It’s a good time to eat well in the Valley. From Studio City to Encino, Ventura Boulevard is a destination for chef-driven dining experiences, and that’s thanks to a wave of restaurateurs taking a chance north of the hill. We asked them: why, when other parts of the city garner a lot more attention, are they opening their new businesses in the Valley?
For some, opening restaurants in the Valley was always part of the plan. “I grew up in the Valley—specifically, Encino—where we ate at places like Cheesecake Factory and Chili’s,” said chef and restaurateur Phillip Frankland Lee. “When I decided to start cooking, I had to drive over the hill to work for the best. I learned how to cook there so I could come back here and change things.”
Lee did the L.A. thing for a while and then opened Scratch|Bar in 2015 with his wife, Margarita. The restaurant sits in a standard Encino strip mall, and you have to take an escalator to get to it. “The industry has historically been afraid of the Valley,” Lee said, “Hopefully us opening Scratch|Bar has made people less afraid.”
He’s certainly made himself less afraid. Lee is running wild in that strip mall, opening two other concepts literally next door to Scratch this year (Frankland’s Crab & Co., a low-key seafood spot, and Woodley Proper, a cocktail lounge). “It’s not about multiple restaurants in one location, it’s more about solidifying Encino as a cool place to hang out.”
It’s where the people are, and it costs less
Aaron Robins also recently doubled down on the Valley. After opening Boneyard Bistro in Sherman Oaks nearly 12 years ago, Robins introduced SOCA to the neighborhood earlier this February. “Opening a second restaurant here was an easy choice,” said Robins, a Valley native. “The Valley was underestimated for a long time. People are starting to get it now. People are figuring out what we did a long time ago: The Valley is an uncultivated area that is ready to grow.”
Fueling that growth is the Valley’s cheaper real estate. “When I was on the other side of the hill, we’d be stoked if we made our rent from two busy Fridays, but here I can make my rent on a slow Monday,” Lee said. “Chefs here can afford to be more creative with their concepts and try different things.”
Our city has the worst traffic in the world. Doing business in the Valley works from a practical standpoint. “The Valley is starting to get the respect it deserves, and it only made logical sense to bring Petit Trois close to home. It will be nice for my family to be able to in one of my restaurants more,” said Valley resident Ludo Lefebvre, who is opening a Petit Trois sequel in Sherman Oaks later this year. “Plus, the drive is great for me.”
And yeah, it’s a way to avoid soul-crushing traffic
Having multiple concepts near each other is efficient for Valley-dwelling restaurateurs. “I’ve already had two restaurants operating simultaneously on opposite sides of the hill, and 60 percent of my life was spent in the car,” Lee said. “Conversely, my life now is very convenient—I could walk to work if I wanted to, and I can hop from one kitchen to the next in ten seconds.”
Given the Valley’s destination as a place to live for families, the lower rent, the better commutes, and increasing options, the Valley will—as the Valley is wont to do—remain hot.
“Since we have opened, we have watched the Valley food scene grow from a toddler, to the teenage years,” said Ted Hopson, the chef and owner of Bellweather in Studio City. “We look forward to leading the food charge as we grow the Valley food scene into the adult years.” He is not alone. “I plan to open more spots, so let’s hope for that sake, the future is bright,” said Lefebvre.