At this cafe and corner store, it’s all about ‘putting money back into where we live’
At Open Market, the sandwiches make for an interesting map of Los Angeles: The Normandie, the Pico, the Olympic, the Virgil and others take their names from the city’s streets, reflecting its cultures and flavors. The coffee is roasted in Granada Hills. The Chingoo snack mix arrives via Koreatown and Torrance. The baguettes and buns are made daily by Clark Street Bread in Echo Park.
The new corner store and cafe in Koreatown aims to be by — and for — the community. “A lot of our focus is local: L.A. people, putting money back into where we live,” said cofounder Brian Lee.
Lee, with fiancée Yoonna McGill and chefs Andrew Marco and Ralph Hsiao, just opened the shop in the former Camy’s Grill space on Wilshire Boulevard. Lee and McGill wanted to build the convenience store they wished they’d always had in K-town. Marco and Hsiao — formerly of Filipino pop-up and delivery operation Rice Guys — wanted to serve cafe fare that’s an ode to the L.A. flavors that have influenced them.
The weekday-only shop fills its shelves with locally made chips, hot sauces and snacks mixed among conservas, pastas, olives, candies, instant noodles and curries sourced from all over the world, at a range of prices. On the floating displays dispersed throughout the space, you’ll find items that are, for the most part, made within roughly 10 miles of the store.
In coming weeks, the team plans to carve out a section of the store devoted to home goods — ceramics, cookbooks, linens and the like — and hopes to devote space to wine and beer for retail sale, with a focus on L.A.-made drinks.
As haute and niche as some of Open Market’s items are, Lee says the priority is to ensure that members of the community always feel welcome and comfortable, no matter their age, need or demographic. The team is actively seeking — and hearing — feedback about product selection and the menu, hoping to stock special requests from customers in the neighborhood.
“We’re very open to being flexible because we really want this space to reflect the people that live and work here,” Lee said. “This needs to be a collaborative process with the people that actually are getting value out of it.”
That sense of community is reflected in the cafe side of operations as well: Surplus kitchen space could be available to local chefs and artisans for collaborations or a place to manufacture products that could be sold in the shop, while the courtyard might host events — such as a summer seafood boil — led by local or visiting chefs.
For the cafe menu, longtime friends Marco and Hsiao are creating breakfast and lunch items that play off their L.A. experiences and favorite dishes. The Virgil sandwich’s beets in zhoug were inspired by visits to restaurants such as Bavel and Hasiba. Marco lives near Glendale and its Armenian community, which resulted in the addition of sumac yogurt.
For the Normandie sandwich, the prime brisket gets a shoyu-dashi marinade and mustard aioli for a new take on the classic Philippe’s French dip, while the pork sandwich — with caramelized onions and a bread-and-butter-pickle aioli — is Cuban-inspired and a nod to Versailles, a favorite restaurant of Marco’s parents when they moved to L.A.
“Ralph and I are born and raised in Los Angeles,” Marco said, “so every single dish that we make has Los Angeles DNA in it.”
Open Market, 3339 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 232-3851, 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m., kitchen 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday- Friday, openmarket.la
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