Marissa Hermer has helped her husband Matt Hermer grow restaurants, bars, and nightclubs under his company, Ignite Group. But last season of Ladies of London we saw Marissa venture out on her own to establish her first eatery, Top Dog Soho. Though Marissa was initially nervous about opening up her first restaurant, the American-inspired hot dog joint seems to be a hit with locals, earning a spot on Time Out London's list of best hot dogs in the British capital.
However, Top Dog has actually changed quite a bit since we last saw it on TV. The biggest update to the restaurant is that earlier this month, Marissa officially changed its name to Top Dog Diner to reflect the greater variety in its food. "We've had a lot of interest in a larger menu, an expanded menu. It sort of includes hamburgers and salads and mac and cheese dishes and small bites and just a broader range of offerings," Marissa told The Daily Dish over the phone from the Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, England. "We opened, and it worked very well. And then I realized a lot of things needed to change and actually expand. Once our kitchen was comfortable with our hero products and offerings, we wanted to add some more."
Marissa, who is pregnant with her third child with her hubby, has been testing that expanded menu, which includes more hamburgers, salads, and mac and cheese, in addition to the mouthwatering hot dog creations that originally inspired her to open the restaurant. "It's been Heaven. I've been food tasting for the last month, which is like a pregnant woman's dream come true," she said. "Different types of hamburgers and hot dogs and mac and cheese and fried pickles. I've never had a fried pickle before, but that's like all of my pregnancy cravings wrapped up in one. It's so good."
Now coming up on the one-year anniversary of the hot dog joint's opening, Marissa is getting ready to open up a second Top Dog location in London's Chelsea neighborhood later this year. Luckily, Marissa feels more prepared this time around than when she first started Top Dog. "I didn't know what I was doing, but I really didn't know what I was doing. We just renovated [Top Dog Diner in Soho]. Before we were opening, I spent hours measuring counter height and sitting at the tables and making sure everything was the right height and shape and size. This last week, I just ripped everything out and put brand-new things in. God, if I had known the headaches that I would've saved if I was gonna change everything," she explained. "I've just made so many mistakes along the way, but I guess people do in the beginning. That's what you do, and I've learned so much. Now it's good. Now we're getting it right. But it took us about six months."
In addition to giving birth to a new Top Dog Diner location as well as a new baby, Marissa will also be bringing her first cookbook into the world. "Everything's happening at once. I can't complain though. It's all wonderful things, so bring it on," she joked.
The currently untitled cookbook will feature mostly British recipes for everything from lunch to dinner to tea to cocktails. "It's food that I cook for my family," Marissa said. "It's sort of my take on British food."
In fact, it was this California girl's own experience of adapting to British cuisine that inspired the cookbook. "I'm not a chef by any stretch, but I am a home cook," she explained. "Sort of the idea behind it is when I first moved to London, I actually didn't know how to cook. I mean, I grew up in California, obviously, I know how to make a really mean salad. But my husband is British. He's a meat-and-potatoes man, and he was raised on cottage pie, [also known as] shepherd's pie, toad in the hole. And I actually had to learn how to cook for my husband and all of the British food that he likes. And then also learn how to cook for a family."
Many of the recipes come from Marissa's British mother-in-law, who she said "is a great cook." "When I first moved here, Matt was like, 'OK, you need to learn how to cook my childhood food,' because everyone wants their comfort food," she said. "His mom taught me a lot of the food that he loves to eat, whether it's an Irish stew or how to make bread and butter pudding and all that stuff."
Marissa has also gotten a lot of help from her Ladies of London castmate Julie Montagu, who has already authored one cookbook, Superfoods: The Flexible Approach to Eating More Superfoods, and is currently working on her second. "She's giving me a lot of advice along the way, which is incredibly helpful. I'm so lucky to have her," Marissa said. "She's done this before, so it's really nice to have a friend who's sort of old hat at this."
Mostly, Julie has helped Marissa with time management. "I'm so ignorant. I've never written a cookbook before. So I sort of thought, Oh I know how to cook and write a recipe and there you go. And it's not like that at all." Marissa explained. "You have to test all the recipes. Each recipe probably takes about an hour-and-a-half, two hours to write. And then you have to test it and how it works with food stylists and the production of it. It really does take a chunk of time. So she actually gave me a little bit of a heads up about how much time this is gonna take. And it's helped me carve out pockets of my own time to create the book that I want to."
We can't wait to see what Marissa cooks up next.
Get a taste for Marissa's culinary expertise in the clip, below.