Located north of Larchmont Village and south of Thai Town within Hollywood’s Studio District, the central Los Angeles neighborhood Melrose Hill is fast becoming a destination for morning meetups, lunch hangouts, and dinner dates. An onslaught of new food and beverage openings that started trickling in in 2021, including the New Jersey deli Ggiata, Louisiana fried chicken purveyor Le Coupé, and Filipino spot Kuya Lord, are bringing in waves of diners curious to experience the scene for themselves. More recent additions to the neighborhood’s growing roster include the Italian restaurant Ètra and its daytime counterpart Café Telegrama which opened in late 2023.
According to Zach Lasry, the real estate developer whose funding and interests are working to transform the area, this is only the beginning.
Together with his billionaire father Marc Lasry, who co-owns the Milwaukee Bucks, Lasry is developing 14 buildings in the neighborhood including 18 storefronts. The Lasrys began purchasing the properties in 2019 and partnered with the real estate and design firm Creative Space to restore them to their former glory and lease them to small businesses. Ggiata debuted on Melrose in March 2021, while Le Coupé and Kuya Lord opened in 2022. Incoming food and beverage tenants include a wine bar and tasting room from Jumbo Time Wines, a full-service home for seafood pop-up Little Fish, a fine dining and street food venture by Holy Basil, and another wine bar called Bar Etoile from the owners of the beloved 15-year-old wine shop, Domaine LA. Additionally, two Honey Hi alums will take over the Produce for Less Market space from its retired owners to open a market called L.A. Grocery & Cafe.
Straddling the intersection of Koreatown, Larchmont, and Hollywood, the microneighborhood called Melrose Hill is still unfamiliar in name to some LA residents. Melrose Hill is a stone’s throw from Paramount Studios and technically encompasses the residential area just east of Western Avenue, whose tree-lined side streets and collection of Craftsman and Colonial Revival-style homes earned it a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone designation in 1988. While demographic information isn’t available specifically for the neighborhood, the population in nearby Hollywood is majority Latino at 52 percent (up from 50 percent in 2020), and the median household income is $57,102, according to 2023 Census data.
Lasry’s holdings in the neighborhood are dotted along the commercial-heavy Western and Melrose avenues, which has been known as a discount furniture row for the last 30 years. Locals saw change afoot as early as 2015 when Chick-fil-A opened a quarter mile north of Melrose Hill on Western Avenue. In addition, new luxury residential real estate developments, like Qwil on Wilton Place, have popped up since 2020, with more slated for the near future. Independent of Lasry’s tenants, art houses like David Zwirner, minimalist womenswear clothier Co, and French pastry spot Maison Matho have also opened in the neighborhood recently.
When higher-priced businesses open in lower-income areas, longtime residents often fear getting priced out of their homes. But while some Los Angeles communities like Chinatown, Highland Park, and Glassell Park have witnessed anti-gentrification demonstrations, so far community activism in Melrose Hill has not risen to that level, according to a representative for Council District 13, which includes Melrose Hill. The representative tells Eater they aren’t aware of any displaced residents and have not received phone calls about Lasry’s efforts. They say that the areas surrounding Melrose Hill were historically not as well organized as other parts of Los Angeles and suspect that because the neighborhood encompasses three different districts, its community organizing is more fragmented.
While, for now, the glut of new establishments has not increased housing prices to the point of displacing a significant number of residents, their goods may cost more in comparison to other local businesses. “Some people aren’t going to pay $7 or $8 for a cup of coffee,” says Salbador Rosales, a lifelong Melrose Hill resident and the owner of music and events company Sueño. Rosales describes his neighborhood as a melting pot of mostly Latino residents who hail from Central America, as well as from South Korea and Thailand. His Salvadoran-born parents own 11 rental units in the area, which is mostly comprised of rent-controlled properties. “I would say that the new blood is a good thing for me personally. When diverse cultures come together, it’s generally positive,” he says. Rosales, who regularly visits Ggiata for lunch, where sandwiches start at $15, tells Eater that changes in the neighborhood began before Lasry and that many of the neighborhood’s commercial properties were sold during the 2008 recession.
Osteria La Buca, a cozy Italian restaurant that opened in 2005 just a block west of Ggiata on Melrose, has witnessed the local landscape evolve over the past two decades. Co-owner Stephen Sakulsky says that much of the change, however, has been further east of his business. “If you look at the growth of the neighborhood, it’s been very selective to a small pocket so far — the rest is kind of unchanged,” he says.
Alice Lodge, an Aussie-born art gallery owner who has lived in the neighborhood since 2008, opened the contemporary art gallery The Lodge along with her husband on Western Avenue in 2015. The gallery highlights contemporary art exhibitions like Sexy Xmas VII. “When I moved into the neighborhood 15 years ago, it was so different,” says Lodge. “I’m personally happy about the new restaurants, but I do worry about people losing their homes with the new businesses coming in.”
Lasry, who grew up on the East Coast and moved to LA to pursue acting and film school, developed an interest in real estate and began purchasing properties in Melrose Hill after witnessing his eastside neighborhood transform. “Seeing the creative boom happening in Silver Lake and Echo Park was great, but then seeing the businesses tip more corporate was a little bit of a bummer,” he says, referring to the chain restaurants operating around Sunset Junction. “I think what initially attracted me [to Melrose Hill] was the quality of the buildings. I don’t normally see this many 100-year-old buildings that are all lined up on the same street without much new development.”
Long before Lasry’s investment in the neighborhood, the buildings erected in the 1920s through the midcentury originally served as prop houses for nearby movie studios. The warehouse-type spaces were also home to artists in the ’60s and ’70s, some eventually morphing into galleries. The building where Café Telegrama and Ètra now reside was a martial arts facility, and the former studio space of Ed Ruscha’s contemporary, Joe Goode, before that.
In recent decades, the neighborhood grew more commercial with an abundance of furniture and grocery stores. Some locals told Eater that the pandemic decimated the existing businesses given the lack of foot traffic and years of furniture sales shifting online. “The internet has taken over the cheap furniture market,” says Tyler Stonebreaker, a partner in Creative Space along with Geoffrey Anenberg. Creative Space has a track record of investing in and restoring dozens of historic spaces around Los Angeles, including Hauser & Wirth in the Arts District, which houses the art gallery and restaurant Manuela.
In addition to declining sales, many of the area’s business owners have retired or taken a step back due to illness and other factors. “Since COVID, nothing has been the same. A lot of stores have been closing doors,” says Roberto Gamboa, the co-owner of Tamales Veracruz y Mas, who grew up in the Melrose area. He took over the space formerly occupied by Antequera de Oaxaca in 2023 when its owner closed the businesses following a life-threatening bout with COVID. “Her family didn’t want her working anymore,” he says.
As part of Lasry’s grand plan to grow the neighborhood’s food and beverage offerings, he also purchased properties being targeted by other development groups that planned to replace existing buildings with luxury condos. “We’re looking at it as an opportunity to take these beautiful old buildings, restore them, and open them up to whoever wants to come in and lease them,” he says. Still, “whoever wants to come in” might not get to sign on the dotted line. As Lasry curates his ideal mix of prospective tenants in Melrose Hill, all of whom are paying market-rate rent without any plum incentives, he’s making an effort to only sign on locally owned small businesses.
One of the first tenants that Lasry brought on was the Italian American sandwich shop Ggiata, opened by childhood friends Noah Holton-Raphael, Max Bahramipour, Jack Welles, and Jack Biebel on Melrose Avenue in 2021. The business, known for its chicken cutlet sandwiches and other Jersey-style Italian deli specialties, was operating from a cloud kitchen in 2020 before opening the permanent location. “We met Zach and hit it off and we were sold on the dream of Melrose Hill being this new bastion of up-and-coming restaurants and art galleries,” says Holton-Raphael. Ggiata offers a 15 percent discount to neighborhood locals to make its food more affordable.
Newcomer Café Telegrama opened last fall and has been popular on social media with its photogenic tiled archway and Mexico City-meets-Paris vibe, designed by artist John Zabawa. “We all came up in New York City restaurants,” says co-owner Andrew Lawson. “We wanted to have that kind of buzzy, busy feeling.” More recently, sibling concept Ètra opened next door, preparing an Italian menu by chef Evan Algorri (Marea, Oriel, Augustine Wine Bar). “We were attracted to Melrose Hill due to its unique, central location between some of the most diverse and storied neighborhoods in Los Angeles,” says Lawson. “As we honed in on potential locations, 737 N. Western presented itself and offered an opportunity to expand our vision to include a restaurant (Ètra), as well as office space.” While Café Telegrama and Ètra do not advertise any neighborhood discounts, they occasionally offer free coffee and meals to regulars who live in the neighborhood.
Kuya Lord chef-owner Lord Maynard Llera briefly lived in Melrose Hill in 2007 when he first moved back to LA from New York City. His fast-casual Filipino restaurant opened on Melrose next to Ggiata in 2022. “I feel like it’s needed,” he tells Eater of Lasry’s vision for the neighborhood. “It’s still a little scary at night, but hopefully with more restaurants and cafes opening up, that will change,” he says. While Kuya Lord doesn’t offer any neighborhood discounts, the restaurant participates in local charity fundraisers.
Theresa Ruzumna, who grew up in nearby Koreatown and is the co-owner and partner of L.A. Grocery & Cafe set to open in March, tells Eater that the cafe and grocery store plans to accept EBT, hire locally when possible, and offer a range of price points on many popular items to make it affordable for longtime residents. “We want to make sure that our business speaks to the community,” she says.
To make the area more pedestrian-friendly, Lasry is investing in the infrastructure of Melrose Hill. While the city has contributed to minor beautification efforts like powder-coated bike racks and upgraded bus stops with improved shade, its efforts yielded minimal benefit to struggling businesses along the corridor. With Western Avenue acting as a thoroughfare to the entrances to the 10 and the 101 Freeways, traffic and congestion impede the area’s walkability, even though it was designated a “Great Street” by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation in 2014. Pending approval from the city, Lasry’s plans include installing crosswalks, medians, and a parking structure to make it more walkable.
“My husband begged the City Council to plant trees outside the gallery,” says Lodge.
Aside from a central location and affordable rents, many of Lasry’s tenants were drawn to Melrose Hill for the strong sense of camaraderie that naturally grew from small businesses clustering closely together. Recently, Ggiata, Kuya Lord, and Le Coupé have been working together to build a back patio seating area that serves all three restaurants. “We plan to activate that space with a ton of collaborative dinners and events and host parties with other chefs,” says Holton-Raphael. “We’re almost using it as an incubator.”
For the past two years, Ggiata has played host to the Melrose Hill Block Party, a free event that benefits No Us Without You, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending food insecurity in LA. Attracting nearly 3,000 revelers on both occasions, a mix of locals and those who traveled from outside the neighborhood, the event is a concerted effort to build a greater sense of community for the area. (“Back in New Jersey, the Italian deli is the hub of the neighborhood, we want to make it feel that way here too,” says Holton-Raphael.) Vendors included newer food businesses like Le Coupé, Kuya Lord, Bridgetown Roti, and La Morra Pizza, along with legacy operations like the now-closed Salvadoran restaurant Ilobasqueño and the fresh fruit vendor usually stationed at Western and Melrose. If the event’s turnout provides any indication, the enthusiasm around Melrose Hill’s developing food scene is palpable for locals and visitors alike.
As for Lasry, he hopes that his influence will stimulate like-minded developers and other independent businesses to invest in the neighborhood with preservation in mind. “The thing that would excite me the most would be to see other things pop up that we had nothing to do with,” Lasry says.
Update: January 24, 2024, 3:15 p.m. PST: An earlier version of this article included incorrect attribution.