Though Taiwanese breakfast is prevalent in and around the San Gabriel Valley — with stalwarts like Yi Mei Deli, Four Sea Restaurant, and Huge Tree Pastry going strong for years now — it hadn’t made inroads to central Los Angeles until now. Vivian Ku’s Today Starts Here, which is operating out of a 1,500-square-foot space formerly occupied by New Dragon Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown, is serving up warm soy milk, deep-fried crullers, and daikon rice cakes one pop-up at a time.
Ku, whose successful collection of Taiwanese eateries includes Pine and Crane in Silver Lake and Joy in Highland Park, hopes to put down roots in fast-changing Chinatown in the coming months. Eater LA checked in with her to hear more about the pop-up’s future and the unexpected upsides of debuting a concept during the pandemic.
On the menu’s origins: “We’ve always wanted to share Taiwanese breakfast with more people because we have a lot of regulars who request breakfast as a meal option. For Joy’s first birthday celebration [in March 2019] we did a very random breakfast pop-up. And then a few Sundays before the pandemic, we added breakfast [to Joy’s menu]. It was something that we always wanted to share with a broader audience, and something that I get excited about and people who crave Taiwanese breakfast always get very excited about.”
On being slammed from the start: “Operations-wise, we weren’t really anticipating the volume. [The pop-up served about 80 orders per day the first weekend and 120 orders per day the second weekend.] Because of the pandemic, we were trying to keep it very low-key, so we posted very lightly on Instagram and then it was a really great turnout. We turned on advance orders and would get an influx of orders, all at like 8:30 a.m., so it’s a little bit harder to control. It’s just waves of people, because it’s not, like, someone ordering at 8 a.m., and then 8:05 a.m. and 8:10.”
On what’s selling: “Fan tuan for sure, and dan bing next. And then the daikon rice cakes. It’s a pretty small menu, and I really tried to pick the items that were representative of Taiwanese breakfast and also the ones that people really like.”
On Chinatown: “The landlord approached us before the pandemic and I was always interested in looking at [the space]. Because of the pandemic, I was like, ‘Oh no. We’re gonna pause everything and will probably not be able to do anything.’ [The landlord] was really cool about working with us on a month-to-month lease. It’s very low pressure. It was cool that it was located in Chinatown because we wanted something that the community there could also enjoy.”
On the space: “There is technically room for indoor seating, but we’re using it as a prep space and storage space right now. Obviously indoor seating isn’t really an option, but we probably wouldn’t open it up even if it were an option, just because the space is very small. But outdoor seating is an option that we might look into later on down the road. Right now, because it’s a very small team running [the pop-up], we can’t really manage outdoor seating.”
On the upsides of opening during a pandemic “I think the pop-up was great in that it wasn’t very risky and didn’t require us to operate at all times. It’s really nice to have another option right now in case someone gets sick or something; it allows us to keep a larger [team and] split them up at different locations, so the pop-up has had more pros than cons, for sure.”
On transitioning from pop-up to permanent restaurant: “We’re trying to find a way to see if we can stay [in Chinatown] permanently. Props to the landlord for giving us so many options and being so flexible during this time; they’ve been really supportive.”
Follow Today Starts Here on Instagram for the latest pop-up updates.