The Fixer – Michael Vartanian


Photo by Courtnay Robbins

Most small business owners know the exact date their lives changed forever. “Sept. 20, 1996,” Michael Vartanian replies immediately to the question of when he opened Marina Bay Watch Company.

For Vartanian, the son of Armenian immigrants, what has become a thriving family business has jumped a few high hurdles to land where it is now — in the mini-mall sharing space with Wharo Korean BBQ and Walgreens on the southwest corner of Lincoln and Washington boulevards.

At age 16, Vartanian received an offer he couldn’t refuse: a job at a watch shop in Lakewood making $4 an hour (minimum wage then was $3.25). He stayed there for nine years, learning the business. Over time his plans to attend medical school and become a pharmacist changed. Vartanian liked repairing watches.

“I love dealing with people,” he says. “I’m a people person. I love to make people happy and see them smiling, thanking me a million times.” …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Everybody’s Buddy – Teresa Kim


Photo by Courtnay Robbins

Sitting behind the counter at Gordon’s Market with owner Teresa Kim, I see a different side — actually, every side — of Playa del Rey. There’s a couple on a date buying spices and sauces, a college student picking up some beer, a young man in sweats buying chips and soda for the second time today, a pair of bubbly ladies treating themselves to a bottle of rosé and plastic cups, a junkie buying a lighter, a young professional purchasing stamps to mail in her tax return, two stoners indulging in Dippin’ Dots, an athletic couple buying alkaline water (one of the market’s most popular items) … and the bell at the door keeps dinging as the people keep coming in.

For the past five years and change, this creatively stocked shop on Culver Boulevard is the place where people come for just about anything and everything they need. And Kim is usually behind the register with a welcoming smile and warm conversation. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Cherryvale Farms Makes Baking a Piece of Cake


Photo By: Zsuzsi Steiner

It’s 10:30 a.m. on a Monday, and Cherryvale Farms founder Lindsey Rosenberg is already on her second meeting. That alone is not such a great feat, until you factor in that she’s nine months pregnant, the mother of a two-year-old daughter, and that her company — which produces 100% plant-based baking mixes and on-the-go treats — is undergoing a brand redesign. And yet the 34-year-old is the image of calm and control.

“My inbox is only at 36,” she says with a smile when I ask if she’s overwhelmed every day.

We’re sitting comfortably in the front lounge of her husband’s ad agency in Playa Vista.

“After USC, I worked in fashion and entertainment for a few years,” Rosenberg shares. “And I was ready for a big change.”

Change meant going back to the farm — literally. Rosenberg grew up in Soquel, just south of Santa Cruz, population 1,000. Her parents still live on their hobby farm, growing fruits and vegetables on Cherryvale Avenue.

Rosenberg and her father, a veteran entrepreneur, set out to create a brand out of the Cherryvale Farms story. …

Read the full article at Playa Vista Direct.

Sweet Heaven!

sees2Every year for Valentine’s Day, my father-in-law gives my husband and me a large, red, heart-shaped box of See’s Candies chocolates — specifically, the Nuts & Chews. He also mails boxes to his two out-of-state daughters. It’s a tradition he takes very seriously, and he’s not alone: See’s Candies’ single best day for sales is always the one before Valentine’s Day.

In anticipation of the holiday, I dream about the California-grown almonds covered in dark Guittard chocolate. I tell myself I’ll only eat two pieces a day, knowing it will be incredibly difficult to have such discipline — I’ll probably eat more. And I’m not alone: More than 17 million people eat See’s each year.

When I moved from Venice to Inglewood a little over a year ago, La Cienega Boulevard became one of my main thoroughfares. It was during one of my commutes, sitting in slow-moving traffic and swinging to KJAZZ, that my eyes fixated on a building with a familiar, classic logo: See’s Candies.

I began to fantasize about what happened behind closed doors. Was it just like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in the classic Gene Wilder movie? Could Oompa Loompas be singing and dancing inside?

The factory is not open to the public, but I was able to secure a press tour. I immediately thought of the words printed on the five golden tickets Wonka hid in his candy bars: “In your wildest dreams you could not imagine the marvelous surprises that await you.” …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

In With The New

hals2Sometimes a restaurant becomes so enmeshed in your memory that it becomes synonymous with family and home. That’s the way I think of Hal’s Bar & Grill.

In the late ’80s, Hal’s was one of the fancier restaurants in Venice. It was ultra cool, hosting live jazz and serving the most diverse crowd of artists, celebrities and locals on the Westside. My family and I would excitedly settle into one of their booths to celebrate birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. Hal became a true friend.

At some point during our meal, Hal would slide in next to whoever was at the end of our booth and chit chat about everything from art and entertainment to world headlines and local happenings. He was warm and welcoming, and when he smiled at you, you felt special, a characteristic he shared with my stepfather, the late actor-dancer Gregory Hines. They were kindred spirits and good friends.

The night of my high school graduation, my family rented out the entire restaurant. I felt like a big shot because I got to invite my good friends to a sit-down dinner at the hippest restaurant in the neighborhood. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Merry Meals

food_merryOh what fun it is to ring in the New Year — and yet, the end of the year can also drum up more work and stress: shopping, planning, cooking, baking and more cooking. It’s a time of family togetherness, which is nourishing, but it also means more mouths to feed and dishes to wash. While home-cooked meals are worth their weight in gold, sometimes going out to eat is… priceless. Reserve your table at one of these restaurants that’ll gladly give you the gift of peace of mind for the holidays.

Celebrate Your Good Fortune @ Lunetta

Most holiday scenes are filled with snowy streets and chestnuts roasting by the open fire. But in SoCal, our December days are filled with sunshine, shorts and surfboards. Lunetta Dining and Moon Bar — the nocturnal counterpart to brunch-driven Lunetta All Day — makes you feel right at home in the wintry season. Low lighting and mistletoe hang from the walls, the warm and welcoming atmosphere feels like a toasty lodge après-ski, and chef Raphael Lunetta has crafted Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve menus with a few of his favorite things. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Slow-cooked comfort comes to Hal’s Bar & Grill

hals_1Some things about Hal’s Bar & Grill never change: Hal’s turkey burger, which has its own following on Instagram; Hal’s Caesar salad; the organic half chicken, a favorite of regulars; live jazz on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights; Mikel Alatza’s three-dimensional portrait of co-owner Hal Frederick hanging on the back wall across from Kwaku Alston’s larger-than-life black-and-white portrait of a sharply dressed lone African-American man walking down the road holding a guitar case; and the sight of Hal himself, white hair, classy suit, big smile.

And then, of course, some things do change. Like when the original location of Hal’s Bar & Grill on Abbot Kinney closed its doors in April 2015 after 30 years and opened down the street, sharing the former Primitivo space with its sister restaurant, Casalinda Mexican Grill, also owned by Hal’s Bar & Grill. Then, in April 2017, Hal’s Bar & Grill launched its new, additional location at Runway Playa Vista, serving only breakfast and lunch for six months while they waited for a liquor license. 

This month, Hal’s announced the arrival of a new executive chef, Lee Garman …

Read the full article at Playa Vista Direct.

Timely Treats

treatIt seems like every day another evite or email pops up in our inboxes requesting our presence at another party: an office party, holiday gathering, family potluck, or end of the year celebration. It’s a wonderful — but also busy — time of year, and because you can’t show up empty-handed, here’s a list of delicious sweet and savory snacks to bring to your next soiree.

1. Terrific Tamales

For many Mexican-American families, tamales are a Christmastime tradition. Tamara’s Tamales on Washington Blvd. has been filling holiday orders for 27 years and counting. You’ll most likely see Tamara herself walking around in the kitchen overseeing every hand-packed tamale. Things get serious right about now. The cutoff date to order half dozen and a dozen tamales is Dec. 15. After that, it’s walk-ins only. If you do walk in, ask for whatever’s just out of the oven. Impress your party host with machaca beef or chicken verde tamales, or specialties like the king crab or traditional sweet tamale — stuffed with pineapple, raisins, sugar and anise. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.

Magic in the Kitchen

magicinthekitchen“’Tis the season,” announces Chef Clémence Gossett, co-owner and head pastry chef at The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories, as she welcomes us into its state-of-the-art kitchen on the third floor of Santa Monica Place.

It’s a cliché as old as time. But when it comes to holiday baking, well, ’tis really the season.

It’s the time of year when Candyland ceases to be just a child’s board game and becomes the world in which we live — a world of sweets. It’s a time of family gatherings, office parties and bountiful dinners, and what we usually remember after all the hubbub is over are the desserts we indulged in.

It’s also the time of year when holiday cookies are everywhere! Decorating holiday cookies is a family tradition for many. The night before Christmas when Santa shimmies down the chimney, what do families leave for him? Cookies and milk!

This year, instead of leaving St. Nick gingersnaps or regular ole chocolate chip cookies, get fancy and festive with a plate of decorated sugar cookies. It’s a skill that can come in handy if you have an occasion on the calendar when you’ll want to impress, say a new partner and their family or, of course, Santa himself. …

Read the full article on The Argonaut.

The Bee Business is Booming

honeyRegular visitors to the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market have seen more than one kid running around with a stick of honey hanging from her mouth. Courtesy of Harry’s Honey, marketgoers can indulge in this naturally sweet treat, with flavors ranging from cinnamon and sour grape to orange blossom and banana.

Harry Stein has edible goodies for grownups, too. His specialty honeys are popular: lemon, buckwheat, clover, eucalyptus, sage, blackberry, and cactus (those last two are his bestsellers).

Sitting behind his colorfully decorated honey booth on Grand View Boulevard each Sunday, Stein appears to be a man completely at peace with his career path.

“I don’t get up to work,” he tells me. “I get up to play.”

In 1963, Stein stepped into a classroom in his junior year at Cornell University that would forever change his life. He signed up for a beekeeping course. Throughout the ’60s he sold honey to health food stores, and since then, his sales have continued to climb due to what he sees as young people being more in tune with their health.

“If you were on an island and all you had was water and pollen, you could live,” says Stein, who enumerates various health benefits of honey: It has the highest concentration of amino acids, which the body needs; it’s antiseptic, so bacteria cannot live in honey; you can apply it to burns and sores for relief. Honey has also been known to help people suffering from seasonal allergies. …

Read the full article at The Argonaut.