And the West moves East
Posted by Glenn Gritzner on May 28, 2015
Hello Enthusiasts –
You know the old saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’? Well, I’m trying to make sure you don’t get too familiar with these here precious pearls of insight dropped on you from time to time. I’m trying to be like that mysterious intriguing stranger who drops into your life at unpredictable times (but not in a stalkerish way). Anyway, whatever – it’s been awhile, as per usual. Makes you appreciate your Amateur Enthusiast all the more. At least, that’s what I tell myself. Just go with it.
What’s interesting about the two places I’m gonna tell you about is that, well, they’re not THAT interesting. They sorta opened under the radar, and they are outposts of other locations. Nice, welcoming outposts, sure … but they’re not so much the cool, unique things I’m usually trying to point you towards.
BUT, they are exactly what Downtown needs, and that’s why I’m excited about them. You see, Downtown can’t continue to grow and thrive if it depends on restauranteurs, bar owners, and developers who are “passionate about Downtown.” That’s what Downtown needed when it was still coming back – people like Tom Gilmore who recently said he didn’t know what he was going to do with St. Vibiana’s when he bought it – he just knew it was a cool space that someone should do something with. That’s risk. And now we have Neal Fraser’s Redbird, which I told you about in my last post, and is one of the best places to come along in Downtown in awhile that sits in St. Vib’s old rectory space.
But there are a limited number of Tom Gilmores and Neal Frasers (and Cedd Moseses and Andrew Meierans and and and) in the world. Downtown needs to “pencil out” on its own, as the developers say, without someone taking some sort of blind leap. But, that being said, the people who do open up here need to understand that they can’t just carbon copy something that works elsewhere and expect it to work here. It’s got to have some … Downtownness … to it.
Also, it’s especially telling when concepts that started on the Westside migrate Downtown. Loyal readers of this little vanity project know that I don’t have a lot of love for the Westside. This isn’t the place to detail all the reasons why, but for these purposes, let’s just say that, while opening a business is always risky, opening a business on the Westside is … less risky. It’s safe. It’s relatively straightforward. People there have money and go out. And, while us Enthusiasts have a hard time believing this, there are still plenty of folks who think that Downtown is too risky for them. Look how long it took Whole Foods to take the plunge.
So that’s why I was especially excited to see both 800 Degrees Pizza and Plan Check open in Downtown. To be clear: I’m familiar with both owners, and these guys aren’t “Westside/risk averse” guys. But the simple fact remains that 800 Degrees was started in Westwood and Plan Check started on Sawtelle, near all the Japanese places. Both with plans to expand, sure, but in the past, Downtown would have been the place you open something up after your business model was super secure with a number of other locations, and you could afford to ‘take a chance.’ But these guys … well, they couldn’t get to Downtown fast enough. And that says something about both them and Downtown. It’s only Plan Check’s third location, and I think it’s 800 Degrees’ third or fourth location.
First, 800 Degrees. When I saw it was opening in the late, lamented Provecho’s space on Wilshire, my first thought was ‘how are they going to fill all that space with individual pizza eaters?’ The answer turns out to be simple: fast service, quality ingredients, and inviting design. Duh. (amazing how many people get that basic equation wrong, but that’s for another post, too)
Here’s what it looks like:
It’s a little tough to capture, but you can see that it’s inviting, urban, easy on the eyes, comfortable. It’s the kind of place that isn’t for special occasions, isn’t really a ‘wow’ place, isn’t super unique. But what it IS is very “Downtown”-feeling, easy on the wallet, fast, and comfortable. The kind of place that’s going to be busy all the time and around forever.
Almost in the exact same category, but with very different particulars is Plan Check. Not only is Downtown only Plan Check’s third location, but it’s across the 110, at the bottom of one of those new apartment buildings that nobody ever thinks about but a lot of people live in.
It, too, is very … urbanely comfortable. (I wrote “urbanly” which is, admittedly, a made up word but when spell check corrected it to ‘urbanely’, I decided that fit and has the added distinction of actually being a word).
Here’s another peek:
See? Inviting, comfortable, urban, nice. And one thing Plan Check does really well is make all their locations situationally design-appropriate.
The menu is good, too. Their famous burger (with ketchup leather!) is on every menu, and that’s always worth a try, but they added a couple Korean items here, and they have great drinks too – if you’re there during happy hour, get the barrel aged old fashioned they serve right out of the tap.
Yes, you have to make your way there if you live or work more in the “heart” of Downtown. But it’s worth it, and don’t let the freeway fool you – it’s a shorter walk here than many of the places you probably go to more often.
So. Do you have to run to these places today? Probably not. But will you like them when you go? I guarantee it. And are these really worthwhile additions to Downtown? Absolutely. Because Downtown can’t be just a mix of ‘destination’ places and really localized small little spots. It has to be a market worthy of drawing smart, passionate business people just on the numbers – not on just “belief” or “passion” (though you gotta have those, too). It also has to have these ‘middle market’ places that are inviting, neighborhood-y yet worth a trip there, and good enough to draw people back. And when places that start on the Westside can’t make their way Downtown fast enough? That’s a sign of staying power.
800 Wilshire Blvd. (between Fig & Flower)
1111 Wilshire Blvd. (between Bixel & Lucas)