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.
Photos by Elizabeth Daniels
Little Beast's chef/owner Sean Lowenthal firmly believed that Eagle Rock was lacking the sort of family-friendly neighborhood restaurant that could appeal to just about everyone, so he went and started one himself. Now, one year in, Lowenthal seems to have been proven right — Little Beast is a local dinner destination for plenty of Eastsiders, and its unsung patio is one of the better Eagle Rock options for summertime dining.
Lowenthal sat down with Eater to chat about his first year with Little Beast, which also happens to be the first restaurant he's ever owned. From first-night jitters to his chef de cuisine Sujan Mun's influence on the menu, this is One Year In with Little Beast in Eagle Rock.
How did the Little Beast space come about? I was working at the Chateau Marmont, and I was really wanting to open a restaurant. All the rents were crazy, and everyone just kept talking about timing. The right time, the right space. So almost two years after we started looking, I suddenly get a call from the first guy I ever talked to, and he said that this space was under the radar and hadn't even hit hit the market yet. I knew the space already, so I was kind of excited, and it just ended up being the right price, for the right amount of seats, with the right patio.
Now that the first year has come and gone, how's it been? It hasn't been an overnight success, but it's definitely been successful. We grew into something really nice. I was literally the grill cook for the first six months. I was a filthy animal every night, but totally into it. Now I'm out on the patio talking to people. It's a night and day difference.
So have you hit your groove now? I think we've proven that this works. Ambitiously, I want us to be busier and busier. Some of the best restaurants in the city are constantly busy, and I'm envious of that. But I really wanted to do an ambitious neighborhood restaurant, and I think we've succeeded. I tell my wife: Little Beast is a lot of things to a lot of people. We're a place for date night, a place for families to get together, a place for girls to go out and share some plates and wine. We're a place for guys to come get beers and burgers. You'll never be the restaurant for everybody, but this is the closest thing I've found to that.
Who is your average customer? I feel like it's just as much Pasadena as Eagle Rock. We get so many different people. We got a lot of older people who come early, a lot of families. I remember somebody slammed us for being family friendly, and, well, that's kind of the point of a neighborhood restaurant. To truly be a neighborhood restaurant, you've got to have a kids menu. That's just what you do. But they generally come in before 7 p.m., so if it's date night, I guess those people should come in after. And Little Beast, the name, comes from a nickname for my own kid. We wanted to be something cute and clever that's approachable for kid and families. I love neighborhood restaurants, and I think every neighborhood should have one. I feel like Eagle Rock didn't have one, and I wanted to be that.
You're happy with menu you've got? We started off pretty boring, in some ways, in comparison to some of the cutting-edge places in town. I don't cook sous vide, I don't cook molecular gastronomy, I'm not looking for any crazy way of turning a liquid into a powder or a powder into a liquid. We're pretty straightforward. My mentor would be like a Mario Batali type, because he cooks the same way, but is much, much more famous and has being doing it a long time and successful and is probably the best Italian chef in America. But, you know, besides that we're just like each other.
My chef de cuisine Sujan Mun started two weeks after we opened, and she's so talented that pretty much the menu is hers now. We go through it together, but she's unreal. It's awesome, because she understands who we are and what we're trying to be and using free-range and organic ingredients when possible and staying local and all that, and she put out some amazing food. And that's what I like, really. If I were micromanaging her process, it wouldn't be as good. And if I were doing it all myself, I'd be freaking out.
How many covers do you guys do on a weeknight? Right now, we're doing anywhere from 85 to 120 on the weekdays, and doing 145 to 190 on the weekends. We have 109 seats, and when Larkin's was here it was less than half that. We built the whole side patio space. We spent four months building the place out. As much as I'd love to open another restaurant, that process of the restaurant business sucks. It's the one part where I'm a total fish out of water, and I'm relying on somebody else to try and do a good job.
What was the first night like at Little Beast? The first night was crazy. We did 48 people, and it was the hardest 48 people of my life. It was embarrassing how hard it was. And everyone's giving high fives at the end, and I said just hang in there. The next night was 65 and it was still horrible. It was always like the most challenging small amount of covers you've ever seen. Our first weekend, we did 90 covers, and we were defeated at the end. Now, that number is a joke.
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