[From the May 2014 edition of the Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter:]
Miracle Mile Spotlight:
For many years one restaurant after another cycled through the single story building on the southwest corner of La Brea and 8th Street. The location seemed jinxed – but not to Miracle Mile residents Sandy and Rebecca Clark [photo below]. They saw good bones: exposed brick interior walls, large windows, and an ideal spot for a neighborhood restaurant.
So in 2011 they decided to test their intuition and years of experience in the restaurant business and they opened Rascal. The restaurant almost instantly became a local favorite known for its welcoming atmosphere and great food.
Which begs the question: what is the secret in creating a successful neighborhood joint?
“A huge part of that is staff,” answers Rebecca. “Our philosophy is that we hire for personalities more than experience. We want interesting people, people that travel and are educated – and have all those things going for them.”
“We have no attitude,” adds Sandy, who was the wine buyer for the Chaya restaurants for many years. “Here you can sit where you want, if you don’t like your food you can send it back, here’s a top off. It’s like hosting a party at your home, basically.”
“We really wanted to get to know our neighbors and have a presence in the neighborhood,” Rebecca offers. “Once a month we like to do a fundraising night. We prefer it to be for a local charity. It’s great for us because it brings us new customers and then we give 20 percent of the proceeds to that charity.”
Charity is close to Rebecca’s heart, her “day job” for almost 12 years is with Heart of Los Angeles, a non-profit community center that provides underserved youth with exceptional programs in academics, arts and athletics aimed at getting kids into college.
Sandy runs the restaurant and Rebecca handles public relations and the books. But they both agree that being in the restaurant business is as much a lifestyle as it is an occupation – particularly at an establishment that’s open seven nights a week. One of their New Year’s resolutions is to take a vacation this year, something they haven’t done since they opened.
They are optimistic that they might be able to get out of town since the arrival of Chef Andy Lee [photo right], who joined them last October. His culinary skills and knack for organization are key ingredients in the restaurant’s continuing success. Chef Lee is enthusiastic about the advantages of creating dishes for a 50-seat establishment. “For me it’s my dream job,” he says. “I get to touch everything, see everything, and the feedback from the customer is immediate.”
When you have a lot of regulars there are favorite dishes that they always expect – at Rascal it’s the fried chicken, hamburgers, and Brussels sprouts. “One night Andy made the chicken nuggets into a sandwich and so we ran it as a little special,” Rebecca explains. “Then we tried to take it off the menu and our regulars were like ‘no way’ and we had to keep it.”
Their compact kitchen limits the number of items on the menu. “Our magical number right now is eight appetizers and eight entrees,” says Chef Lee. “We change our menu every three or so weeks. It’s a subtle flow. We’re all about what we can do to make a dish better. So, although there are certain familiar dishes, they are always evolving.”
Sandy and Rebecca recently added three outdoor tables and just received approval of a full liquor license. They have always served wine and craft beers and now will be able to offer customers a cocktail with their meal. “But we do not want a rowdy liquor crowd,” Sandy states. He takes pride in their house wines. “There’s a real art to buying inexpensive wines that taste great that you don’t have to charge so much for. At most restaurants the wine buyers are too lazy to do that.”
Sunday “Game Nights” have become a fun attraction for families – you can dine while playing your favorite board games and card games. “That is what makes this so neighborhood,” remarked Chef Lee. “You’re not going to see that at other big restaurants.”
They offer valet parking but say that almost 70 percent of the customers walk to the restaurant, which is further evidence of Rascal’s genuine connection to the neighborhood.
“The funny thing, too, is that I think that L.A. being a city of transplants, so many people walk in here and say ‘This is just like my favorite place in Boston or Chicago or Seattle.’ It just has that feeling of familiarity,” Rebecca says.
“It’s nice to work where you live and live where you work,” Sandy concluded.
Maybe that’s the real secret to a great neighborhood joint: having proprietors like Rebecca and Sandy Clark.
801 South La Brea Ave.
5 PM-11 PM Monday-Saturday
5 PM-10PM Sunday
Photo credits: Chef Andy Lee, courtesy of ladinenclub.com; other images courtesy of Rascal.
The MMRA newsletter does not solicit or accept advertisements. Our support of local businesses is a matter of principle – for which we receive no financial compensation or consideration of any kind.