Do you, as many of us do, mark the passage of time by restaurants that have opened and closed throughout Los Angeles? If so, you may have been flipping through your calendar, trying to figure out when in hell Eric Greenspan's grilled cheese storefront is going to settle in for business. And now, with the Foundry on Melrose undergoing a months-long revamp, you may have begun wondering about Greenspan himself. Where is the man, so loud and confident on your television and with his cooking, hiding out? These days, Eric Greenspan is a man of many questions.
As Greenspan will be the first to tell you, he also has all the answers. From a corner booth at the chef's other L.A. restaurant, the Roof on Wilshire, he opened up about the past few months, his future expansion -- and a very personal reason for slowing down and doing things right.
But first, a lie. "I know everyone's been saying that Greenspan's Grilled Cheese has taken three years. It's really only taken a year," says the chef. "Because when I first started talking about it, I was lying. People would say, 'What are you doing now?' and I said, 'Uhh ... I'm going to open up a grilled cheese restaurant!' Then it went into print, so I guess I had to open up a grilled cheese restaurant."
That space, a slivery storefront next to the Foundry, has been under construction since John Muir first started exploring the California wilderness, but the ball is finally rolling toward a late-fall launch.
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"I'm not planning on opening up just one," Greenspan says of the grilled cheese concept shop. "The plan was to put together an Illuminati of investors -- the perfect people who have all the right synergies -- and as long as this first one is amazing, we're planning on growing it into at least a regional brand."
So what's with the Foundry, Greenspan's upscale-casual dinner spot where his award-winning The Champ grilled cheese was first put onto a menu? The gates have been locked since early summer, the website still promotes an August relaunch, and the phone is disconnected. Is the Foundry dead? Not exactly.
"[It's opening] soon. That's about as good as I'm going to give you." Fair enough.
"The original Foundry was very schizophrenic, because it was a representation of me. And it was me in all of my sizes. It was loud, it was fun, it was sophisticated, but it was also a grilled cheese sandwich and a band. Or tots and a burger. Or it was a tasting menu. It was a lot of different things, because I'm a lot of different things."
Now, it looks like the Foundry will go strictly upscale, splitting the space to create a side-by-side cocktail bar and refined dining destination. There will be a new name in the works to go along with both the intimate dining room and lounge-y cocktail atmospheres, now that bar guys Ian Shepp, Austin Melrose and Zach Patterson will be making drinks up front. The Foundry's amazing back patio will still belong to Greenspan and his crew.
"I always loved the Foundry," Greenspan says. "But the restaurant we're opening now is going to be magical. It's unique, fantastic, and it's going to be the next line in the progression of where I'm going as a chef and restaurateur. We're a little older now, a little more grown up." But he is quick to add: "I'm never going to give up my love for butter and cheese, that I promise you. I'm never going to let you leave my restaurant hungry."
There are other plans in the works as well, like a potential brunch spot based around Greenspan's playful dishes (see: his pancake lasagna).
And next month, Greenspan and chef Roberto Trevino plan to launch El Ñosh, a Latin/Jewish fusion food truck, onto the streets of L.A. After all the talk of fine dining at the Foundry and the eventual opening of Greenspan's Grilled Cheese, this is the project that still makes Greenspan really smile. "It's going to be fun and ridiculous. We've got dill pickle pastrami croquetas, mole brisket, smoked whitefish tacos, black bean falafel. It's delicious, it's going to make you laugh, it's going to make you happy, it's going to make you fat."
Which brings us back to perhaps Greenspan's most important endeavor to date: losing weight. The chef, now married and edging toward 40, has known for a while that change was necessary, but recently he began dieting and exercising his way to a longer life. He's already lost 25 pounds, although the love for butter and cheese isn't going anywhere. "You don't have to be fat to be fat," he says, and the leaner, playful menu at the Roof on Wilshire reflects that. "I needed to make foods that I could eat on my diet."
And so things are lining up for Greenspan, despite his recent relative absence on the L.A. food scene. Hopefully by late December, all will be right in the Greenspan universe.
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"The dust will probably settle around New Year's. My empire will be established and in place, I'll be 25 pounds lighter than I am now, and things will be in order and operating as they should be."
Until then, you can find him at the Roof on Wilshire, enjoying the views and still making his signature short rib grilled cheese sandwich The Champ -- although it's less likely these days that he'll be making it for himself.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Farley Elliott writes about food, drink and entertainment at OverOverUnder.com.