Situated in the trendy Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, craft beer bar and Asian restaurant showcase Button Mash has become one of the buzziest places to be seen along Sunset Boulevard. But when co-founders and business partners Jordan Weiss and Gabriel Fowlkes settled on the retro-arcade concept as their first foray into the restaurant industry they turned to Southern California Restaurant Design Group to manage the kitchen install. Account executive Robert Read was assigned as their project manager, and the task of creating an 800-square foot kitchen for the duo.
For Weiss the location of the 4000-square foot space, which affords views along Sunset Boulevard and positioned Button Mash as the closest bar to Dodger Stadium, just felt right. “The site housed a chain shoe store prior to us moving in but had been completely gutted – no bathroom, no plumbing – so it was a huge project to take on.” Far from being just an “equipment guy”, Weiss says when it came to the install Robert not only delivered on every front but was experienced and savvy when it came to advising on details, including specific inspection requirements, which could of potentially added time to the project.
Present for each building inspection and subsequent follow up visits, Robert helped troubleshoot everything from issues relating to the coarseness of epoxy flooring to advising on grout density – wall alcoves are required to be extra smooth as they are easier to clean and won’t hold onto bacteria; health inspectors are known to order re-dos on grouting around cabinetry and flooring, which can delay projects by weeks. Details, as first timers, Weiss admits they would never have known about if not for Robert’s expert guidance.
Account Executive Robert Read at Southern California Restaurant Design Group says that the smartest move first-time restaurant owners can make is to align themselves with a professional who should provide an overall sense of what the project will entail – from the initial design phase and construction to final completion. His biggest piece of advice for first timers though, is to start with plenty of working capital and double whatever they think that number is.
What factors influenced the design criteria of the Button Mash kitchen?
While another company did the actual design phase, SCRDG brought it fruition. The basic design criteria was based on creating a nostalgic experience with the arcade games, with the kitchen/bar area designed to enhance that experience.
Working with a relatively tight budget, how and where were you able to save money on the install?
We started with Jordan and Gabriel’s initial plans then altered some of the specifications for equipment they didn’t need to open with, but had the ability to add at later date due to not having full liquor license. We helped procure used equipment in order to bring the budget down, adjusting the profit margin accordingly. SCRDG works with all tiers of equipment from low and mid-range to high-end; for Button Mash we went middle of the road to help with the budget.
What did you consider the most challenging aspect to the project?
Scheduling with the building department and utility companies took a long time. At one stage we had equipment installed without utilities being hooked up, which was frustrating.
Weiss says that, not only was Robert patient and easy to work with, he made sure the project ran smoothly from start to finish while staying mindful of the budget. They also appreciated his flexibility and honesty regarding recommendations for used versus new equipment. Robert helped the duo navigate numerous construction and logistic challenges too. “Building a place out from scratch there was a lot of “chicken and egg-type stuff,” he communicated directly with the contractors and dealt with equipment changes along the way – namely debates as to what stage in the process the kitchen equipment should be brought in and installed before for inspection”.
Weiss and Fowlkes handpicked husband and wife duo Nguyen and Thi Tran of underground Starry Kitchen fame to design the menu. “We were huge fans of their food and thought it would be great to offer it in this beer and video game context. Once SCRDG locked in our equipment choices the Trans came and helped design the menu.” Weiss says the Trans now oversee all day-to-day kitchen operations at Button Mash serving up a popular Pan-Asian menu of comfort food favorites, including their much lauded crispy tofu balls.
Conceived as fun yet upscale environment, Weiss and Fowlkes’ eschewed the idea of a typical arcade, instead focusing on a cool restaurant-bar concept centered round an edgy entertainment component. The minimalist look, via architect/design firm Design, Bitches, lays out 90 seats across a main dining room, bar area and communal tables, the latter of which are encircled by the bulk of Weiss and Fowlkes’ impressive arcade game collection.
The materials soften what was a very large, industrial-feeling space, says Weiss. Referenced by the time period of the games it’s now bright and open with pops of color. All our furniture is custom made, there’s a lot of lighter wood like white oak, plus patterned laminate by Ettore Sottsass and custom wallpaper by artist Joseph Harmon. Weiss concludes by saying that working with SCRDG, and Robert in particular, was a very positive experience.
“For first timers he made it as non-traumatic as possible I don’t think we could of asked for more. In fact we genuinely really like the guys at So Cal Restaurant Design and still keep in touch with them today”.
Button Mash is located at 1391 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. Visit their website, or call (213) 250-9903 for more information. All photography by Laure Joliet Photography, courtesy of Design, Bitches.