AUX Architecture

The Art Room is helmed by chef D. Brandon Walker and brings together Seasons LA art gallery and the headquarters for AUX Architecture. 

A restaurant, an art gallery and an architectural firm have come together to create The Art Room in Downtown LA. 

Chef D. Brandon Walker partnered with AUX Architecture and Seasons LA to create a hybrid fast-casual dining experience and an equitable work model.

“AUX is an award-winning architectural firm,” Walker said.

“They decided to inhabit this space as their headquarters. Seasons LA is a very experienced outlet. They curate a really broad spectrum of artists, which I really appreciate. I’m really excited about all of their upcoming shows, which happen to be booked out to 2023.”

Housed in a brick building from 1915, the 3,500-square-foot café at 908 S. Olive Street was designed by AUX and earned a 2021 Restaurant Design Award from the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles.

Walker said he believes the timing for these partnerships was perfect as well as organic. The LA native is also inspired by his artist mother and a fine artist brother.

“I just think it was the right combination that I was looking for to be around art, to be defined in this space,” the also co-founder of the restaurant The Mar Vista said. “But to also be inspired by the art as a chef as well.”

The Art Room’s menu will draw on similarities to Walker’s Mar Vista concept.

“We’ve had great success with The Mar Vista grab and go,” Walker said. “It’s really become a beloved go-to local spot for westsiders over the last five years, and I’m super excited to bring this proven menu Downtown.

“I can’t wait for the Downtown neighborhood to enjoy some of the best tacos I think in town. Obviously, LA being a taco town that is saying a lot.”

Breakfast is served all day along with staple menu items such as fish cakes, spinach fritters, fried okra, mac and cheese, and lasagna. Walker said the average turnaround time for menu items is 9 minutes, making it a true grab-and-go concept.

“The food is outstanding, and we also have fresh juices, full-service coffee, and a deli case where you can select premade items,” Walker said. 

“It’s just the place that everybody wants in their neighborhood. I want to be able to go there when I’m walking my dog or after I drop my kids off at school.” 

The restaurant will also boast an affordable family pickup program in the evenings that is similar to the one at Mar Vista.

“The differences I would speak on is the fact that now we are going to have a full bar,” Walker said. 

“Obviously, I can bring any cocktail program and we can have a robust happy hour along with this. Also, I’m planning to do these by-reservation-only elevated dining experiences, kind of like a tasting menu in the gallery space itself.”

For Walker, the hardest part of creating this concept was managing people’s expectations after The Mar Vista founding. 

“I think the most challenging thing is to keep the menus simple and down to earth but make it feel like a destination, a place where people want to come spend time and hang out,” he said.

“I think that is the fine line that we are walking.” 

On the flip side, he enjoys working with his partners and assembling this concept. 

As a chef, Walker’s favorite part of his job is “definitely interacting with others, whether it is my staff or my customers — that’s what give me the most joy.”

“I’m not one of those chefs who likes to just hide out in the kitchen with my head down,” Walker admitted. “Sometimes I like to do that for prepping a bunch of stuff and having everybody leave me alone. But my tendency is to want to interact, and I think that’s where I make the most impact with everything that I do.”

 

A different employee experience

The Art Room is different in that Walker created an employment model that champions a positive restaurant culture with fair pay and work-life balance.

“These have long been themes in my career as I was the programs manager at St. Joseph’s Center, which is a nonprofit that started in Venice, California, and has now expanded to Central Los Angeles as well,” Walker said.

“I was there for 10 years, so that really shaped a lot of my thinking around the type of people who we could be employing in the industry and the type of training that goes into what I would call ‘investments’ in our staff, and I think that is a beautiful thing.”

Walker founded a culinary training program at St. Joseph Center. It’s a free program focused on training people who have experienced homelessness and those going through addiction rehabilitation. Through this type of training, Walker said he believes his employees are offered a “beautiful intersection of life and work and maintaining that balance.”

“Through that, I have been reminded more and more of my attempt to have high hourly rates even ahead of the $15 minimum wage,” Walker said. “We do universal tipping, which raises the hourly rate by $3 to $4 up hourly so there is more of a balance between front and back of house.”

In Walker’s eyes, “everybody does everybody’s job” with no one employee given a specific position. The Art Room staff can work a rotation of positions and have a limit of six hours in a single shift.

“I really believe in cross training, and I believe that that is how the restaurant industry will survive and flourish,” Walker said. “All of these are super important not only to me but to the community and to people who still think of the restaurant job as a career and not just a job.”

 

Future of The Art Room

Due to pandemic-dictated construction delays and supply chain issues with materials “sitting on a freighter off the coast of Portugal,” a grand opening date has not been scheduled.

“We are very strongly looking for soft opening and media events in mid to late March, and then I really think we will be open to the general public in early April,” Walker said.

When the doors officially open, Walker is “really looking forward to working with some of the existing nonprofits down there such as the Weingart Center, the Midnight Mission and the St. Joseph’s Center and also partnering with urban farming outlets such as Alma Backyard Farms.”

 

The Art Room

908 S. Olive Street