Two of LA’s most popular underground pop-ups, Quarter Sheets pizza and House of Gluten bakery, are opening permanent locations in Echo Park later this year. The duo, which previously cooked out of a shared private home in Glendale, has taken over the Trencher space at 1305 Portia Street, just around the corner from Sunset and down the hill from Dodger Stadium. It’s a big move not only for Quarter Sheets’ Aaron Lindell and House of Gluten’s Hannah Ziskin, but for the Los Angeles restaurant scene.
“There are a lot of rules you learn growing up in the industry, and those rules don’t work that well for a lot of people,” says House of Gluten baker and owner Ziskin, who previously worked in San Francisco at restaurants like Nopa and Octavia. “We’ve made it this far, so we’re going to keep using our own rules.”
For Ziskin and Lindell, that means selling Detroit-ish style pan pizza and slices of slab cake, sure, but it also means forging a new work-life balance for themselves and their employees, and navigating new pay models for staff. “We were able to open up without investors and that’s great,” says Ziskin. “It means that instead of funneling money out to someone who’s not involved day-to-day, we’re able to offer a profit-sharing model to staff. Instead of investors, that same percentage can go to hourly and salaried employees; that’s really important to us.”
The new House of Gluten-Quarter Sheets jump to legitimate business comes at a crucial point for a lot of small restaurant businesses, as many of those previously working in the underground, unlicensed food space consider their next steps post-lockdowns, and as many permanent, physical restaurant owners consider their own role in the industry, which has for decades been plagued with long hours, low pay, and frequent abuse.
“If we’re going legitimate, we have to be legitimate,” says Lindell, whose pan-style pizzas sold through preorder online became one of LA’s most sought-after savory items in the past year. That includes scaling up operations to meet increased demand across consistent hours (no more five-minute sellouts or days-in-advance preorders only) as well as times off for themselves and staff. Quarter Sheets and House of Gluten will open with a five-day workweek model, to make sure everyone gets time to recharge.
The pair are also navigating the balance of their existing fanbase with a new community of diners that will be ready to walk up and order single pizza slices and cookies from day one. There are price and branding considerations, as well as the delicate nature of taking over a former business in Trencher, which stood in Echo Park for more than half a decade. “We’re stewards in a way,” says Lindell. “It’s on us to continue in a way that fits this neighborhood.” Echo Park has undergone massive change and gentrification in recent years, spurred on in part by rising rents, and new development. And there was a recent flashpoint issue of Echo Lake Park between unhoused people and advocates with the police and Los Angeles city councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.
It’s all part of the new navigation for existing restaurants, workers, and owners, as well as pop-up players and underground cooks looking to pull permits and raise their public profile after 17 months of a global pandemic. With a lot of foresight and a little luck, Ziskin and Lindell’s upcoming Quarter Sheets and House of Gluten business could act as a kind of business model — pay equity, days off, consultation with and consideration of the neighborhood — for others to use as a reference point. They’re also happy to simply still be around, making food on their terms for fans who are eager to support. Plus, who doesn’t like pizza and cake?
The new House of Gluten and Quarter Sheets space is set to open for limited takeout service in September as the team works in phases to open up more broadly down the line, including for indoor dining and on-site drinking.