The Munchies team over at Vice managed to track down Travis Lett, the co-owner of Gjelina/GTA/Gjusta who’s been in the hot seat lately over some perceived local grievances in his native neighborhood of Venice.
Gjusta, one of America’s best new restaurants, has been under scrutiny since the moment it opened because of where it is — a light industrial neighborhood with lots of longtime neighbors — and how it’s handled itself, namely foregoing ‘seating’ (which was unapproved by the city) in favor of milk crates and such.
What’s interesting about this Munchies read is that it really doesn’t pull any punches, nor does it go out of its way to heap praise on Lett or his growing empire. It portrays the self-taught chef and baker as seriously impassioned, sure, but also speaks with neighbors on both sides of the fence as to whether the popular all-day eatery is indeed a good fit for the area.
Here are six of the best lines from the lengthy piece:
Lett knows all the hipster stereotypes, and he’s cautious when acknowledging them: "I want to be careful talking about what it’s become, because I’m certainly part of it" Lett says at the beginning of the story.
Yes, people are getting evicted nearby, but it’s not all Lett’s fault: "The tenants of the artists’ studios a few doors down are facing eviction to make way for a new office building," says Munchies writer William Fowler, adding later: "But ... let’s be real: Will the new building next door be worth more because of its proximity to Lett’s bakery? Sure."
Lett is still actively involved in the day-to-day: Apparently, despite his successes, co-owner Lett doesn’t clock out early. "When he’s not manning the kitchen at Gjelina, he’s pulling the night shift at his bakery, throwing dough at 3 AM."
The mixed feelings are strong with the locals: One says Gjelina doesn’t need to be here at all. "It’s like, everything is fine. Stop changing it." And another questions her own motives for patronizing the place. "It’s a rip-off," she says, "but the food is amazing."
Lett truly believes that he’s part of something bigger: Much of the piece focuses on Lett’s insistence on using only organic, high-quality ingredients, and the price point predicament that puts him in. "There are quite a few people that are on moderate incomes," he insists of his customers, "but choose to eat better food because it is critical to them."
This has all been happening for a while now: The piece closes with a quote from one of the evicted artists nearby, who seems altogether unfazed by the move he’s being forced to make after 35 years. The artist says that he himself was seen as gentrifier when he first moved into the area all those decades ago, adding, in sum: "If you’re not ready for the change, you have to get out of the way."