Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne on the timeless mystique of downtown LA
Los Angeles natives are toasting the neighborhood’s historic appeal with a new hotel restaurant.
Restaurateurs Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne have shaped the Los Angeles culinary scene for more than 20 years, winning James Beard Awards with restaurants like Lucques, aoc, Tavern, and now Caldo Verde and Cara Cara at the Proper Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Los Angeles. During the pandemic, Goin and Styne not only opened two new restaurants, but they were also founding members of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, whose work helped secure more than $28.6 billion in government grants for restaurants. and bars across the country.
SUZANNE GOIN: We both grew up in LA, and my parents worked in town, so I always saw LA when my parents went to work. I feel like I’m in the 1930s or 1940s. I like the feeling of a real downtown and beautiful old buildings. It was always a mythical place for me growing up. For me to finally be here in the heart of downtown Los Angeles is a dream come true, and something I have imagined all my life. The timing wasn’t perfect, but downtown is coming back.
CAROLINE STYNE: For years, people came to us for opening projects downtown. I feel like we’re part of a revitalization that’s happening. Even on Broadway alone, I’ve noticed that there’s definitely an energy, a sparkle and a freshness to the neighborhood, and lots of businesses and retail popping up.
GO IN: When you’re on the rooftop of Cara Cara looking down on Broadway, you feel like you’ve been transported to another era with the old marquees. We are both addicted to the hotel. Not sure if there’s ever been a plan to open a hotel restaurant, but we’re suckers for a great hotel. It takes what a restaurant does to a whole new level. Set the mood and have the impression of escaping. It took us a long time to open our first hotel restaurant, but we had been in talks with Hotel Proper for seven years.
SCOPE: We’ve been dating the Clean for a long time
GO IN: The combination of seeing the space, being in the building, and meeting the players just clicked for us. We had known interior designer Kelly Wearstler and hotel developer Brad Korzen from when they dined at AOC and Lucca, and that suited us really well. We really felt simpatico about what they were trying to do and what we like to do.
When we opened, I was at the Proper almost every night. I like being here. There’s something fun about coming to work in a hotel. It’s very different from a standalone restaurant. It’s global. It’s pretty cool to have guests come over for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
SCOPE: It’s a different type of regular who you cultivate this relationship with.
GO IN: You may never see them again, but you will see them a lot for a few days.
SCOPE: And even if you never see them again, you are part of their memories of their stay in Los Angeles.
GO IN: Caldo Verde makes me feel like an adult restaurant. It reminds me of our original restaurant, Lucca. There’s something civilized about it.
SCOPE: Relaxed refinement.
GO IN: Being in a gorgeous room, the double height ceilings and all the plants, and looking through the archways to see the art. Cara Cara is also amazing but very different. It’s fast and fun, and down there Caldo Verde is a little more sophisticated.
SCOPE: When you open a restaurant, you create an environment and an escape, a fantasy without it being crazy. Kelly has incredible talent. She has a way, a bit like Suzanne on the plate, of superimposing textures and flavors. Somehow, Kelly does it visually with patterns and materials, and achieves what a California restaurant should look like – incredibly organic and natural. There’s a lot going on, but when you see everything in place, it’s like a calm, perfect presence. Every time I walk into this restaurant I can’t believe how beautiful it is.
GO IN: It first struck me when we walked into this building seven years ago. It was pretty run down, but you could feel the bones. It felt really old world to me – vaguely European. There was this dark, dark stuff, and I wanted to know what people were eating when this building was built. I did a bunch of research, and it was just continental food. So I asked myself, what was I hoping to find? What did I hope they ate?
I worked for two different Portuguese people, in Boston and in Providence, Rhode Island, which has a huge Portuguese community. I was exposed to Portuguese cuisine in my early twenties, and I’ve always loved it and always loved that spirit – of drinking Vinho Verde and hanging out and talking and having a good time in the middle of the day . Somehow, in my brain, these two things were connected.
I’ve been able to cook whatever I’ve wanted to cook for a long time now, so it’s fun for me to have a path to follow and restrict the direction of what I’m doing. The menu is not entirely Portuguese, but it is Portuguese inspired.
In 2019 Caroline and I traveled to Portugal – Lisbon, the Douro Valley and Porto. I saw different things than I thought we were going to see. The joy of living, a very humble but cowardly festive spirit, is very much alive there. That’s another thing we look for with the restaurant. I want it to be a fun place where people can eat cheese and drink wine and pour their caldo verde as they pass plates. I certainly drew a lot of inspiration from that trip. I didn’t want to fly in a bunch of fish from Portugal so I wanted to focus on what we have here. Portuguese cuisine is very rich in seafood, but I wanted to highlight something really local, so I worked with a fisherwoman from Santa Barbara to get the rock crab for our caldo verde. It’s the perfect way to use it because there’s so much shell.
SCOPE: It’s an interesting time in LA. We’re in this downtown commercial area, and a lot of people aren’t back in the office yet, so we’re certainly continuing to grow our restaurant business. We also have a lot of people coming for breakfast. We envision it as the place where you can walk and have a fantastic lunch and get back to work. There’s a fashion district and there’s so much going on in that district and there are so many interesting people. I’m also planning a little fashion hour at our bar. I feel like Caldo Verde has such a draw for so many different reasons.
GO IN: During the pandemic, it was all we could do to try to survive and try to figure out how to take care of our staff as best we could. The horrible unknown of not knowing what was coming and not knowing how long our money should last. Do we need to fire people? Is it safe to do takeout? It was brutal. We were just trying to figure out how to survive. The people to whom we feel the real responsibility are our staff who have been with us for so many years. Our Head Chef and Sous Chef at Caldo Verde were both in Lucca when it closed. We thought it would be six months, but it took us a year and a half before we could open.
SCOPE: The fact that Congress put all of this into action with the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and put $28.6 billion into the hands of truly needy restaurants – it was a fantasy come true. Unfortunately, we had asked them for a lot more money and ended up in the situation where two-thirds of the restaurants that needed money did not receive it. There are 177,000 restaurants that applied and did not get funding because there was no more money. We need an additional $60 billion to replenish this fund. We have pleaded with Congress. They saved a third of the industry, but we have to save the other two thirds.
I think it’s a bipartisan issue. I don’t think anyone would dispute that restaurants are an important part of the economy. It’s pretty devastating to the whole economy when restaurants fail, and many are on the verge of failing. We were so lucky to have gotten a few PPP grants, and if we didn’t have those grants, our restaurants wouldn’t be running today. We would be closed.
GO IN: The initial round saved so many people, but more is needed.
SCOPE: If you didn’t have a banking relationship, it was very difficult to get a PPP loan. In the end, Square and online banks provided some leads. But if you weren’t really savvy and didn’t have all your ducks in a row, you didn’t get those ready.
GO IN: We are certainly still struggling to find people. Many have left the industry, moved or left the state where it is cheaper to live, or decided to start a new career. A lot of people have really changed their lives and moved away from the hospitality industry.
We are really happy with the restaurant, but we just need more staff to run everything. Expand the cocktail program and be open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And grow into all that we can be. I can’t wait for us to be a year old and grow to be part of the community. We had a very busy breakfast this morning, and it wasn’t just hotel guests. It was so fun to see. We love the lively restaurant feeling when there are all different types of people doing their thing and having fun.
Top photo: Caroline Styne and Suzanne Goin. Pictured: Dylan & Jeni.