A crowd has been gathering most mornings at one end of a nondescript, old-school strip mall in Woodland Hills. It doesn’t seem like a promising spot for destination dining – but that’s exactly what’s going on, with people in the area lining up for the new location of Blu Jam Café, which opened last month.
With two other sites in Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, the restaurant serves breakfast and lunch daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Favorite dishes include crunchy French toast with vanilla bean sauce, and pan-roasted macaroni scrambled with eggs, smoked bacon, ham, garlic, chives and cheddar cheese.
Co-owner and executive chef Kamil Majer’s interest in cooking was awakened at an early age, watching his mother at work in the family kitchen in Czechoslovakia. He has said that she taught him the importance of using fresh, quality ingredients (accordingly, there are no freezers in the Blu Jam Café kitchens). Local produce is delivered six days a week.
A harrowing journey from Eastern Europe as a young man (including time spent in a refugee camp) eventually landed Majer in the kitchen of Boston’s Colonnade Hotel, where he washed dishes. Arriving in Los Angeles in 1983, he paid his dues in a number of dining rooms, gradually working his way up.
Majer and his friend, David Fris, also from Czechoslovakia, opened the first Blu Jam Café on Melrose Avenue in 2006, on a site that had once been an underground jazz club. Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie and other greats played music there – the name Blu Jam honors that unique history.
The original (and continuing) concept was to have a casual café serving gourmet dishes at affordable prices. Co-owner Jeff Shulem told us that the phrase “creatively eclectic breakfast and lunch” best describes the Blu Jam vibe. There is an emphasis on healthy, organic ingredients, with vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free dishes in the mix.
Shulem says he is not surprised by the enthusiastic response to the Woodland Hills cafe, because San Fernando Valley residents are always requesting a more diverse selection of eateries.
Other restaurateurs have taken notice that diners in the SFV are eager to open their wallets for good food that doesn’t require a drive over the hill. In September, Joan’s on Third set up shop in Studio City. And last year, the Local Peasant opened a second SFV location in Woodland Hills, where the gastropub lights up a formerly sad stretch of Ventura Boulevard.
Blu Jam Café, 23311 Mulholland Drive, Woodland Hills, (818) 222-1044, blujamcafe.com