Southern California has been my home for 30 years. Moving to the West Coast from New York City with the bravado a lot of us native New Yorkers carry fortified my confidence — I could “make it” here. Los Angeles' reputation as a place where, as Dionne Warwick captured in her 1968 song about LA, “in a week maybe two they’ll make you a star,” has since evolved from fame to economic might, one that drives the state of California and the world's fifth-largest economy. It is also a magnificently beautiful place to live.
One only needs to catch a glimpse of distant snow-capped mountains on an 80-degree day in December as you round the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica where it becomes the I-10 Freeway headed east, to fully appreciate how the local splendor can take your breath away.
Much like New York City, Los Angeles’ geography is constantly being redefined by each generation. This evolution, while inevitable, is a delicate dance. What should be preserved? Honored? What stands in the way of progress? How is “progress” defined and who are the intended beneficiaries?
Restaurants often find themselves on the frontline of these so-called “paths of growth.” As risk-takers looking for affordable real estate, our presence can be an early indicator of the next hot neighborhood. While hopefully not at the expense of establishments already serving the local community, a well-conceived place can become a catalyst. A concept that taps into the local flavor can gently nudge the culture forward, while simultaneously paying homage to the family-owned place down the street that has been serving its neighbors long before your arrival.
In 2010, we were offered an opportunity to open a restaurant in South Los Angeles, a region of the city that had experienced little economic investment after the civil unrest in 1992. In the wake of the great recession, the area immediately surrounding our proposed location showed little sign of recovery. Just up the hill to the west, though, were the top three wealthiest Black neighborhoods in the country: Baldwin Hills, Ladera Heights, and View Park. These neighborhoods represented a bedrock of rich history for Black Angelenos. To be successful, we would have to attract not only those residents, but also other locals with varying degrees of disposable income within our trade radius. No doubt facing some headwinds, we felt the immediate area was underserved and agreed to take it on.
Make no mistake, South Los Angeles was then, and still is, home to some of the best food in Los Angeles. Woody’s BBQ, The Serving Spoon, Simply Wholesome, Mel’s Fish Shack, and of course, Dulan’s. We knew our customer was accustomed to driving to locations like Marina Del Rey or Culver City for dining options. To carve out a sustainable slice of the market share, we would need a tight game.
So, before becoming too attached to a concept, we made a decision to meet with local community boards and church groups in order to get a sense of how the residents felt and what they wanted from a new restaurant in their community. Our initial desire to do quick-serve dining — because of the labor cost advantages — was quickly put aside as we heard an overwhelming sentiment for a sit down, full-service dining experience.
Desiring a foundational statement that could also serve as a connecting point to the neighborhood and its many mid-century homes, the name Post & Beam was chosen to reference this distinctive architectural style. Knowing that a level of culinary prowess would be needed to impress the palates of a sure-to-be discerning customer — while creating enough interest to not be overlooked by mainstream media — lead us to Chef Govind Armstrong, whom I’d admired for some time.
Nine years after opening, in 2020, Post & Beam received the Los Angeles Times Gold Award. The award 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.” In passing the torch to Chef John Cleveland in 2019, who my wife and business partner Linda, Govind, and I continue to mentor, the Gold Award recognition was affirmation that while we may not have done everything perfectly, we did okay.
I read an article recently that quoted Black novelist Ralph Ellison: “Perhaps the swift change of American society in which the meanings of ones origin are so quickly lost, one of the chief values of living with music lies in its power to give us an orientation in time.” I would extend Ellisons’ view to include restaurants. Many of my most cherished memories can be traced to nights in rooms filled with people and music. Moments such as these are the temporal touchstones from which food, music, and culture originate, helping us to recognize ourselves and our sense of place, even amidst the transitioning neighborhoods and “the swift change of American society” that makes this pursuit even more elusive.