They had a California dream. The young couple from Saint Petersburg, Russia – culinary entrepreneurs who loved the ocean and sunshine, imagining golden sunsets over an endless sea of possibilities. After founding WAVE in 2014, one of the most successful restaurants in Russia, Daria Ocean and Alex Zhukov brought their gourmet burger concept to Southern California, and never looked back. Well, almost never…
After relocating to Southern California in 2016, their intention was to continue to operate WAVE in Russia remotely, with plans for expansion here in the United States. “We always knew we wanted to be here in California,” says Alex. “But we thought we should build something in Russia first.”
In its first year, WAVE rapidly garnered numerous honors, such as the Best Burger Restaurant moniker from Time Out in 2014, the Certificate of Quality in 2015 from Yell and the Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor from 2016 to 2018. Daria and Alex credit the success of WAVE to an emphasis on quality ingredients and a dedication to outstanding service. “I think it’s the fresh ingredients that make our gourmet burgers unique,” notes Alex.
The original Saint Petersburg menu included some very unique craft-style burger offerings like wagyu beef, chicken, crab, vegan and black burgers made with buns dyed black with squid ink. In addition, they offered their signature Cake-Size, the biggest burger in the city. (Let’s just say it was meant for sharing.) At its peak, WAVE was known as the No. 1 restaurant in Saint Petersburg. “Travelers from all over the world put WAVE on their must-visit list,” says Daria. You could say this young, ambitious couple was riding the WAVE of success.
And then the WAVE came crashing down.
In 2018, the economy in Russia declined and the restauranteurs were forced to shut down the Saint Petersburg location. It was a painful decision. In Russia, they had it all, a successful business, a comfortable lifestyle and a supportive community of family and friends. “We left it all behind and basically came to California with nothing.” Alex explains. But the Russia natives continued to hold on to their dream of becoming successful in America and ultimately reinvented themselves.
Like all successful entrepreneurs, Daria and Alex were able to see opportunities in their new homeland. “We always felt at home here in Southern California.” says Daria. “Home is more than just place. Home is a feeling.” Despite many burger establishments in America, Daria and Alex did not see anything like the craft burger offerings of WAVE. Drawing upon their restaurant experience, they decided to reimagine the concept for a new audience. But instead of jumping back into a brick-and-mortar restaurant, they partnered with wine bars and breweries for a “pop-up” approach – a popular trend in the current culinary scene. “In the beginning, we hosted events at The Hood Kitchen Space in Costa Mesa, but eventually we found that it wasn’t cost-efficient,” recalls Daria. “So, utilizing my marketing experience, I started contacting wine bars and breweries to see if they were interested in partnering with us.”
Hosting pop-up events has proven to be a perfect match for WAVE’s gourmet burger-and-fries concept. They’ve stayed true to their roots, providing an alternative to the “stuffy gourmet” dining scene that was prevalent in Saint Petersburg. WAVE serves up fresh, high-quality food for meat lovers as well as plant-based options for vegans. Through experience, the couple has found that simplicity is the key – most Southern Californians prefer a straight-forward cheeseburger and fries. But the thing that makes WAVE burgers stand out is the secret sauce and buns baked fresh from a local bakery. And, of course, the Cake-Size burger is always available through catering or delivery, if you’re having a party or if you happen to have a big appetite for a giant gourmet burger.
WAVE now partners with Main Street Wine Co. in Huntington Beach on Thursday nights, as well as other local breweries in Orange County and Long Beach. The Russian couple with the California dream appears to be riding the WAVE of success once again. On March 27, Daria and Alex celebrate WAVE’s six-year anniversary. “It’s been quite a journey from being the best burger restaurant in Saint Petersburg to becoming the one and only O.C. gourmet burger pop-up from Huntington Beach,” says Daria. And, in the near future, the couple plans to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant that serves burgers along with beer and wine. “We’re just waiting for the right opportunity and location,” says Alex. “It’s always been our dream to have a place near the ocean, and it’s important for us to keep that dream alive.”
Photography courtesy of Daria Ocean and Alex Zhukov.