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How Horse Thief Helped Revive Grand Central Market

Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
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Photos by Elizabeth Daniels

If a rising tide raises all boats, the Grand Central Market's recent wave of revitalization has certainly helped to elevate the status of adjacent Texas-style barbecue joint Horse Thief. Now one year into their time at the market, Wade McElroy and Russell Malixi are shattering their month-over-month sales goals, and with expanded evening hours and a new bar, the seas look calmer than ever.

But while Bon Appétit recently lauded the Grand Central Market as one of the 50 Best Restaurants in America (despite actually being made up of a bunch of small restaurants and shops), McElroy and Malixi haven't been content to sit back and relax. The pair still smokes all their brisket for more than half a day, changes out kegs when they're short on staff and makes sure things run smoothly in an area of downtown that can still be a bit rough around the edges. One year in, and Horse Thief is sailing just as hard as ever.

How's your first year been? Wade: With any place that opens, there's an initial big push because of curiosity. So we had that, and it was great. But really, the first few months were a little tight, a little scary. Us, G&B and Sticky Rice were kind of the pioneers out here, and we all would get together and talk about if this thing was going to work. Around December and January, Belcampo and Eggslut opened, and I think the market started hitting critical mass. Since then, every month has basically beaten the month before it, which has been fantastic. I feel like we're getting to realize the dream we originally had, which was to have a cool barbecue joint, where people come grab a beer.

What's it been like being downtown for this total revitalization? Russell: There's just always so much new stuff that's popping up. There's all the great events at Grand Park, new restaurants opening up it seems like every week. On the Bon Appétit list, three of the top 50 restaurants were in downtown L.A., so it's just an exciting place to be.
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How much harder do you think it would be to open up Horse Thief now? Wade: They wouldn't give it to us now. The people that they're bringing in are experienced operators. We had zero experience in L.A. We got lucky because they were just trying to get the ball rolling, and they let these two scrubs in the door.

Russell: Definitely right time, right place for us, and I think them.

Any horror stories from those first few months? Russell: I mean, it's still downtown L.A., so you do get some interesting characters that pop in and out of here.

Wade: It's been a long time since we've had a bum fight on the patio. It was kind of wild when we first opened up. There would be some kind of incident every single day, and we'd have to go get security.

Russell: Now it's a place where people bring their families to enjoy good barbecue and have this peaceful atmosphere.

It must be nice to have that association with the larger market, right next door. Wade: It's been priceless, being a part of this thing. It's such an entity. It's been great in so many regards. We've learned from a lot of the talented people inside. I mean, we were on NPR before we even opened. A lot of that is our own talent and energy, but the market has been such a springboard. It's just accelerated things for us.

How long has the bar been open? Russell: About three months. It's been good. We just started doing mimosas on the weekends. Twelve beers on tap, a few wines by the glass. It definitely helps. I mean, barbecue and beer; they go pretty well together.

Wade: Seven out of our ten operating service times happen during the day right now, so I think alcohol will help more as we stay open later. We obviously have some vulnerability, being an outdoor restaurant. If it rains, we might do half the business we normally do. But it's a good space, and we can average those out across the year.

So what's the next move? Russell: We're kicking around a few ideas. Maybe another one of these down the road.

Wade: If we were looking to do another Horse Thief, it would be a whole indoor space, gastropub feel, more fleshed out menu than just barbecue, but still with that as the background. Craft beer, cocktails, something more standalone than what we've got here.

Russell: It's a pretty small kitchen right now. We do alright, but we'd love to have more space. It would have to be in a different part of town, obviously.

Wade: Studio City, Hollywood, Westside. But as for this location, we'd like to expand this whole thing, maybe add a few seats. We're exploring that now, but really it's just going to be this. Hopefully for a long time.
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· All Horse Thief Coverage [~ELA~]
· All One Year In Coverage [~ELA~]

Horse Thief

324 S Hill St, Los Angeles, CA 90013

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