Corner Koreatown restaurant Here’s Looking at You may well be closing for good after this weekend. Owners Lien Ta and Jonathan Whitener made the stunning announcement of the upcoming closure on Instagram earlier today, saying “On paper, this is temporary. But, of course, you don’t need us to tell you that life is super-duper uncertain right now.”
Reached by phone, Ta tells Eater simply that in order for Here’s Looking at You to reopen, “we need to come into a lot of money.” That refrain is all too common for operators already used to working within small restaurant margins. Add in the pandemic, a global economic depression, and little chance of rent abatement or further federal subsidies, and for many other restaurants large and small, times are indeed dire.
“We don’t have enough money to pay rent,” Ta continues, “and that’s likely the case for many people.” She adds that while her Koreatown landlord understands the circumstances and has been willing to put payments “on pause” for now, there’s no guarantee that a future repayment wouldn’t end up sinking the restaurant anyway. “Rent deferral is just not an option. We will fail regardless, if that’s the case.”
Here’s Looking at You garnered a slew of favorable reviews in just a few short years, including an Essential 38 restaurant in America. The pair first worked together under Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, and expanded into sister Silver Lake restaurant All Day Baby late last year.
Times have been tough at both locations, but even more at Here’s Looking at You, Ta explains. “The takeout model just wasn’t working,” she says, adding that the small space means that any kind of safe reopening pre-coronavirus vaccine is unlikely at best. “I do not see a safe way to reopen dining rooms and continue with full service. And if we can’t operate the way that we used to, sustain the way that we used to, I don’t know how else to do this.”
As for All Day Baby, Ta says that restaurant isn’t guaranteed to make it through the pandemic, either. Far from it, in fact. “We don’t know,” says Ta. “The situation there is even more uncertain in some ways, but at the very least people are showing up for takeout a little bit more.” The plan, for now, is to furlough the majority of staff at the end of this week, leaving only a skeleton crew along with Whitener and herself. “It’s much more of a struggle in Silver Lake, because rent is at such a premium.”
The Here’s Looking at You announcement today does leave room for a few last days of service, albeit with a dramatically different look. The smallish corner restaurant will be transitioning to different pop-up nights starting tonight and running through Sunday evening. First up is Tacos Drama tonight, followed by a Tet-a-Tet and tiki night tomorrow, then classic dishes and brunch favorites across the weekend. There may also be a sidewalk sale of any final items left laying around.