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Ongoing LA Weekly Boycott Means a Retooled Essentials Food Event

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Nearly a dozen restaurants have reportedly backed away

LA Weekly Essentials
Last year’s Essentials event put on by LA Weekly
Youtube/LA Weekly
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Embattled local publication LA Weekly is sticking to its guns when it comes to their annual Essentials food event, set to go down on Sunday, March 25 in Downtown. Despite an ongoing boycott by former writers and LA-area journalists, the alt-weekly’s new ownership says the event will happen as scheduled, but with a different look and feel than first described.

In years past, the Essentials event was a marquee night meant to showcase restaurants and chefs from the paper’s annual printing of its 99 Essential Restaurants issue. But with the loss of critic Besha Rodell and the sale of the publication to a cabal of mostly Orange County writers and businessmen — some of whom have espoused far right-wing viewpoints in the past — it seemed for a time the event might not happen at all. Especially after boycotters were able to get the previously-scheduled Sips & Sweets event cancelled entirely.

That’s not the case, new food editor Michele Stueven told Eater earlier this month when doubling down on the Essentials event despite a call-in campaign aimed at getting individual restaurants and sponsors to pull their support. Soon a number of restaurant names were confirming to Eater that they would not participate, including Petty Cash, Guerrilla Tacos, and The Hungry Cat. Other restaurants like Baroo, Cafe del Rey, Parks BBQ, and Tsujita LA have followed suit, say the boycotters, while names like Gus’s Wold Famous Fried Chicken and Catch LA have told Eater that they will remain involved.

Catch Weho 5
Catch restaurant in West Hollywood remains locked in for the Essentials event
Wonho Frank Lee

As of last week, LA Weekly has pulled the entire list of participating restaurants from its Essential landing webpage, owing to the harassment they say those restaurants have been unfairly receiving. What’s more, an internal email passed around late last week (and obtained by Eater) from new Associate Publisher Erin Domash told LA Weekly employees that ownership would be “retooling the event quite a bit” and limiting capacity, making for a more intimate evening between ticketholders and the restaurants and wine labels still participating. Reached for clarification, Domash denied saying that the event would be limiting capacity, but instead told Eater that the event would be focusing on a more all-encompassing VIP and influencer experience, complete with an experiential component.

As of today, the Weekly is still selling $55 general admission and $100 VIP admission to the Sunday event. What’s more, the paper’s FAQ page for the Essentials says that no refunds will be issued, despite the loss of some prominent restaurants, a lack of confirmation on restaurants that are still participating, and an overhaul of the event structure itself. Domash says that so far none of the event’s ticketholders have asked for a refund, so it’s a moot point for now.

In the meantime, the anti-LA Weekly faction has promised to show up in person and picket the event at the California Market Center in Downtown. And as for the list of Essential restaurants meant to be the spur to the event in the first place? Former Weekly food editor Katherine Spiers and freelance writer Tien Nguyen have helped to put together their own list of essential eateries, dubbed the Rogue 99, which is now available to view over on L.A. Taco.