No More Sandwiches in LA
No More Sandwiches in LA
BY : JASON STEWART
How to open a restaurant in a neighborhood that didn’t want one, and how to do it again, now that it does.
Los Angeles is kind of a pathetic sandwich town compared to the rest of the country. We don’t find comfort between two pieces of bread as much as they do in Philly, we don’t necessarily know if there’s a difference between a “Hero” or a “Grinder” because we’ve never had to choose. And other than the requisite Italian deli or pastrami shop, we’re happy to eat at our neighborhood gems that do tiny pre-made baguette things with “chive butter.” For some reason we just aren’t sandwich people. Peter and Lauren Lemos saw this as an opening, and took it. Two years ago, the two restaurant lifers opened one of LA’s best new restaurants inside half a shipping container, Wax Paper in LA’s “Frogtown” neighborhood. A sliver of 60’s suburbia along the LA river, before 5 years ago its biggest claim to fame might be that it was a place where you could grow pot and nobody would bug you much. Now it’s occupied by Salazar which brings in new faces for “Palm Springsy” day drinking (you can skip the food) and the literal parking lot of “Zebulon which has wedged out Tenants for being the current place to stand around when there’s nothing better to do.
If you head deeper into Frogtown past the track homes and warehouses, you’ll spot Wax Paper on the corner, about the size of a Bel Air master bathroom. On average, they sell around 30 sandwiches an hour from their 226 square foot walk up, interestingly enough their busiest day of the year being MLK’s Birthday. Upon entering the teensy foyer, you might be greeted by an employee wearing a shirt from New York’s Superiority Burger, an equally small hideaway with a similar punk spirit, or just Lauren’s giant smile. A pink soccer scarf, scotch-taped to the wall reads “It’s A Sandwich,” their recurring motto, and a nod to other blue collar outlets perhaps. Their menu, adorned with cut out pictures of Mr. Burns chatting on the phone like a tween, appears to be designed by one as well. However, the sandwich ingredients are listed with the precision and restraint of a Momofuku copywriter.
A recent special of brisket, tzatziki, mustard greens, hot honey, garlic aioli, pita chips, bright-pink house pickled lotus root, chili threads, on ciabatta somehow came to life simply by a customer bringing in some brisket he’d been smoking himself. It sold out in about the time it took for you to read all that. Both Pete and Lauren were insightful enough to perceive the “high/low” aesthetic thriving right now. You get the feeling they want you to know they care a lot, but in the most chill way possible.
Every sandwich that could benefit from an aioli, has its own unique aioli. They shred all their cheese because they think it distributes better, they think of the little things. You might have thrown away the last bite of crust from a lesser sandwicherie, but at Wax Paper that garlic aioli slathered end-piece oddly becomes your favorite bite. In each sandwich, you’re able to pick apart and enjoy each individual element, and equally, the orchestral sum of all parts combined.
With bread being the most important sandwich ingredient (don’t @ me) Peter and Lauren were also smart enough to align with arguably the most in-demand bakery in LA right now, Bub & Grandma’s from the beginning. Only fitting that B&G’s new location is opening soon in Frogtown too. Bub & Grandma’s seeded loaf, the foundation for Wax Paper’s “Ira Glass” veggie sandwich, comes impossibly covered in black poppy seeds like a glitter iPhone case from 2015.
Also opening soon in the neighborhood is Pete and Lauren’s restaurant number 2, “Lingua Franca,” or, “The Common Language.” A little bit of everything for everyone, Lingua will sit just down the street from Wax Paper actually, in the “lobby” of a brand new apartment complex. Acting as the “hotel restaurant” for the complex by day, fast casual coffee and pastries, then turning over to a proper sit down dinner spot, with alcohol and everything. Peter and Lauren’s eyes light up when they talk about the possibilities, and you can tell they’ve been constrained by Wax Paper’s size, and permitting. They have no ovens, stove tops, or any way to actually “cook” things other than a couple induction burners. You can tell they can’t wait to just DEEP FRY something,and the poor guy is dying to make a soup. (For a look into how Peter’s foodbrain operates, search the hashtag #specialsofwaxpaper on instagram.)
There doesn’t seem to be a secret to Peter and Lauren’s live-work life, and it kind of makes me angry. Sometimes he’ll ride his bike to work while she drives, maybe he’ll beat her there some days. They prep side by side, cook all day, clean up, and go home together, it’s all a little too cute. Between the two of them, they have 30 years of restaurant experience, working everywhere from Domain Chandon in Napa to delivering pizza for Dominoes. LA needs more risk taking sandwiches like Peter’s, still rooted and tradition but not afraid to push things forward.
2902 Knox Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90039