Brandon Parker, the co-founder of Spread Mediterranean Kitchen, sat by his Little Spread kiosk on a patio in the Gas Company Tower on the first Friday of November.
The day was palpably tense. The contentious presidential race still hung in limbo, and rare LA clouds made the looming U.S. Bank building strike an especially imposing contrast with the quaint, colorful outdoor space Little Spread calls home.
The conversation, which turned to his background, the service industry and the state of the country, revealed both Parker’s drive and—like the contrast suggested—the conflicted paths to realizing his ambition in the current moment.
“I don’t want to be the face of this thing,” he explained.
Over the course of the pandemic, businesses have faced an increasingly difficult struggle to stay afloat. Especially in the already volatile restaurant world, Parker faced problem after problem while maintaining a traditional presence.
But his background prepared him for facing diverse challenges that test leadership and adaptability. Having worked in five-star hotels for years before starting his entrepreneurial career, knowing how to prioritize forced him to reassess his restaurant’s situation.
Willing to pivot, Parker decided to focus his efforts on Little Spread—at first an offshoot of the main branch and now a thriving food stall serving fast-casual Mediterranean to the Downtown community.
“I love doing something I don’t know how to do,” Parker said of the myriad exciting challenges faced by restaurant owners. “You only live once, as far as I know. You have to know how to prioritize.”
When you first come off Fifth Street, up the stairs into the Gas Company Tower, an enormous mural greets guests through the windows. Walking outside onto the patio, the faded, block-length, story-tall installation provides an elaborate backdrop for Little Spread. Nestled in the corner, the modern-looking kiosk is surrounded by colorful distanced seating.
Parker offered a tour through the small kiosk, which showed off a perfect space for quick, fresh preparation. The limited fare—consisting of just three main proteins (chicken, beef and vegan potato) and two styles (a pita sandwich or salad)—allows Little Spread to focus on making food quickly and reliably delicious. Inmar Gonzalez is the chef preparing the Mediterranean dishes on the tight menu.
The salad with Moroccan braised chicken ($13) has a side of deliciously crispy pita chips ($3) and tzatziki spread ($2)—and features a classic array of Mediterranean flavors, from Kalamata olives to labneh yogurt spread. That creamy spread clashes somewhat with acidity from a helping of pickled red onions, but especially considering Little Spread’s attention to speed and consistency, the salad was undeniably fresh, filling and generally well balanced.
“The hardest part is consistency,” Parker said on whittling down an optimal menu. “Everyone always wants value.”
That value-focused restaurant idea led Parker to get into what he sees as a fast-casual boom. With the success of national chains like Chipotle and Cava, Parker noticed a burgeoning restaurant niche. As young millenials and Gen Z professionals enter the workforce, they usually want something fresh and relatively healthy but still value the convenience offered by fast food’s namesake speed.
“Scalability is important. There’s a lot of things a mom-and-pop store can learn from a Jeff Bezos mentality,” Parker said about the success of these franchised restaurant chains.
Parker noted a collaboration with nearby farms, like Tutti Frutti, to bring fresh ingredients into dishes. Most exciting for Downtown, that collaboration is extending to Little Spread’s marquee offering: a specialty farmers market featuring Mediterranean foods and ingredients. Soon, the kiosk will act as a middleman to bring fresh herbs, spices, produce and more to the neighborhood, cutting out long drives to crowded markets in places like Santa Monica. As these ingredients are offered at reasonable rates, Little Spread will also make its housemade signature spreads available for wholesale purchase.
Starting a restaurant and integrating into a local community is never an easy task, and the current state of the world certainly hasn’t made the process any easier. But as Parker said, knowing your own fundamental strengths can allow you to adapt and make the most out of even the most troubled times.
“So help us out and grab some spreads,” Parker said to the DTLA community.