Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee now have four restaurants in a single strip mall location in Encino, and they’re helping to transform the culinary scene in the entire San Fernando Valley in the process. Ventura Blvd remains the crucial corridor in the Valley, with places like Black Market Liquor Bar, Laurel Tavern, Boneyard Bistro, and the eventual Petit Trois 2.0 spreading across Studio City’s dining hub.
What the Lees bring to the table is a renewed sense of The Valley as a standalone dining destination. Scratch Bar & Kitchen, which opened back in late 2015, was the first notable tasting menu-focused restaurant to open in a long time. Here now, Eater chats with the Lees about how their single tasting menu restaurant eventually spawned three other concepts, and how they’re using that model for another expansive project in Montecito.
On how the Lees ended up with four restaurants in one large space on the second floor of an Encino strip mall:
“When we had the original Scratch Bar [on La Cienega] and Gadarene Swine [in Studio City], it was difficult to run two restaurants on opposite sides of the hill. It would often take an hour to drive back and forth. When we first opened Scratch Bar in Encino, it was a bit scary to make the transition to this neighborhood. What happened was that a lot of customers would walk in expecting a more everyday experience. They’d come in asking if we had burgers.
So when the space next door became available, we thought it was the perfect place to do an a la carte menu, so that turned into The Woodley Proper. Scratch Bar also didn’t have a place for people to have cocktails before their meal, so it’s a good place for us to send people to have a drink before sitting down for a tasting menu at Scratch Bar. We take any constructive criticism and try to apply our style at a restaurant next door. If people are concerned that a tasting menu is too expensive, then we just say there’s a fantastic place next door.”
On how they expanded to Frankland’s Crab & Co. and eventually Sushi | Bar:
“We originally wanted to use the middle space to test out concepts. We put in Frankland’s toward the front so that people could just grab a sandwich or lobster roll since rent is essentially non-existent. The space we had was about eighteen by twelve feet, just big enough for a sushi counter. We were already working on a sushi counter concept for our Montecito project. The Montecito sushi part would’ve been around 30 or 40 seats, but we wanted this place in Encino to be a small and intimate omakase experience.”
On how operating four restaurants in one space makes it easier to operate:
“Our thinking was that the sushi bar would be like a speakeasy, just another amentity for our existing guests. It’s not a restaurant that needs to do 100 covers a night. So while Margarita is running Woodley, we can be at any kitchen within ten seconds to resolve any issues. That’s become our base model on how we can continue to grow: put in three or four restaurants next to each other that aren’t competing, but makes it easier to do in terms of operations and logistics.
It’s a lot easier because all the restaurants operate under one license, versus having a conditional use permit for every single restaurant. We have one liquor license that covers everything. It’s just that we have three front doors.”
On adapting the experience for Valley diners:
“I [Phillip Frankland Lee] grew up here in the Valley. Diners here don’t typically make reservations: they just go to dinner. For years a lot of the dinner spots were chains like P.F. Chang’s, Benihana’s, and CPK. So when they hear about a good spot they won’t necessarily do the research to figure out what we are. They come in because it’s convenient. Probably less than 15% percent of people come into Scratch Bar and are surprised by what we do. Less than 10% of that 15% don’t end up staying or trying another one of the other restaurants we have. A lot of people don’t necessarily want a $100 a person, two-hour tasting menu experience.”
On serving tasting menus in the Valley:
“We didn’t worry that people in the Valley wouldn’t be able to support it. On the weekends, people in the Valley head to Downtown, Silver Lake, and Santa Monica. We just wanted to bring it home, literally. Valley residents are affluent and have a lot of money. They’re not worried about spending but they’re value-oriented. They’ve gotten a lot of exposure to the new wave of tasting menu restaurants like Trois Mec, Maude, and Alma [when it was in Downtown]. We get a lot of people that are thankful that they don’t have to go over the hill and drive three hours to get a tasting menu experience.”
On the response to Sushi | Bar, a high-end omakase counter buried deep inside the space:
“The response has been incredible — literally better than we thought. Our biggest fear was that people would upset that young white people are doing sushi. We haven’t seen a lot of that. The feedback has been amazing for the short time we’ve been opened. We have many people who come in more than once a week. However, switching over to tock has made it easier for people to dine there. We only release them at 10 a.m. for the same day. We listened to the feedback and the only complaint was how hard it was to book a table.
Without trying to sound pompous, upwards of 80% of diners say it’s the best sushi they’ve ever had in their life, and these are people who’ve had some of the best sushi in the world. It’s surprising and overwhelming to even be talking about it. At first when we were shopping at the fish markets we didn’t have a lot of clout. But we pay our bills on time, so everything we get is overnight from Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. We’re getting the best fish now.”
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.