Orange County’s most well-known purveyor of poutine, that Canadian cheese curd, fries, and gravy snack so well known north of the border, will open its first Los Angeles location next month. The Kroft is set to open at the base of the Jia Apartments building in Chinatown in a matter of weeks, selling those loaded fries in a variety of flavors (including a katsu curry version and a loco moco take) as well as a burger, a fried chicken sandwich, cubanos, a Philadelphia-style roast pork sandwich, and more.
This will be the second location in LA County for the Kroft, following the arrival of its Long Beach location in early 2020. Owner Stephen Le says that he has long had his eye on the LA market, having originally signed his lease at 629 N. Broadway back in 2016. Yes, that was six years ago.
“That location has been headache after headache,” says Le with a laugh. “We signed the lease for our Long Beach location a couple years after Chinatown, and the Long Beach location has been open for three years now. But we’re ready to finally open our doors in Chinatown.”
The Kroft joins the more recent crop of restaurant and shop owners in Chinatown — like Pearl River Deli, Sesame LA, and Baker’s Bench — operating in a neighborhood that is experiencing rapid gentrification and changing demographics.
Le says that a variety of factors have contributed to the enduring delays. There were plans for a time to add a food hall to the Jia Apartments building, and Le actually shared a contractor for his adjacent restaurant build-out. When the food hall deal soured (and eventually went to court) the fallout was severe. Le says that the previous operators had “mismanaged millions of dollars and basically screwed everyone involved with the space, including myself.” Following a settlement, Le reworked his deal with the owner of Jia Apartments, only to then run headlong into the earliest days of the pandemic in 2020.
“I refused to give up,” says Le. “The Kroft is my baby. And while I know there are many restaurateurs who have that same sentiment, the Kroft represents my wife, myself, and my business partner through and through.”
Inspired by the steaming bowls of poutine he would devour while snowboarding in Whistler, Le and his crew decided to open a fast-casual space to celebrate the food. The opening was shift for Le, who had previously run a now-closed shabu-shabu restaurant named SWSH in Irvine. The Kroft opened at Anaheim’s popular Packing House complex in 2014, and quickly blew up within Orange County food scenes. A year in, the company had compiled tens of thousands of followers on Instagram and long lines, leading to $2.5 million in annual sales for the small space.
The cash flow from that location has helped to keep Le’s Chinatown dream alive, six years later. Soon, he’ll be looking to recreate the same magic in Los Angeles proper, selling chicken tikka masala poutine, chili cheese fries, and more. He’ll have stiff competition from LA’s many other loaded fries specialists, but Le says that he’s just trying to honor his past and his passion. “[Our food] is a reflection of what my wife and I love to eat,” says Le. “They are basically our favorite foods turned into poutine.”