Location, location, location..
That is said to be a major key to success when opening a restaurant.
So where does Roy Choi open his newest venture, LocoL? On 103rd, a street that during the 1965 Watts Riots became nationally known as "Charcoal Alley" and not for the coals used to grill steaks, but for the burning cinders of the torched buildings by African Americans pushed to the brink by mistreatment from law enforcement. To top that off, to defy the location, location, location pundits, it's a half block from Grape Street, which the mere - and threatening - mention of so often has preceded mayhem.
But, on a dreary Monday afternoon, that location, 103rd and Grape, across the street from the Jordan Downs housing projects, mighta been the most joyous, grateful and satisfied corner in this whole city.
"This is so good for the community," said Bow Wow, a fixture in Jordan Downs, who is employed by LocoL as an "Ambassador". The ambassador duties? Well, let's just say Bow Wow, like any ambassador, represents the territory to other territories in a positive manner.
Some were in line to eat, Others were just hanging out, happy to be part of a celebration in a community that has seen so much sadness come its way. One of them was Daude Sherrills, who along with his brother Aqeela - a prominent gang interventionist and owner/partner in this restaurant - was one of the architects of the historic 1992 Watts Gang Peace Treaty.
"This is what a community development business is all about," said Daude as he held court with old and new friends near LocoL's patio. "Plant the roots of the business deep in the community. It won't tip over that way. There are 36 jobs here, and 99% of the workers are from Watts. This is great."
On Saturday, at LocoL's back patio, Nardo, another Jordan Downs stalwart who is employed here, was telling customers "It's a soft opening", He turned to a reporter he's known for decades who had chided him for that lingo. "Hey, I'm learning the restaurant language."
LocoL, which bills itself as a "revolutionary fast food restaurant", is the brainchild of Roy Choi and famed San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson. The next restaurant is set to open in SF's gritty Tenderloin district.. There's even one planned near the notorious Nickerson Gardens, a mile away from 103rd Street. .
This is from Choi and Patterson
"We are a company where the chefs think about what to feed you. Where the chefs think about how to take care of you. We fundamentally believe that wholesomeness, deliciousness and affordability don't have to be mutually exclusive concepts in fast food. We believe that fast food restaurants can truly empower the communities they currently underserve. We believe that the giant corporations that feed most of America have degraded our communities by maximizing profits over decades. We believe that chefs should feed America, and not suits."
Monday, one of Local's managers, well known as "Ready", was moving through the crowded restaurant with the ease of a maitre d' at Spago, greeting old friends, chatting up new ones. "It's great to see you," "Welcome to LocoL." "Enjoy your meal."
The line of customers went down Anzac Avenue for nearly a whole city block.They were not disappointed.
"I'm not going to Burger King or McDonalds or Carl's Jr, anymore," said Dion Mangram, a life-long resident of Jordan Downs. "This is my new restaurant, It's healthy and delicious and reasonable."
Indeed, a fried chicken sandwich was four bucks and I'm craving it as I write this. I might go back tonight. Now, when I got to Watts and I go often - LocoL will be my spot.
A local chef, Nancy Silverton, was at LocoL Monday afternoon and she raved about the hamburger and the chicken sandwich, but also about the concept. "This is delicious. I applaud Roy This is really something very special for our city."
Inside, Roy Choi beamed when he saw a reporter who has covered Watts for 25 years. They did a hard double-clutch handshake and - to the naysayers who doubted he could ever open on 103rd Street - he triumphantly roared "Fuck 'em! Fuck 'em."
It was the most beautiful restaurant opening I have ever attended. And as tasty and healthy as the food is, LocoL is about location, location, location.