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Celebrity Grub Restaurants The Katchup

Watts Restaurateur Shares How Roy Choi’s ‘Locol’ Could Succeed Upon Reopening

When Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson opened their first location of Locol in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, they hoped to bring a healthier fast food alternative at an affordable price. Fast forward a few years later, and the restaurant face of Locol has transitioned to a focus on catering while Choi works on developing Locol 2.0.

The chain had its obstacles, including significant drops in foot traffic over time and a particularly controversial zero-star review from the New York Times. As a result, money eventually ran out, as Choi explained on Twitter when the retail side shifted to catering. However, the question still existed as to why Locol had the problems it did. What could it do better in its next iteration?

Restaurateur Keith Garrett, the “Quesadilla Kingpin” of Watts and owner of viral sensation All Flavor No Grease, had some thoughts to share on the subject. As part of his conversation with Foodbeast’s Elie Ayrouth and Geoff Kutnick on The Katchup Podcast, he gave his take on what Locol was missing that the neighborhood wanted to see.

Garrett had almost nothing but praise for Choi’s concept and mission behind Locol. “Great guy, the building was beautiful, location was cool, prices were great!” he said on what people in the community thought. “You got an Asian guy that just opened up smack in the dead middle of Watts? Ooh, he hard for that! He gotta have heart! Let’s go see what the food do. So then you go in there, you see the whole staff is from the housing project and community over there… You’re like ‘Shit, let’s go support, let’s go see!'”

According to Garrett, all of Choi’s employees came from the projects, if not from Watts proper, then from nearby neighborhoods where he offered folks a chance to come together. It was an incredible undertaking and a project that opened up new possibilities for a community sorely in need of it.

But if Choi had such support from the locals for Locol, then why did it struggle? For Garrett, the menu played a big part into it.

“I think that Roy needed another dish on his menu, or three,” Garrett explained. “The dishes Roy came with were good, but were not fit for the hood. Don’t get me wrong, he had a veggie chili, BOMB… But there was just these other dishes on the menu that wasn’t getting bought a lot. You’re just not gonna survive on just some chili, or you’re not just gonna survive on one drink. You need something for the economy. Why would McDonald’s work versus Locol? They got a hamburger, fries, and a soda. He don’t.”

 

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Locol did sell burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets amongst their fast food staples. But for Garrett, those items tended to fall flat, mainly because they weren’t the same kind that the neighborhood was used to. That disconnect between what was being sold and what the community wanted may not have been the biggest reason, but it seems to have at least played a factor into foot traffic and sales.

It’ll definitely be something Choi addresses as he continues to develop his newest iteration of the concept, which should be ready to go some time in the near future. Meanwhile, the space is still being used to run catering and event operations. One also can’t understate the legacy that Locol left behind in its short time as a restaurant, as Choi made clear in a recent interview with GQ.

“No one talks about the two and a half years of jobs that we created,” Choi said. “Of attention, of discussion, of focus, of becoming LA Times Restaurant of the Year, of inspiring new generations… And the fact that we still have our catering operation going, and that we’re now raising more money to come back with the 3.0 version… maybe the retail part failed in its first iteration, but the business itself didn’t fail, I don’t think.”

When Locol’s return does come, Watts will be ready for the benefits it’s already shown to provide the community. Hopefully, the food resonates a lot stronger with them this time as well.

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How Chefs Feel About Roy Choi’s Zero Star Review From The NYT

Recently, a New York Times food critic made headlines by slapping Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson’s Locol restaurant with a zero-star review.

If you’re unfamiliar with Locol, the chefs opened the fast food restaurant with the intentions of bringing wholesome, affordable food to economically challenged areas, referred to as “food deserts,” such as Oakland and Watts, California.

The Times’ Peter Wells was not impressed by the restaurant, at all, and sparked a conversation about whether it was a fair assessment of the restaurant.

From the notion that he was unnecessarily harsh to a “fast food” restaurant, to the defense that the food should be better considering the famous faces behind the restaurant, opinions were flying out left and right.

We reached out to some highly-respected chefs, and also took to social media to get a sense of what the culinary brotherhood had to feel about the review.

Chefs have to deal with critics all the time, from newspapers to Yelp reviews, so they know what it’s like to take on harsh criticism. For the most part, the chefs felt the review was a bit of a stunt to bring attention to the newspaper, but there was also an overarching feeling that there is still a lot of value to what the chefs are trying to do with the restaurant.

Check out some chef reactions below and see if you agree:

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Andrew Gruel – Slapfish

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“I think we are giving way too much attention to this review. Obviously Wells reviewed this place because he knows he needs to create controversy in order to continue to entice readers. He is one step away from creating click-bait at the expense of chefs like Roy Choi.

With that said, I think all fast-food/fast-casual joints are fair game for reviews — negative or positive, they will draw customers to see what all the commotion is all about and that’s the real chance to win your guests. People saying he shouldn’t have reviewed the restaurant because of Choi’s altruistic perspective is bullshit. It’s a restaurant and should be treated with all the same standards as any other restaurant.

In our digital world, Yelp is more powerful in the long run, so let Mr. Wells try and keep creating fake food news.”

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Eddie Huang – BaoHaus

I received a 0 star @nytimes review, I pooped on Red Rooster, it’s important to hold people accountable even a saint like @RidingShotgunLA 🙏

— Eddie Huang (@MrEddieHuang) January 5, 2017

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Linh Nguyen – Crave 410

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“In my opinion the overall tone of the review was a bit harsh. Anyone who employs at-risk teens in a poverty stricken neighborhood deserves at least 4 stars.

As chefs, we are prepared to envision menus based on demographics, cost, availability and other variables. Reading some of the menu items LocoL provides I can see where the chefs were going based on flavor profiles, availability, and especially food cost. At the the end of the day, they humbled themselves with zero egos , bringing a seemingly impossible idea to fruition. They challenged corporate fast food on their own turf with healthier options at the same price point.

If that’s not ‘punk’ as fuck, I don’t know what is!

Also, The NY Times brought up good sentiments about the restaurant as well as even recommending items at the end of the article. It almost feels that Pete Wells wanted to give LocoL a couple stars. Maybe zero stars was intended to shock and get the article a little more shine.”

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Aron Habiger – Cooking on the Lam

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“When a reviewer comes in for a chef like Roy Choi or Daniel Patterson, the expectations are set at a certain bar. Any time they open a new restaurant, there’s pressure… the limelight is put on you, the pressure’s on, and you know you really have to nail it out of the gate. You expect, the minute they open that door, that it’s spot-on.

I feel bad when I see a really bad review for chefs. I know it hurts, ’cause I’ve been in those shoes, too.”

David Chang – Momofuku

David Chang with the subtweet here, but we do all know who he was talking about. He also jumped on Instagram and posted a photo of Locol, hashtagging it #welocol.

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#welocol

A photo posted by Dave Chang (@davidchang) on

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Jason Quinn – The Playground DTSA

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“That’s pretty brutal. I feel as if Pete Wells makes a fantastic point, but I think it would have been better not to write the review. These are two great chefs, opening alternatives to the evil of McDonald’s, and getting shit on.

Not only have some people “forgotten” about these demographics, no one seems to be concerned about their health.

I always thought it was very bold of Choi and Patterson to take on this venture. Always admired their dedication to feeding the masses, and didn’t know how it would end up. I certainly didn’t think the New York Times food critic would come out to write about them.”