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The curious case of Lot 1 Cafe and its $6 all-you-can-eat pancakes

Lot1blogWhen Lot 1 Cafe -- the diminutive Echo Park corner restaurant with the oddball name -- opened on Cinco de Mayo of last year, I had a feeling that it didn't quite know its audience. The food was fancy and had the prices to match. But the restaurant itself was oddly cold and unwelcoming, not the kind of place you'd want to lay down Beverly Hills-style money. Not when you could go down the street to 15 and eat for much less.

At the time the restaurant had scored Josef Centeno as its chef, almost by accident. Centeno, still hot after a promising turn at Opus in Koreatown, was shooting to open his own place (called Volver) but ended up in Lot 1's kitchen instead. The story went that he lived in the neighborhood and learned from Craigslist that the restaurant, owned by mother-and-son team Eileen and Miles Leslie, needed a chef so he signed up. He made a mini-splash, with The Times featuring him and his famed bacos, but Centeno left after five months (and reportedly not on good terms).

After that, blogs stopped writing about Lot 1 and customers stopped coming. The restaurant sat empty night after night, while down the street another new restaurant, the Park, took off, scoring a decent review from Times Restaurant Critic S. Irene Virbila. When Lot 1 began offering brunch not much changed; again the prices were still too high to lure neighborhood customers.

Then early this year Lot 1 shut down for a while and I wondered whether or not it would reopen. But it has, and its new approach to promoting itself is about as subtle as a hitchhiker pulling her skirt above her head. This weekend I walked by (on my way to brunch at a very packed Park) and saw a sandwich board covered in electric green paper in front of the restaurant announcing all-you-can-eat pancakes for $6. Now, the Eastsider reports that Lot 1 is offering a "chili dog and rootbeer float for $5."

Again, I'm not sure if that's quite right in a neighborhood awash with $2 bacon-wrapped hot dog carts. But I hope I'm wrong. An empty restaurant is a truly depressing sight.

-- Jessica Gelt

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

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Aw, being a neighbor of Lot 1 and native of Echo Park I have seen all the changes/challenges the restaurant has gone through. I think it's great that it has a recession menu! Every one else is doing it why not Lot 1? What gives? Don't change a thing. I like the all you can eat pancakes.

A neighbor of mine just ran into Lot 1 & asked me if I had been interviewed by the LA Times. I stated, other than Amy Scattergood of the LA Times in August 2008 and Eastsider LA blog, “No, no one. Why?” She then informed me of today’s Daily Dish blog and the analogy made between Lot 1 and “a hitchhiker pulling her skirt above her head.” Of course, I immediately read the blog.
Since the day of Lot 1’s opening, there has been mild curiosity surrounding many aspects of its existence, everything from the choice of the paint color & Chef Centeno’s departure to the menu choices (& menu changes and prices).
When I became a resident of Echo Park in January 2003, I found a changing residential neighborhood without a static business district. It seemed obvious that new businesses, including restaurants, would soon appear. Some did, however the restaurant scene was still undeveloped (except for Masa). I waited and in 2007, I felt compelled to add to the vitality of the growing community and I committed to the creation of a restaurant. I applied for a change of use from a retail space to a restaurant and dealt with some of the experiences that Ms. Gelt described in her article. http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-permits18-2009feb18,0,4747395
Many people have heard that restaurants typically don’t succeed beyond their first year. With this knowledge and the many ups & downs of Lot 1 thus far, I instituted a “recession proof lunch menu” which offers not only hot dogs (Hebrew National) but also, omelettes, bagels w/lox & classic sandwiches, such as egg salad, albacore & roast beef (served with sides: steak fries, cole slaw or baked beans) none over $10, in an effort to respond to the community’s outcry for more reasonably priced menu selections. Our brunch menu, includes, on both Saturday & Sunday, a choice of "all you can pancakes" for $6 & an egg’s benedict for $4.
Also, approval has just been obtained from the L.A. Health Dept. for remodeling & expansion which will pave the way for a beer & wine application submission. Most of that work is conducted during the evening; thus, we have temporarily stopped serving dinner. In the meantime, watch for a new "recession proof dinner menu" which will feature Mediterranean & Italian dishes.
“An empty restaurant is a truly depressing sight” but a restaurant that is non-responsive and non-flexible is a closed restaurant and that would be a shame because we want the opportunity to offer good food, reasonably priced to the community.
The restaurant is located on lot 1 of the commercial/residential tract of land known as Sunset Boulevard Heights.
Lot 1 is honored to announce that on March 3rd it will be the polling station for its community of Echo Park.


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