As Evan Lovett casually scrolled through TikTok one afternoon, he saw a short video featuring a Boyle Heights location for the Los Angeles chain, Pioneer Chicken. Until then, Lovett had assumed the fried chicken chain of his childhood vanished a long time ago. So upon seeing the Boyle Heights store, he began plotting his next TikTok video for his Los Angeles restaurant series, LA In a Minute.
As a San Fernando Valley resident, he had to chart the distance and time it would take to handle research, write a script, travel, and shoot a new video for his TikTok series, which focuses solely on Los Angeles with an emphasis on the history of Southland restaurants. And while he’s been publishing TikTok videos since January, the Pioneer Chicken segment felt particularly close to Lovett’s experience.
“My dad used to take me to Pioneer Chicken as a kid,” says Lovett. “I saw that the fried chicken of my youth was still going, so we drove to Boyle Heights. They hadn’t changed the decor with the bright orange and chuckwagon logo. We got there and all the nostalgia is running wild! We ordered the food, and everything — the crunch, color, and smell, that greasiness that moistened every bite — was still the same as I remember.”
Lovett reached out to Pioneer Chicken’s current owner — a second location remains in Bell Gardens — for more historical details to fold into his LA In a Minute episode, and concludes the April 24 video by looking into the camera and taking a bite of chicken with a loud crunch.
For the uninitiated, TikTok is a short-form video-sharing app where users create and share anywhere from 15-second to three-minute videos on almost any subject. Last month, TikTok surpassed 1.5 billion users. The popular social media app will easily outpace Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook’s initial growth while tripling its ad revenue in 2022. While the app is hugely popular among Gen Z, the demographics skew far and wide with food being one of the most popular draws. Recipes go viral, night markets become hot spots, line cooks become food stars, and local residents become unofficial historians for LA restaurants.
The LA In a Minute series didn’t start out focusing on restaurants. As a native Angeleno, he simply loves his city and wanted to capture its most resonant attractions on camera for a local audience. Though most TikTok creators dine at LA restaurants around town, Lovett’s videos lean toward educational. He wanted to make sure his son could learn a few things about his home while watching something valuable on a screen. “Kids are addicted to screens and you can’t take screens away from kids,” says Lovett. “But I told him that after watching something, he has to tell me what he learned. If he didn’t learn anything, he can’t watch tomorrow.”
Lovett also noted that his younger relatives shared a key behavior: They got their news from TikTok. Soon after, he began to develop and produce LA In a Minute, which early on featured Lovett reading LA news stories aloud. On January 19, he uploaded a two-part TikTok video about Los Angeles’s oldest fast-food chains. It was also his first video that went viral.
“It’s LA history,” says Lovett. “Look at the impact LA has had on the state, country, and the world. Fast food had such an impact on our culture and society, and on the way people eat, for better or for worse. It’s still a huge marker in history and it came from LA.”
Lovett’s most popular TikToks vary from the history of In-N-Out Burger to the Original Tommy’s. He also dove into the scandals surrounding Chateau Marmont and the Zankou Chicken murders. Lovett’s TikTok show can explain within three minutes the tragic events surrounding the Iskenderian family’s popular LA-based chain. The episode is riveting visual and narrative storytelling, unraveling the family’s move to LA from Lebanon, the business’s eventual split into two camps, and the tensions and illness leading the family patriarch to kill his mother and sister, and then himself. Currently, Lovett’s Zankou video has over 140,000 views.
With all the research and writing that goes into producing his series on TikTok, one could characterize Lovett’s role as that of a journalist and a potential competitor to LA’s food publications. He actually filled that role for a spell at the Los Angeles Times more than 20 years ago. “I was a stringer there from ‘98 to 2000, and then a reporter from 2000 to 2001. The pay was terrible and I didn’t want to pay my dues covering volleyball or boys golf in Orange County while living out in the Valley. It was brutal covering a high school volleyball match in Costa Mesa on Friday night as a 21-year-old,” says Lovett.
Instead, Lovett gets to write and direct his own visual stories, showering attention to restaurants like Fatburger, LA’s famous burger chain founded by Lovie Yancey in 1947. “Fatburger is so important. People need to know the significance of a woman owning an influential burger joint that ultimately sold for hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Lovett. “Fatburger was started by an African American. This is important for Los Angeles, the food industry, and huge for the Civil Rights Movement. But how many people are going to Fatburger and realize that?”
Lovett would be the first to admit he has two jobs. First, as a digital advertiser for Magnolia Media; the second is making Los Angeles-based videos for TikTok. Irene Lovett — Evan’s wife — also has her own connection to SoCal restaurant history. Her parents Ruben and Teresa Contreras hail from Zacatecas and operate Tio’s Mexican Food with six locations throughout the Inland Empire.
“I’ve been wildly fascinated by this,” says Lovett. “To tell the history of food in Los Angeles? I just get to learn. I’m just a guy who does research and extrapolates the interesting points to shine a positive light on LA.”