. Our newest update to the restaurant is the addition of our second floor dining area we coined the Treehouse, which is perfect for large parties and events.

How has that original statement evolved?
We always stay true to our core design, but as we expand later this year to Dubai and Scottsdale, Arizona, we take each location into consideration and thoughtfully curate the space with unique elements to recreate our high-energy and lively dining experience. In Scottsdale, we will have an open kitchen and a separate ceviche bar, adding a more visual and interactive element to the restaurant. For Dubai, this will be our first international outpost, and we’ve designed a space suited for Dubai’s elevated clientele. Our rooftop restaurant will be situated atop the new Grand Millennium Business Bay, and will boast incredible views of the Dubai skyline and the iconic Burj Khalifa. You can expect 25-foot-tall ceilings that open to the sky with retractable automated glass panels, lush succulent landscaping and a 30-foot-high exterior quartz crystal bar. There will be a private dining room adorned in custom gold Día de los Muertos skulls. We’ll have customized acoustic paneling and a world-class sound system that will create a high-energy dining environment. Toca Madera Dubai will also feature a new Japanese Kobe Pastor enclosed in glass for guest viewing and a Japanese-inspired ceviche bar.

With all of the new markets we go into, we like to incorporate a unique design element inspired by the history of each location. For example, in our San Diego Gaslamp location, we’ve tied in the classic historic brick with our own twist, using our signature gray scale color tones. Overall, we aim for modern simplicity in all of our designs, and like to use natural materials and neutral colors throughout to encapsulate our warm and inviting atmosphere.

How do you differentiate between Toca Madera and Tocaya Organica?
Toca Madera is our high-end restaurant concept, where you can expect a lively, high-energy dining atmosphere. It’s much darker than Tocaya with sultry décor. At Tocaya, we have a lighter aesthetic and the space is airier to reflect our fresh-casual concept. In both, you’ll see layers of our modern, organic aesthetic. We pride ourselves in our elevated design and the attention to detail we put into the finished [product].  Even at Toca Madera you’ll see that there’s not a single wall in the entire space that doesn’t have a multi-element layer.

What are some of your major accomplishments since launching the Madera Group?
Some of the most rewarding risks taken would be the construction of two Tocaya Organica restaurants without proof of concept. We believed in what we were doing and in the brand so much that we began with two locations before we even saw the success of the first. Many thought that taking on the modern organic Mexican space and a vegan-forward approach couldn’t be done, but we converted our entire company into this one culinary concept. To see it take off and be embraced by the community was definitely one of the most rewarding risks of all for us.

Any plans to expand?
We intend on expanding to the East Coast in the next few years. Manhattan is a crucial market to be in, but we want to take our time and look at every element of the business. R&D is important to us, so we want to learn our customer base first, understand their flavor profiles, and create a menu that is carefully curated for each market before we go into it. When we expand across the U.S., we want to make sure we have the perfect execution and that’s what we intend to do.