Married couple Natalie Dial and Harry Posner are creating a new restaurant called Tomat that will soon take root in the Westchester Triangle, adjacent to local bibliophile hangout, The Book Jewel. Both the eatery and the bookstore have a familial connection that not only honors the past success of Westchester’s lauded Drollinger family, but also sees an exciting future.
Planting the seeds
Dr. Natalie Dial is the granddaughter of Howard B. Drollinger (aka Mr. Westchester), who founded Drollinger Properties along with his mother Ella back in the 1940s. Nearly all the commercial properties along the portion of the Sepulveda corridor just north of LAX, including the Westchester Village Center, The Parking Spot and the Paradise Building, are owned or were developed by Drollinger Properties. Drollinger’s daughter, Karen Dial, is now the President of Drollinger Properties, and the proud owner of The Book Jewel. Natalie Dial is Karen’s daughter and, with the help of her husband Dr. Harry Posner, Natalie is continuing her family’s mission of keeping Westchester a thriving, family-centric business community.
Natalie met Harry on a research trip in the West African country The Gambia, back in 2013. Though it was a mission to provide healthcare for underserved populations that brought the couple together, it was food that connected them in a more visceral way.
“Harry was a great cook back then,” says Natalie. “We loved going to the seafood market where he would barter for delicious fish and tiger prawns. I was like, ‘I need to sit next to this guy at the dinner table! He definitely knows what he’s doing.’”
Harry and Natalie became great friends over the next couple of years, despite carrying on separate lives–he in the U.K. and she in California. It wasn’t until a meet-up in New York City on the last day of the year that their relationship blossomed.
“It was New Year’s,” says Harry. “We had to have a good night kiss and that was it.”
Natalie agrees, saying, “I think it was obvious there was a lot of love there waiting to be explored.”
For the rest of the trip, the budding sweethearts dined at the most compelling restaurants New York had to offer.
“We ate delicious food, which is our favorite thing to do,” says Harry.
“It’s a lifestyle, now,” says Natalie.
Unbeknownst to them at the time, that foodie lifestyle would permeate into their professional lives, too.
Digging in the dirt
Though born in the U.S., Harry grew up in London where he became a successful medical doctor. Natalie joined him in London in 2016 and started work on her DrPH degree.
In 2019, Harry took time off from the hospital to attend culinary school, but still had no intention of leaving the medical field. When they discovered a restaurant space had become available in Westchester, they decided to pursue the opportunity and make the move to Los Angeles.
“We then took the long way around to move to L.A. so that we could stop in Japan for a few months while Harry worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant in early 2020,” says Natalie.
Not long after they got to L.A., however, COVID struck.
As difficult as the pandemic was for everyone, it gave Harry and Natalie much-needed time to really investigate what kind of restaurant they wanted to create and explore how to incorporate their own identity into the venture.
“We went back, looked at our roots and how we got here. One of the big things for me was that I wanted to have our own little area to grow our own food. I grew up with parents doing that,” says Harry.
Creating their own urban garden in Westchester wouldn’t be easy, but they managed to find a space in a parking lot off Sepulveda, right behind Melody Bar & Grill. They dug up the concrete and nurtured the soil that had been dormant for years. With a lot of dedication and help, not to mention soil sampling, they created a productive vegetable garden where they can grow at least some food for the restaurant.
“It’s important to us to know where your food is coming from,” says Harry, whom you’ll find most weeks at the local farmers’ markets scoping out the produce and chatting with vendors.
Natalie agrees, saying, “Just watching the transformation of what that parking lot used to look like and now–knowing there’s exposed soil and things growing in it, and it’s green–it’s amazing. Now we walk around in this area a lot and we’re thinking, ‘How do we pedestrianize this in a different way? How do we bring different community partners together to do that?’ So just creating the garden before even getting the restaurant off the ground has connected us to so many new people doing great things with the same mindset as us. That’s been really fulfilling, too.”
Harry and Natalie settled on calling their restaurant Tomat for a surprising reason. In an interesting coincidence, both Harry and Natalie had the nickname “Tomato” growing up.
“My grandfather used to call me ‘Big Tomato’ because I was very round and red with flushed cheeks when I was a kid,” says Natalie.
Harry says he was called ‘The Tomat’ when he got sunburned.
“I turned bright red,” he says with a laugh.
“It felt like a term of endearment for us both,” says Natalie. “And it also felt right that it was my grandpa’s nickname for me in that all this goes back to my great-grandmother and my grandpa and their influence in this area, so it felt like the right name.”
What’s on the menu
Because they want the restaurant’s menu to be seasonal, Harry says tomatoes won’t be the star ingredient but will make an appearance for many months of the year.
“Hopefully, we’ll have some ferments of tomato and things like that will be used in the off-season. It won’t be a tomato-heavy menu, we just want to show that we’re growing stuff and there’s a seasonality to it. As long as the tomatoes are local and delicious, we’ll have them,” he says.
Tomat will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, with breakfast focused on great coffee paired with pastries. Lunch will be on the simpler side, with things that are easy to take away like salads and sandwiches. But dinner will be slightly higher end.
“We’ll really be focusing on produce, with meat and fish dishes, but we’re also working on delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes,” says Harry.
Natalie says they did a little research and chatted with people in the community to find out what they wanted in a local eatery before they finalized their plan for Tomat.
“Everyone was saying they were dying for a date-night spot, or place where they could go for a cocktail and get slightly more dressed up–a place that’s different than what Westchester has to offer right now. But we’ll never turn people away for wearing flip-flops,” she says.
Right now, Tomat is slated to open in the summer of 2023, but Natalie and Harry have one task they need to accomplish before then: becoming parents. Natalie is currently pregnant with a girl and if starting a family and a restaurant at the same time sounds like a lot to put on one plate, well, it is.
“This baby is coming before the restaurant,” says Natalie. “It just happened that the timeline for nature was faster than for construction. It’s really fun to feel like we’re setting our roots down here and growing a family. You just start to think differently when you do that, for me at least, as a soon-to-be mom. I think it’s lucky that Harry and I are doing this together so there may be a crib upstairs at the restaurant at some point. There may just be days that look like where we’re creating a restaurant and taking care of a kid at the same time, I don’t know.”
Harry feels lucky to have grandparents and friends nearby.
“We have a really good support system,” says Harry. “There’s never a good time for any of this to be done so we thought, why not do all of it together? Why not make life for ourselves as hard as possible?”
Both he and Natalie have a big laugh before she chimes in with her usual positive outlook.
“At least we’ll have all the right blenders to puree that perfect baby food!” she says.
Feeding the future
As Natalie and Harry prepare to nurture and feed Westchester’s next generation, they know their success depends on the support of the local community–just as it did for the Drollingers and Dials before them. Natalie hopes to follow in her family’s footsteps.
“They really cared about the community,” she says. “I know my grandma used to love to walk across the street to the Korner Deli and eat lunch a couple of days a week and support their tenants. We want to do that too, and be symbiotic in the area. I hope everyone feels welcome and is proud that Tomat exists in their community.”
Look for the grand opening of Tomat in the summer of 2023 at 6261 West 87th Street. Follow them at tomatkitchen.com.
Story by Shanee Edwards. Photos by Zsuzsi Photography.