One Year Later: How 6 Beloved LA Businesses Pivoted During the Pandemic
Here’s what’s next for the owners of Broken Spanish, Cutie’s and more
Even if the sunshine and relatively sprawling nature of the city means Los Angeles might’ve fared better during the pandemic than some other places, the economic impact of COVID-19 has still been sorely felt. Particularly when it comes to small, local businesses, the overall quarantine guidelines, lack of indoor service capabilities, and mass unemployment required finding a way to pivot, or for many places, closing their doors completely.
Whether it was bars and restaurants, gift shops and coffee shops, or diners and local haunts, here are some of the most beloved LA spots who needed to shut down or change their strategy to the pandemic — and how to keep supporting them even if their focus has shifted. By fall and summer, things will hopefully be moving in a more positive direction, but let’s keep these companies afloat for their final push, or honor the runs they had.
Ray Garcia’s lauded Mexican-American restaurant Broken Spanish had been a staple in downtown’s South Park neighborhood for the past five years — until last August, when Garcia announced it would shutter. With a location close to the bustling heart of downtown’s LA Live complex, the restaurant had experienced a dizzying loss of the foot traffic that had sustained it.
Broken Spanish was a haven for Angelenos, with a menu sourced almost entirely within the city that sought to constantly marry flavors of Southern California and Mexican cuisine. The good news is that while the loss of his brick-and-mortar location weighs heavily, a few weeks ago Garcia and the private co-working space Neuehouse announced a month-long residency, highlighting some of the menu’s most popular dishes.
“At a time when we are all looking to rediscover and reconnect, Chef Ray and Broken Spanish are symbols of the hospitality industry’s resilience,” Neuhouse CEO Josh Wyatt told Inside Hook. “We reached out to collaborate with Ray by offering NeueHouse as a platform to create a safe, al fresco home for the much missed offering to Angelenos and our members alike.”
The five-week, outdoor dining pop-up runs until March 27th. Make reservations here.
Cutie’s Coffee Shop
The cultural influence of LA’s queer community belies a stubborn dearth of queer-owned or queer-focused spaces. That gap was part of what inspired Cutie’s Coffee Shop owners Virginia Bauman and Iris Bainum-Houle to turn their newsletter — Queers, Coffee & Donuts — into a full-fledged space, raising over $30,000 with an IndieGogo campaign in 2017. It survived a few months into the pandemic before closing its doors last summer.
Still, the community’s digital origins have fostered a vibrant virtual community since the shop closed, with attention shifting to an online-focused hub at hicuties.com that offers resources and virtual events — primarily geared toward queer and trans and people of color — like meditation groups and book clubs, now under the leadership of CEO Sasha Jones. Given how disproportionately the pandemic has impacted more vulnerable populations, the continued existence of Cutie’s community in virtual form is a balm.
Support their continued work by becoming a supporter of Cutie’s Patreon.
Bibo Ergo Sum
Navigating the necessary precautions off the pandemic has been the trickiest of all for bars, where close contact, small rooms, and lots of hands-on service has always been the gold standard, from the dives to the fanciest cocktail spots. Even with re-opening guidelines geared toward al fresco service, all drink orders must come with food, which presents a problem to places without kitchens. Bibo Ergo Sum, one of the most classic, acclaimed cocktail bars in Los Angeles went under last June due to the constraints — the market for to-go cocktails just isn’t as robust as some might believe. Besides, as the bar’s owner Tait Forman points out, it isn’t really the drinks that keep people coming back again and again to a bar, it’s always the people running it.
“What made our bar special was the people, the team,” he told Inside Hook. “So I would say please support our former Bibo-ers as best you can. They’re all wonderful people and are still creating some incredible drinks, art and podcasts. I’ve been touched by the shared experiences of our guests and regulars, and ultimately nothing ever dies if it lives on in our memories. So if you have photos, stories, or favorite drinks please share them with your friends and family. And also please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m always happy to share whatever I can, whether it’s a favorite recipe or any remaining artifacts I may have like our pins or other merch. It was an immense privilege to be able to operate Bibo and to get to share it with the world, and I look forward to sharing a drink with all of you when this is over.”
Check out some classic Bibo Ergo Sum merch available on their website.
Chef Vartan Abgaryan has been connected to some of the most popular restaurants in Los Angeles, including the Public Kitchen & Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel, Silverlake’s garden paradise Cliff’s Edge, and the luxurious sky-rise, 71Above. He broke off in spring of 2019 to launch his own concept, Yours Truly, in the middle of Venice’s highly trafficked Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where it quickly became a neighborhood favorite. Unfortunately, the 18-month-old restaurant said its final goodbyes last November, and Abgaryan pivoted to the pop-up parking lot concept Post-Script for a few months in the meantime.
Now, he’s all-in on another Venice-based spot, Nueva, alongside the same partners who helped him open Yours Truly: Dave Reiss and Paul Pruitt, along with chef Mesraim Llanez. The brightly lit, massive patio is a godsend in the era of outdoor-only dining — it’s part of what’s kept Nueva going, while the other two projects stalled. If you’re looking for a place to eat out on the west side during all the long, boring days and nights before vaccines become widespread, look no further. From staples like chilaquiles to more experimental fare like octopus tacos, support Abgaryan’s long tenure in LA’s food scene when you get the chance.
Los Angeles County Store
MaryAnne LoVerme has been supporting her fellow LA creatives for years. LoVerme began curating and selling locally made goods in her Silverlake storefront, Los Angeles Country Store, in May 2014, hosting events like trunk shows and art installations to bring the LA maker community together. When the city shut down in March 2020, LoVerme hung on to her storefront for a few months — but after Mother’s Day came and went, and the lockdown was still in place, she decided to pivot.
“Once I saw that we were going to miss Mother’s Day, that’s when I started to realize there may not be a recovery from this,” she told InsideHook. Operating the shop as an online-only business now, she still stocks all of the same local artisans and products from LA creators, but now customers can browse on her website instead of a brick-and-mortar store. “The mission of the shop for me is to support people who have small businesses in Los Angeles,” she said. “I’ve started focusing on boxes, where I curate different collections of items. I’m reimagining what I can offer to people who are also interested in supporting LA makers and shopping locally.”
Check out LoVerme’s curated springtime edition of the Support LA Makers box here.
101 Coffee Shop
With a stay-at-home order in place, the spaces many people missed most were spots where they could idle away an afternoon, or hang out between meals — places like diners and coffee shops. One of the best in both categories was the beloved East Hollywood diner 101 Coffee Shop, a Hollywood landmark tucked into the bottom of a chain hotel and formerly known as the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop.
Perhaps most infamous for appearing in the cult film Swingers, the shop is co-owned by Warner Ebbink and chef Brandon Boudet, who also operated the tiny cocktail joint MiniBar in the same building. Both spots are now closed — and in January, the pair announced that the coffee shop’s closure would be permanent. Ebbink and Boudet’s other restaurants are still going strong, with a deli window, takeout, and outdoor dining at the flagship Little Dom’s in Los Feliz, and a brand-new offshoot just up the coast in Carpinteria.
Little Dom’s Seafood is an extension of what made the original into a beloved neighborhood joint. Hey, maybe it doesn’t have the same Hollywood appeal as the 101 did, but since a trip up the coast feels a lot safer than getting on a plane these days, why not head an hour or so out of town to try some squid ink pasta?
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