8 Downtown News
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September 19, 2016
At Shared Kitchen Spaces, They’re Cooking Up Talent Food ‘Incubators’ Offer New Opportunities for Downtown Chefs and Diners. Consider them the Airbnb of the Culinary Industry By Eddie Kim t’s a humid night in late July, and along the northeastern corner of the Arts District, a few people are getting lost on their way to dinner. One couple peers east on First Street, looking for a doorway into the Newberry Lofts. They turn back and notice the glow of fluorescent lights — the entrance waits in an alley off Vignes Street. Upstairs, chef Jason Fullilove greets visitors as they enter a cozy loft wrapped in brick, wood beams and rustic-chic furniture. The scents of warm bread and roasting meat waft in the air. Over the next two hours, Fullilove will serve a four-course dinner to about 20 people, with dishes including grilled Spanish octopus on polenta and sea urchin with black rice and kimchi. The cocktails flow freely. The meal costs $45. This isn’t an actual restaurant, but a sort of Airbnb for chefs, one of several in Downtown Los Angeles. They allow chefs to rent a space for a night or longer and experiment with ingredients or techniques without paying for the infrastructure of an actual restaurant. Fullilove is cooking in a space run by the company Feastly, and up in Chinatown there is Unit 120. A third spot, Crafted Kitchen, will arrive soon. Fullilove, the former executive chef at Clifton’s, has been testing his concept for “elevated soul food,” dubbed Barbara Jean, and views the Feastly dinners as an extended workshop before taking the idea to a permanent restaurant. “It takes a lot of pressure off me to find a lo-
Feastly operations head Adam Zolot (left) greets diners at the Arts District space. Chefs can rent out the kitchen to experiment and try new techniques and dishes.
photo courtesy Adam Zolot
cation, work out the pricing, find the furniture and equipment,” Fullilove said. “I can focus on building my brand, my site, and the actual food. I’ve been learning a lot.” Alvin Cailan, who opened Unit 120 in February, likens his space to a baseball team’s farm system, where new chefs can experiment and minimize risk. One Unit 120 success story is Lasa, a modern Filipino restaurant run by brothers Chase and Chad Valencia. The duo had garnered attention and confidence from pop-ups around
the city before they were drawn to Unit 120, which has a minimalist dining room and a large attached kitchen. They do dinners there several nights a week. “The idea we loved was the consistency. When you do a dinner a month, you’re hyping up one night. But the business can’t be judged by that,” said Chase Valencia. “We were doing multiple dinners a week, changing the menu every month, so it became real R&D.” Add Cailan’s recognized position in the city’s food scene, and Lasa caught fire. Even L.A. Times
critic Jonathan Gold visited, praising elegant takes on Filipino dishes like kinilaw (citrus-marinated raw fish) and pinakbet (vegetable stew). Cailan selects partners based on their experience and growth potential. Some arrive fully formed, as with the Valencias. Others are more green, but if they have a good idea, Cailan and his team (which includes pastry chef Isa Fabro and chef Lung Lee) can help. Unit 120 charges a flat fee of about $400 for a seated dinner, and Cailan suggests partners sell at least 30 tickets at $40-$70 each. If they break
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