Charles Phan isn’t a stranger to choosing surprising and on-the-verge locations for his restaurants. For his first project outside his San Francisco home turf, the Slanted Door will open in Los Angeles at City Market South, a development that occupies a portion of the former City Market wholesale produce mart founded in 1909 in what eventually became downtown’s sprawling Fashion District.
While clothing wholesalers and fabric shops now line the surrounding blocks around 11th and San Julian, Phan’s new neighbors will include Rossoblù from Sotto chef Steve Samson, and a bar from mixologists Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni.
This first group of businesses is expected to open in early 2016.
“For the past five years, I have been entertaining the idea of expanding to new markets. I was drawn to downtown Los Angeles because of the exciting redevelopments taking place there,” Phan said. “I tend to favor emerging neighborhoods and thus City Market South seemed like the ideal fit.”
Phan will bring his take on modern Vietnamese cuisine to an expansive space designed by Phan’s frequent architectural collaborator Ollie Lundberg.
Next door, Samson’s Rossoblù will focus on the culinary traditions of Bologna, his mother’s hometown, and foods he grew up eating as a kid in Tarzana with family roots in Emilia Romagna. The kitchen will feature a wood-burning oven, grills, a spit roast, hanging pots and other tools Samson needs to for his northern Italian menu, which also includes hand-rolled pasta — “the way my grandmother used to do.”
The Slanted Door and Rossoblù — named for Bologna’s soccer team — will both be located in the same structure, albeit not in the same space, with Moix and Livigni’s bar occupying a building facing opposite a shared outdoor plaza.
“It’s going to be something really unique,” Samson said, noting how he and his wife and business partner, Dina, were specifically drawn to the “piazza environment where people can sit down and relax.” Plus the physical setup is conducive to doing “our version of Bologna food festivals in summer.” Marwan Al Sayed and Mies Al Sayed will work with the Samsons on Rossoblù's architecture and interior design.
“The Fashion District is particularly exciting because it’s going to be a new experience for a lot of people,” Livigni said. “The piece of land that City Market South sits on has a great history that most people aren’t aware of. We’re looking forward to sharing that history and carrying on the tradition of small, independent business that the market once had.”
This mission will also sound familiar to anyone who’s set foot in Phan’s Slanted Door at San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace.
The LENA Group, City Market South’s developer, rehabbed and updated eight existing hulking concrete and brick structures, which predate by many decades the founding of the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, now the hub of this sector, centered a few blocks east. It comprises over 2 1/2 acres, with 75,000 square feet readied for hospitality, retail and office uses.
“The minute I saw the industrial aesthetic of the raw buildings and the central community gathering feel of the space, I knew I’d found a home for the Slanted Door,” Phan said.
Livigni sees how the setting is on the verge of change. “Our building, ‘the banana building,’ has great energy and we look forward to adding a much needed outdoor drinking environment to the city,” he said.
The property has been in City Market president’s Peter Fleming’s family since his great-uncle, Edward John Fleming, organized the market with a group of farmers and wholesalers in 1909. The entirety of City Market, which also extends northward on parcels that are slated for future development, contains multiple layers of L.A.’s commercial and multiethnic history.
Given that over 100 years ago City Market grew out of organizing competing vendors centered around the original Pueblo near Olvera Street into a cooperatively owned and operated marketplace, this lineup aims to bring in a similar element.
“We want to breathe that energy and life into what it needs to be today,” Napoli said.
Claypot chicken, tortellini in brodo, lychee cotton candy and craft cocktails will probably do that.