Last Thursday morning at 7, Terri Wahl and Brandi Lozano Miller opened the doors to their new project, Auntie Em's Kitchenette on 5th Street in downtown L.A., which is a smaller outpost of Wahl's popular Eagle Rock restaurant, Auntie Em's Kitchen.
Imagine the downtown loft you always wanted — exposed brick, high ceilings, shelves and reclaimed furniture moved to create ad hoc walls, chalkboard paint on everything, an enormous wooden table taking up much of the space. Then add a counter with pastries and a kitchen in the back amid the shelves. That's pretty much the Kitchenette, a restaurant that Wahl and Lozano Miller opened in just a few weeks, with help from Vietnam vets and a lot of caffeine.
The Kitchenette is in a kind of buffer zone between the new and old downtown, between Josef Centeno's restaurant row and L.A.'s skid row, across the street from King Eddy Saloon.
"I've never gone into a really established neighborhood," said Wahl the day she opened, citing how much Eagle Rock has changed since Auntie Em's opened 13 years ago, as well as the vintage clothing shops she once owned in Fullerton and Long Beach -- back when she was known more for singing in a punk rock band than making red velvet cupcakes.
The Kitchenette, which was a convenience store, has the kind of homey charm that Auntie Em's is known for, with shelves lined with cookbooks, soy candles and Rancho Gordo beans, walls hung with paintings of dogs, and that long table filling the room. The table, Wahl and Lozano Miller point out, is not just any table, but an enormous slab of wood that the two inherited from the Gorbals, Ilan Hall's recently closed restaurant in the Alexandria Hotel. It fills the room and is the only place to sit — kind of like a medieval banquet hall crossed with funky garage.
There isn't a written menu yet (hence the chalkboard wall), but you'll find the kind of things you'd get at Auntie Em's — in fact, all the baked goods are made at that restaurant. Thus there's a smoked salmon terrine, granola parfait, avocado toast made with beet hummus, quiche with a baby greens salad, a French ham and butter sandwich, a Humboldt Fog melt and a short rib melt. On the counter there are Wahl's famous red velvet cupcakes, giant cookies and other baked goods from Eagle Rock.
Lozano Miller, who owns Two Bits Market to the west on 5th Street, says that the 1904 building had been a liquor store for decades before it became a convenience store, and then the Kitchenette. The furniture they mostly inherited and reclaimed from the convenience store, which Lozano Miller opened and had staffed largely with Vietnam veterans. She's continued that practice at the Kitchenette.
"They say small businesses will rebuild the country," said Lozano Miller, a former skateboarder who opened Two Bits as part of a larger project to help bring "clean food" to downtown residents. The two women met through mutual friends and worked to get the space open in record time.
"Punk rock and skateboarding," said Lozano Miller. "It all comes together."
Auntie Em's Kitchenette, 116 E. 5th St., Los Angeles.