The first person (literally) to eat at LocoL in Watts journeys back to check-in
My friend knew not to extend an invite to something before 7 a.m. He knows that mornings and I have always tended to disagree.
“Hey Mere, any interest in the LocoL grand opening on MLK Day?”
“Sure, why not. What time is it?”
I went anyway, getting to the restaurant early and scoring a prime place in line; right in front of the picture window that allowed me to witness Roy Choi and his crew preparing to fling their doors open to the public.
I watched the flurry of activity inside while drinking my (free) bottled water and eating my (equally free) granola bar – after all, there was still five hours before they would open.
Locol is Chef Roy Choi’s concept to make fast food both healthy and affordable in areas that desperately need it. With permanent locations in Watts and Oakland, he’s putting his money (and jobs) where his mouth is.
When the big moment finally came, I stepped up to one cash register while my friend went to the other. My register was working flawlessly, while the other one seemed to be having start-up anxiety. So, by the grace of getting my order through (and the fact that I only ordered a chicken sandwich and collard greens), I was the first person to be handed food by a smiling Roy Choi. We had a brief interaction, then I got out of his way to eat.
Because I was the only one eating, it made me a prime target for interviews! At the end of the day, I spoke to two stations, but I think I only made it on CBS. (The video is still there, please don’t watch it. Take my word for it: I’m not an attractive eater.)
Slammed in the NYT
Honestly, I’m not in Watts very often…I live in San Fernando Valley and it’s a bit of a drive. I hadn’t been since the opening, but my ears perked up when I heard Locol was absolutely slammed in the NYT. Zero stars seemed a little extreme for food I had raved about (on T.V. no less!) Could the Oakland location be so terrible while Watts was amazing?
I couldn’t go to Oakland, but I could head back to Watts to check back in. Just over a year has passed, so it seemed time to go down there and try that burger Mr. Wells claimed needed “all the help it could get.” Asking for a cheeseburger and an interview without calling first (they have no phone number) made me a demanding guest, but the staff made both happen for me anyway.
First things first, the food was good. The meat wasn’t flavorless or dry. I preferred their chicken sandwich, but that’s likely my personal taste crowding my technical assessment. The tofu and grains mixed in the patty (used to cut costs and add nutrition) definitely didn’t make it taste like health food, and at a price of $5 for a generous portion, I can’t help but applaud their success when it comes to fulfilling their mission.
Speaking with Keith
Given the circumstances – a spontaneous interview on a busy day – Chef Corbin was gracious and accommodating..
When asked about 2016, he said that the year had gone pretty much according to plan. They had expected there to be a learning curve, just like they had expected to grow and adapt to the needs of the community. When it comes to the staff, Keith has been there since the beginning, and he says a good percentage of the staff has stuck around.
He’s there to cater to his clientele. While he wouldn’t get into specifics, he promised there would be changes to the menu in the upcoming months. They’re still planning to keep the food healthy and fresh, but mix it up a little based on what the people of the neighborhood want. It seems they may put a few more traditional choices on the menu for this year.
Sitting on the minimalist collection of wooden boxes that serve as both tables and chairs, I observed a crowd made-up of much more than the local neighborhood: there’s people from everywhere. Locals and tourists alike order meals on the go, or they sit and talk to Lydia Friend, the manager at Locol.
A year after opening, and regardless of what the New York Times says, there is a sense of routine and order, and of doing things right.