[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. Follow him on twitter and also check out his archives.]
The most punk new restaurant in L.A. might be Alexander’s Greek Kitchen, a 90-day-old storefront tucked into a strip mall in Vernon. This is a weird sentence to write for several reasons.
A) There’s nothing inherently punk about a pork gyro dripping with tzatziki sauce, no matter how serrated the French fries stuffed inside are.
B) Vernon is an industrial tract known mostly for grotesque municipal corruption and a Farmer John hot dog plant — not fine dining.
C) If you’re catering to a clientele of mostly factory workers, common sense dictates that they don’t want to spend their lunch hours barraged by a duo of “electronic body mutants” named High-Functioning Flesh.
This is where the proprietors come in: Alex and Konstantin Sotirhos. They’re two Whittier-raised brothers, 22 and 21 respectively, who run their kitchen with a DIY ethos, close familial ties and a constant soundtrack of blistering noise, punk, hardcore and house cassette tapes.
“We’re going to start trading food for cassettes,” Alex says. The elder of the brothers wears a hoodie and black hat, and speaks with the energy of a guitar smashing.
“We posted a tape from [experimental electronic imprint] Nostilevo on our Instagram, and the next thing you know, they and other labels wanted to trade food for tapes, straight up.”
It’s a late Thursday afternoon, and the restaurant is dispatching the last of the lunch rush. Both of the Sotirhos’ parents putter around the kitchen, handling cooking and food preparation. Dishes such as dolmadakia (grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs) and saganaki (pan-fried kefalograviera cheese and lemon) are cooked from recipes straight from the old world, where their father was raised in a beach village outside Athens.
In a few hours, the restaurant will close and Alex will wade into traffic to head toward Chinatown’s KChung, an artist-run radio collective broadcasting with a frail signal at 1630 AM. He’ll play avant-garde live electronic jams until 2 a.m. and then hop in his car to sleep in an LMU parking lot, so he can be up for “Shapiro Show,” the postpunk and hardcore show that he hosts every Friday from 6 to 9 a.m. on college radio station KXLU (88.9 FM). “I’m a bit of a radio nomad these days,” he jokes.
Alex became a regular at downtown art-punk crucible the Smell while working at KXLU as a Loyola undergrad. Seeing No Age, Health and others galvanized his tastes, which eventually led down a rabbit hole to esoteric music that no Shazam would ever recognize.
Neither brother expected to become a restaurateur, but after a vacancy opened up earlier this year, they opted to lease the space adjacent to a concrete L.A. River embankment. They choose Vernon due to their familiarity with the area, where their father had worked in food distribution.
The nexus between punk and pork skewers isn’t lost on them, either.
“We approach it with the same DIY ethos. We’ll announce stuff at the last minute on Instagram. We’ll play music that bums people out sometimes,” Alex says. “We’re not trying to be buttoned-up and professional.”
There’s also a pronounced experimental approach to the restaurant. The menu is stripped down and two-chord basic — just traditional Greek fare, done very well. Future plans include recruiting outside chefs to do pop-ups in Vernon, gyro stands at festivals, more restaurants and, eventually, a run of cassette tapes.
“No one would agree to this business model,” Konstantin says. “I’m 21 years old and realistically have no clue what I’m doing, and every day that gets tested. Plenty of great, punk-rock artists didn’t have much experience to start, and neither of us had real restaurant experience. But you find a way to make it work.”
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