Shannon Provost Olivas was studying abroad in London when she first spotted the ebullient Octavio Olivas bartending in Chelsea. “He had hair down to his shoulders, his shirt was open, [and] he was flaring cocktail bottles like right out of the movies,” says the 31-year-old. Later, she boldly asked the charming law student for his phone number. “I knew when I met him that I was going to marry him,” she recalls.
Not only did London introduce Octavio, 34, to the Allentown, Pennsylvania, native who would become his wife just three years later, it also ignited his love for entertaining. After Dreamworks wooed Shannon to Los Angeles with a coveted executive position, the natural-born host began throwing elaborate dinner parties for friends in their apartment. Complete with homemade cocktails and his 1940s Cumbia (Colombianmeets- African) records, the retro-mod events centered around his experiments with ceviche, the citrus-marinated raw seafood his father introduced him to on fishing trips during his Mexico City childhood.
The Olivases first realized their supper club concept might have moneymaking potential when their friend Dustin Lancaster offered his lounge The Sidebar at Covell on 11-11-11 for an open-to-all event. Together, the pair executed the first Ceviche Project pop-up: a refined five-course dinner (oysters, three savory ceviches, and dessert) with corresponding wine pairings. “Octavio and Shannon know what it really takes to command a room,” says Lancaster, of the fashionable duo behind what he deems “one of [LA’s] most progressive and entertaining food movements”—one in which tequila shots might accompany dessert and the meal might evolve into a lively dance party.
After that, the pair vowed to do one event a month. They quickly sold out 50-person parties at various cool venues, including Soho House, L&E Oyster Bar, and Dominick’s. Incorporating Michelin star restaurant–caliber ingredients (uni, sea urchin, Kampachi), citruses, exotic chiles, and authentic Mexican techniques into artful, never-repeated dishes, Ceviche Project reimagines the dish in a communal, celebratory manner throughout the city—an approach that’s garnered a cultlike following among foodies.
The Silver Lake entrepreneurs welcomed a baby girl named Victoria in February, and there is a spate of new projects on the menu for 2014—namely, an intimate 40-seat ceviche bar on the East Side, opening later this year. Octavio recently quit his day job as a nonprofit lawyer to helm the restaurant, where two theatrical ceviche masters (“cevicheros”) donning suits will teach about and prepare ceviche, alongside the handcrafted cocktails and hip-shaking tunes that make this experience about much more than stellar seafood. “This is a celebration—of the ingredients, the music, the host, and the passion,” says Octavio, citing that larger-than-life element that has buoyed the couple over time. “And that passion gets imparted to everybody.”