Op-Ed

Post & Beam's well-seasoned restaurateur, Brad Johnson

It's all over the place. When I was younger, my interest in any particular venue just didn't stick. I was more interested in moving on and doing new things. As I've gotten older — I've gotten married in the last few years — I'm more interested in seeing if I can establish longevity.

And now Baldwin Hills? Why and how?

About three years ago, when Ken Lombard [Magic Johnson's former business partner] approached me, he said, I know this is not on your radar, but I want you to come take a drive around the area. I'd been here before, but honestly, I'd never looked to this area for business.

[There were plans] to renovate the mall. This space had been a Golden Bird fried chicken place. I thought, why not? There's a lot of people — it's the second-largest black middle-class neighborhood in the country — and I thought we should really consider it.


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The area just down the street on Santa Rosalia had been known as the jungle, originally because of the beautiful foliage, but in the '80s and '90s it became gang-infested. It wasn't the natural place you'd think, oh yeah, let's put a restaurant here. But I'm so happy we did. The community has completely embraced us. I get thank yous for opening this restaurant, and that never happens.

But it's pretty far outside of the foodie comfort zone.

Yes: South of the 10? Where? I thought the best chance of success, and to get the [food] community to pay attention, was [hiring] someone known in culinary circles. Govind Armstrong became our executive chef and partner. Baldwin Hills really wasn't on his map at all!

Have the foodies discovered Post & Beam?

People who had no idea where Baldwin Hills is [now] say, hey, it's not that far from Hancock Park, from Culver City.[They] leave a couple of hours early for the airport and have dinner here. The other night Nancy Silverton was coming back from LAX and stopped in and had dinner.

That's because she couldn't get a reservation at her own restaurant, Osteria Mozza.

We should have that problem!

Define the food at Post & Beam.

We have yet to find the perfect one-liner. It's California seasonal for sure. We have a wood-burning pizza oven. We didn't want to do soul food — there's enough of that. And much as I love fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, you're not supposed to eat like that that often. So instead of fried chicken, we have pan-seared chicken, black-eyed peas with yams, collard greens – there's not a lot of salt, not a lot of butter.

Do you feel a special responsibility about healthy food leadership here?

That certainly wasn't part of our thought process in creating the food and the concept. You don't want to stand up on a soapbox and preach to people. At the same time, our portions aren't falling off the plate. We don't try to make you feel so full you feel guilty.

Without overstating it, I think restaurants are important for society. People [need] a place that allows you to see your friends, run into each other.

Is healthy eating an individual's responsibility or society's?

A little bit of both. Old habits are hard to break. It's possibly the responsibility of the entrepreneur or politician to make things available because in this community, the choices for healthier eating can be limited. Our produce we get from the South Central farmers market and the farmers market down the street, or grow it in our own garden outside so we can offer people good, healthy eating options.

Was it hard to figure out the price point for the menu?

It really was a consideration: to do food on a par with every other hot food location, but we don't want to charge prices that people will feel, this is not the value I'm looking for. Certainly with the pizzas, being able to price those at $10, $11,$12, that's very family friendly.

Were you able to hire some locals?

Since we've established ourselves, we've gotten a lot more interest from the local community, but initially — I don't know if it was skepticism, or whatever the reason — when we ran our ads, we didn't get a lot of locals.

Your website makes a point of "reservations not required."

The intention was to keep it casual. You start reserving tables and the place is completely booked and locals feel like they can't get in -- we just wanted it accessible to everybody and hoped "reservations not required" would send that signal.

Do you have a favorite restaurant-themed movie?

That Julia Roberts movie comes to mind, "Mystic Pizza." I have a real soft spot for New England, for one, and just the family restaurant, the critic coming in and loving your product and you send somebody to college!

patt.morrison@latimes.com

This interview was edited and excerpted from a taped transcript. An archive of Morrison's interviews can be found at latimes.com/pattasks.

 

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