Chef Sang Yoon opened his third Father’s Office in January 2020 and barely gained traction before the pandemic lockdown.
Yoon — a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters Season 5” — is trying again with the DTLA craft beer and burger fixture now that it has reopened.
“We were like a newborn baby, given what happened,” said Yoon, who also has Father’s Office locations in Santa Monica and Culver City.
“Just like everyone else, we didn’t know how long this was going to last. We had just started partnering with a delivery platform weeks prior to the lockdown. We had no track record with any takeout or delivery in any other location. We had to make a tough decision and shutter the whole thing, simply because we didn’t know how this would go down.”
The Santa Monica and Culver City eateries pivoted to takeout as the pandemic churned last year.
“At two of our other locations, we were able to tip it over to takeout — at least we tried to for a while. The (Downtown) restaurant ended up being shut for almost exactly 18 months,” Yoon noted.
When Yoon took over Father’s Office in 2000, he installed a small kitchen and introduced his Office burger. The small restaurant was soon recognized as the epicenter of the Los Angeles craft beer movement. Established in 1953, the previous owner, Lou Moench, started replacing the conventional big brewery taps with fresh beer from smaller niche breweries.
Notorious for its strict prescriptions of no substitutions, desserts or ketchup, Father’s Office and Yoon’s gourmet burger proved to be influential and transformative fixtures on Los Angeles’ larger culinary landscape.
“Father’s Office, before I owned it, was a place I visited,” Yoon said.
“It was a local watering hole, (where) I grew up on the Westside there. It was one of the few places that had a solely, dedicated beer list that was all small breweries. It didn’t have any of the big-brewery stuff there. That was somewhat unique at the time, especially in LA. I really appreciated it.
“The burger concept as a menu focus was a natural inclination. I’m a big fan of places that focus. I love eating in Japan for the same reason. I love single-menu-item restaurants more than anybody. It really spoke to me. I wanted to continue that.”
The burger fascination tends to eclipse the focus on small local craft breweries at Father’s Office. With its emphasis on small craft breweries already established in 2000, Yoon expanded on it and helped launch the local craft brewery movement that peppers the LA landscape.
“Father’s Office was a first outlet for many, many beers that we enjoy and take for granted,” Yoon said.
“Russian River, for instance, we were their first location in Los Angeles. Bear Republic, Racer 5, Anchor Brewing, Sierra Nevada, on and on, going way back. Father’s Office has a long, long history of bringing in small breweries.”
Yoon uses a novel metaphor for his role at the time.
“It’s like being a fan of garage bands,” he explained. “The music didn’t have any distribution outside their local areas. I was that indie radio station DJ from LA who wanted to play all these unknowns. That’s kind of how I felt. That was my position, as craft beer has (now) blown up, literally.
“This was at a time, 20 years ago, when LA didn’t have any local breweries, very few. Now we have local breweries, and that has completely upended how we buy beer now. So, it’s been an evolution for sure. We still stand for the same things. We’re all about the craft, and we’re all about the little guy. We’ve stood by that.”
Father’s Office is still 36 taps, which enables the staff to offer “a little bit of everything” but be selective at the same time.
The menus remain elegantly simple at all three locations.
“Pre-COVID, all three locations shared the majority of their menus, but there was some distinction between them,” Yoon said.
“There was little bit of uniqueness to each location. Currently now, all three locations share the same menu, due to all the circumstances regarding staffing and so forth. We have a slightly shortened menu than is typical, but the intention going forward is to have some identity that is unique to Downtown as well.”
He also has detected differences in the preferences of his Downtown guests. “(Between the locations) there are considerable differences in how people order. On the beverage side, we notice there’s more desire for cocktails Downtown. On the food side, we’re selling a lot more vegetables (Downtown), which is something inspiring and cool to see.”
Looking at the current menu, the fabled Office burger ($18) is served with caramelized onions, bacon, gruyere and Maytag blue cheese and arugula. (Yoon recommends medium rare to medium cooking to ensure juiciness.) Frites in a basket ($7) with garlic, parsley and aioli round out a simple order, but remember: no ketchup.
Other intriguing options abound here. There is a fried chicken sandwich ($15) with cabbage slaw and kimchi vinaigrette. Prime hanger steak with frites ($24) provides classic bistro fare. Spicy shrimp and grits ($18) and the grilled octopus salad ($18) offer unexpected novelty.
As the original gastropub, there are worthy snacks to accompany a pint of freshly tapped craft beer including, deviled eggs ($7) with fried capers and hot paprika; chorizo fritters ($8) with salsa verde; stuffed piquillo peppers ($8) with herbed Spanish goat cheese; and chicharrones ($9), with a charred tomatillo salsa verde.
The 36 tap craft beer list is a brew nerd’s dream. Most are priced between $7.50 and $10 a pint, spanning a wide range of flavor notes and alcohol volumes. The list is divided into the following sections: malty; hoppy; yeasty and spicy; fruity and herbaceous; and “The Really Good (expletive),” which features a dozen rare breeds priced from $11 to $50.
Yoon has been in the lab devising a new burger. “Prior to the shutdown, I was working on another burger, which we’ve never served before. The second burger was something we’re going to launch Downtown.”
Any hint as to composition? “It’s perhaps a touch more geographically connected, that’s about it,” Yoon said cryptically.
The pandemic lockdown also closed Yoon’s Michelin-rated fine dining restaurant Lukshon, which he opened in 2011.
“Still closed. It’s a really difficult restaurant to run and to hire and train for, under the best of circumstances,” he said.
“Right now, I can’t imagine getting something like that off the ground, from zero. (It’s) staffing, yes, but also personal bandwidth. It’s a restaurant that’s very personal to me. It’s the restaurant I would have to spend the most time in. That’s kind of how it was before. With less staff at all levels, people in my shoes are stretched quite thin these days. So, it would be a very heavy lift, until things get better circumstantially for our whole industry.”
With his empire effectively hobbled, Yoon stayed busy through the pandemic as an active industry advocate.
“We rallied around each other as restaurateurs,” he said.
“Oh, gosh, now it seems like a lifetime ago. Getting everybody involved in the Independent Restaurant Coalition and helping to lobby Congress and getting us federal aid for our industry. It’s funny, I made closer and deeper relationships with a lot of people I didn’t even know. It galvanized us as an industry. There are a lot of LA restaurateurs I got to know a lot better through these circumstances.
“There was a lot of rallying. You don’t realize how resourceful people are in our industry until you put them into a situation like this. I was very inspired by hearing people’s stories of literal survival. Even though our restaurants weren’t open, I was literally getting up every morning (to) conference calls, lobbying and speaking with members of Congress and local politicians as well. You’re trying to be a voice for our whole industry.”
With the third location of Father’s Office now open, he’s enthusiastic about its prospects and location.
“What’s interesting, there’s a feature there,” he said.
“There are very, very large windows facing Second Street. They look almost like garage doors, and they open basically, nearly the whole wall. So, it’s almost like a convertible. We’re able to have a very outdoor feel indoors. We’re using those obviously now as a nice breezy effect. Having big operable windows wasn’t something that I thought would be a benefit the way it is now.”
The gastropub pioneer is relieved and grateful for the opportunity to finally expand his vision Downtown.
“Part of me feels like this is not a reopening but simply take two in a way,” he said.
“The opening seems like such a distant memory now. I really feel like this is our real opening. We’re very excited to engage with this community. I could have opened another Father’s Office in so many other places, so many different parts of the country in fact, but I really love my hometown.
“I think this particular spot, in this particular community within Downtown, feels like a very homey, very residential area. It makes me feel like it’s a place where we can make a lot of regulars, as much as our other locations. I’m excited to meet all of our neighbors going forward.”
905 E. Second Street, Suite 105, Los Angeles