Justine Hernandez spent the last three years figuring out how to best utilize the vacant space adjacent to her Frogtown bakery, Just What I Kneaded. That space directly behind the popular, plant-based spot is now officially Justine’s Wine Bar, where wines, beer, and light bites will be on display starting Thursday, August 3.
A vegan bakery and a wine bar is a unique portfolio for a 33-year-old Echo Park and Highland Park native, but Justine’s Wine Bar is where Hernandez feels most comfortable. She says that bartending financed her transition to baking; Hernandez spent her early career as a bartender at the iconic El Chavo and Chavito from 2011 until it closed, reopened, then closed for good in 2017. She would recipe test at home post-shift, and sleep in the afternoon. After El Chavo closed, Hernandez started taking classes at the New School of Cooking. She launched a GoFundMe in 2018 to raise funds for Just What I Kneaded and found resounding support from her former customers and the LA community, raising $40,000. She opened Just What I Kneaded steps away from the LA River in July 2020.
Hernandez sources her wines from organic and natural wines vendor Nomadic Distribution and Winemonger rep Dylan Jones. Some winemaking methods make surprising use of animal products, but Jones, who is a Just What I Kneaded fan, introduced Hernandez to many vegan wines that now grace the menu. There are white wines from France and Spain; orange selections; and reds from Santa Barbara, Austria, and France. There are also four beers on tap, plus a handful of wine cocktails. Chef Simone Schlanger developed a plant-based menu with light fare including nuts, olives, Impossible Meat-filled Moroccan cigars, fries with Old Bay Seasoning, personal pizzas, a seasonal salad, and a Sunday lasagna.
At Justine’s Bar, there’s a separate entry for the FTB-designed space that clocks in at 1,000 square feet. There are walls with mostly pink hues, tropical murals by local artist Marly Beyer, and lighting with prehistoric-esque fixtures by LGS Studio designers Noel Hennessy and Thomas Renaud. Upon entry, peep the 12 barstools upholstered by Hernandez’s aunt, high custom shelving above the bar, a cozy nook with tables and chairs from OfferUp, and a long couch. As required by the city, there are also bike parking racks and valet.
Hernandez says she received some early pushback while attending city council meetings, with many assuming that a vegan bakery owner and future wine bar owner would be the latest face of gentrification in Frogtown. “When you’re part of the community, it’s different,” says Hernandez. “I keep them updated, talk to them, and know them. You’re just part of it.”
Starting Thursday, August 3, Justine’s Wine Bar is open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at 2029 Blake Avenue, #102, Frogtown, CA, 90039.