Every Monday, Sunday Gravy’s owner and chef Sol Bashirian figures out which lasagna to prepare for the weekend. It’s no easy question to answer, given how much he’s had to increase production on his popular lasagnas in recent months. The scale and details concern him as much as the ingredients themselves at this point. Yet at 4:30 p.m. every Friday, the phone rings with regulars asking what type of lasagna is on the menu, be it shrimp alfredo, garlic chicken, or the hearty bolognese. It never matters; the specialty lasagnas will sell out completely by Sunday.
During the week, customers order from across Sunday Gravy’s Italian-American menu, with its deeply rich ragu and rigatoni and standard-bearing spaghetti and meatballs. The entire menu features old-school favorites made in Sunday Gravy’s Inglewood kitchen on Centinela, slightly west of South La Brea. The block feels like a 1980s time capsule, with an adjacent barbershop called Close Up Kuts, all backed by residential homes and apartments surrounding the busy strip. Directly across the street is the longstanding African-American Grace Chapel. These are all established Inglewood spots, but the newer Sunday Gravy still fits right in.
If anything the restaurant, which opened in September 2019, feels like it’s always belonged to the neighborhood. That’s because Sol and sister Ghazi Bashirian have themselves been in the area for years, reclaiming Sunday Gravy’s space from their father, who ran the restaurant Jino’s Pizza & Deli on the same site for 42 years. The elder Ahmad Bashirian retired and passed the restaurant baton to his children, who updated the decor and menu but still find themselves cooking for the same generations of Inglewood residents who ate at Jino’s over the decades.
“Jino’s was our dad’s first restaurant,” says Sol. “He was 25 when he originally opened it in 1970 as Ahmadi’s. Eight years ago, he became more hands off and leased it to his manager. When dad wanted to retire [in 2018], we were given the choice to jump in. We decided to continue this, but in our own way.”
The Bashirian siblings grew up throughout the South Bay. They lived in Westchester, then Playa del Rey, and went to school at Escuela de Montessori on La Tijera near the decades-old Coffee Company. The school was full of LA’s well-known African-American families, including the son of restaurateur Greg Dulan. Most of Sol’s friends lived near Jino’s back then, and Dulan’s Soul Food and Jino’s regularly fueled the students after school and at for local school programs.
Opening Sunday Gravy six months before COVID-19 posed remarkable challenges for the family at first, but ultimately the pandemic helped the Bashirian siblings figure out how to become a true neighborhood restaurant. An elderly local once complained that he wasn’t a fan of Sunday Gravy’s menu, so now Sol makes unique dishes specifically for him. The Bashirians are on a first-name basis with many of their customers that way, even if there isn’t formal sit-down service or some of the other traditional restaurant trappings. The PA system pumps out a mix of R&B from the 70s onward, with plenty of old-school hip-hop and hot comfort food at the ready. With a current employee shortage, this operation style best represents the restaurant and fits the area, so now they’re going to keep it that way.
Portions of Sunday Gravy’s menu are also from the neighborhood, including the spaghetti, linguini, and rigatoni pasta from nearby Florentyna’s Fresh Pasta Factory. The show-stopping organic ciabatta garlic bread hails from Cadoro Bakery; both are less than a mile away from restaurant.
Not all small businesses are thriving in Inglewood these days, but the Sunday Gravy team is making their small restaurant work. Sol and Ghazi Bashirian have begun to get the first taste of what Sol describes as the SoFi effect recently. Sunday Gravy is five minutes away from SoFi Stadium, the massive sports venue that hosts two NFL teams, the Rams and Chargers. Travelers to the development now frequently take the Centinela entry/exit and pass right by the front door, meaning more business on game days to come. “Out of nowhere, 20 people showed up [before] a rugby match at SoFi,” says Sol. “They were all in the same party and came at the perfect time. They ordered their food, beers, and went on their way.”
The name Sunday Gravy often throws customers who may not know the East Coast Italian usage, referring to the red sauce available across the menu. But for the Bashirian siblings, they’re hoping to give the phrase a meaning that belongs just to them, and to Inglewood. “The whole idea of Sunday Gravy isn’t about the sauce,” says Sol. “It’s about your own family enjoying this meal that was made with love. Everyone is chilling, happy, and keeping it casual. We’re Persian, we have that too, it’s the same idea. Every culture has their own Sunday Gravy. Come in and be around people you love, having a good time and laughing.”