Chef Roy Choi was frank about the trajectory of his mission-minded fast-food restaurant Locol, saying that it might eventually involve a non-profit component because of slower than expected sales at their two locations in Watts and Oakland. The discussion was part of a spotlight interview with Eater editor-at-large Helen Rosner at Code Conference, whereupon the Kogi chef admitted that the budding chain needed more sales (and actively asked the audience to come into the restaurant).
However, it wasn’t a concession that what he and partner Daniel Patterson aren’t working. In fact, Choi seemed optimistic about the Watts restaurant, especially after the media recognition and even the LA Times’ recent Restaurant of the Year award. When asked about the award, Choi said that it “changed the dynamic about what it means to be a great restaurant... that model was always based on an ego-driven concept. The new standard is about having a social mission.”
Choi confessed that Locol is less about his and Patterson’s ego and more about who they’ve involved along the way: “We’re like mom and dad driving the bus. It’s time to talk about the people in the bus. It’s about the community.” He went on, “My dream is for Locol to be in every inner city in America... I don’t want to wake up 20 years from now and see our communities in the same place.”
Toward the end of the interview, Choi hinted that while the vision of Locol was originally to be a neighborhood burger shop, it might very well have to take on a nonprofit component in order to make it viable.
He continued to explain that one of the reasons why sales aren’t as robust is because there simply isn’t enough disposable income in the area. “The mission has become larger,” said Choi before he said that it would involve some “viral economy.” He wasn’t able to expound specifically on this idea, as time ran out.
It was revealing to hear Choi speak so honestly about the need for people to become more involved with the development in inner cities such as Watts, a Los Angeles community Choi said that hasn’t changed much for over the past 50 or 60 years. And it was especially compelling to hear Choi encourage a room of enormous wealth and influence in the business and technology sectors to focus on inner city development in places like Los Angeles, Detroit, South Chicago, West Atlanta, and Baltimore.