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Team behind Post & Beam receives The Times’ fourth Gold Award

Govind Armstrong, Brad Johnson and current chef-owner John Cleveland in front of Post & Beam
Post & Beam’s founding chef Govind Armstrong, left, founding owner Brad Johnson and current chef-owner John Cleveland with the restaurant’s staff.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

To pick up a takeout order at Post & Beam these days, you bypass the usual front entrance and walk through the patio now cleared of tables as you approach the counter window. You smile gratefully behind your mask as the friendly woman on the other side of the glass, also masked, hands over two brown paper shopping bags with your dinner, hot and ready on time as promised on the website.

If you ate at Post & Beam before COVID-19 shut down restaurant life as we know it, you will feel a tug of sadness as you walk back to your car. In nonpandemic times, the patio on a hot summer night would be packed with diners — groups of friends and families meeting over plates of fried chicken, short ribs or maybe catfish with a dash of chimichurri, complemented by ice-cold cocktails infused with fresh herbs. At full strength, Post & Beam is an essential Southern California experience, a special night out where people dress up yet feel at ease and, as they walk out the door: happy.

Pizza chef Jaron Quetel, left, tosses pizza dough at Post & Beam.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

When I think back on a lifetime of meals I shared with Jonathan Gold, my late husband and this paper’s restaurant critic until his death in 2018, I like to picture evenings we spent at Post & Beam. Sustained by a rye Old-Fashioned, Jonathan would indulge my craving for the restaurant’s deviled eggs with smoked catfish. And if we’d brought friends, it was never a bad idea to order an extra plate of shrimp and grits for the table. We both felt that Post & Beam had become a vital part of Los Angeles and the national dining scene.

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For these reasons and more, I am thrilled that the founding and current driving forces behind Post & Beam — Brad and Linda Johnson, Govind Armstrong and John and Roni Cleveland — are this year’s recipients of the Los Angeles Times Gold Award.

The Gold Award, as Jonathan described it in 2017, is given annually “with the idea of honoring culinary excellence and expanding the notion of what Southern California cooking might be. The award celebrates intelligence and innovation, brilliance and sensitivity to aesthetics, culture and the environment.”

The first recipient was Wolfgang Puck, “who taught the world,” Jonathan wrote, “what it means to be a Los Angeles chef.” In 2018, the honorees were Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, who “blurred the boundaries between street food and fine dining,” Jonathan wrote, “in ways that some of us are just now beginning to appreciate.”

Last year, the Gold Award went to Cassia’s Bryant Ng and Kim Luu-Ng, who have skillfully blended the flavors of Vietnamese and other Asian cuisines with European technique and California seasonal produce, showing that fish sauce can be as important to the cuisine of Los Angeles as olive oil.

When Brad Johnson and Armstrong opened Post & Beam on Dec. 31, 2011, a fine-dining establishment in the parking lot of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall, it was a critical milestone for Los Angeles. They ensured that any conversation about Los Angeles’ best restaurants had to go beyond the usual Westside/Hollywood neighborhoods, places each knew well from opening restaurants in those spots.

“Post & Beam is the most ambitious restaurant ever to open in the Crenshaw District,” Jonathan wrote in 2013. “If you want to understand the power structure of South Los Angeles, you could do worse than to eavesdrop over grits and a Bloody Mary at Post & Beam after church on a Sunday afternoon.”

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Jerked catfish with dirty rice and chimichurri sauce.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

I’ve always loved the modern elegance of the dining room, the way the food so easily brought global influences into cooking that may have emerged from the American South but was undeniably Californian.

Armstrong, who has the DNA of Los Angeles fine dining in his bones, starting from his storied days as a teenage apprentice at Spago, was the right chef to establish Post & Beam. His kitchen adventures have encompassed the esoteric precision of Spain’s Michelin-starred Arzak, the foundational L.A. restaurants Campanile and City, and his breakouts at Jackson’s, Chadwick, Table 8 and 8 oz. Burger Bar, not to mention “Top Chef Masters” and “Iron Chef.”

A year ago, Johnson and Armstrong passed the Post & Beam torch to John and Roni Cleveland, ensuring that the restaurant would remain a Black-owned business.

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“My fear was that there would be somebody of means who would come in, someone not from the community,” Johnson told The Times’ Amy Scattergood in September. “What a loss that would be.”

Cleveland, who was mentored by Armstrong in the kitchen before taking over the restaurant, is not only fostering the restaurant’s reputation for excellence, he is making the place his own. During the pandemic, he’s adapted the restaurant’s takeout operations — adding weekly specials and summer cocktails, creating celebratory Mother’s Day and Father’s Day menus, promoting a Black-owned distillery — and with Roni at his side, he’s led an effort to feed seniors in the neighborhood, establishing Post & Beam as a vital local resource in hard times.

“As a proud South Central Los Angeles native, being able to carry the torch alongside John has been an incredibly humbling and rewarding experience,” Roni Cleveland said when she learned of the Gold Award. “Navigating this business through COVID has not been easy, but we were determined to survive and to be of service. This recognition lets me know that we are not only surviving — we are thriving!”

Govind Armstrong, John Cleveland and Brad Johnson inside Post & Beam in Baldwin Hills.
Post & Beam’s founding chef Govind Armstrong, left, current chef-owner John Cleveland and founding owner Brad Johnson.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
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Armstrong, who now leads the kitchen at the Lobster on the Santa Monica Pier and continues to be a resource for the Clevelands, said, “I hope for the continued opportunity to demonstrate the power and value of small, Black-owned businesses that serve their own communities while also welcoming their neighbors. To that end, we again thank you for this recognition.”

“The L.A. Times Gold Award acknowledgment carries with it such deep meaning,” Johnson said. “Jonathan was a hero to us. I’m grateful our team effort is being recognized in such a meaningful way at this very significant moment. While I know John and Roni still have their work cut out for them, hopefully, this important recognition adds to their resolve and lifts their spirits. I know it does mine, I’m soaring.”


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