Order a burger and a draft root beer at Golden State, the newly opened Fairfax gastropub, and you have a fifty percent chance that Jason Bernstein–the 30-year old co-owner–will be the guy delivering your tray of food. Outfitted in nerdy glasses, blue jeans and a Golden State t-shirt, Bernstein looks more like a musician than a restaurant owner.
Bernstein and his 28-year old business partner, Jim Starr don't exactly have the attitude–or the wardrobe–that most Angelenos expect from two restaurant owners.
Taking what Bernstein calls “the Happy Gilmore approach” to opening a restaurant, the two Crossroads grads (who have no background in the culinary arts) quit their 9-to-5 jobs in advertising and marketing once they stumbled upon a small restaurant space that was available on Fairfax Avenue. With chutzpah and some savings, the two foodies signed a lease and began working backwards to come up with a concept for their fledgling restaurant.
“We are effectively two ice hockey players coming to the game of golf.” Bernstein admits. “Fundamentally, we have no right to do this.”
To create a menu for their small kitchen, Starr found Samir Mohajer, the former executive chef of Rustic Canyon and now chef-owner at Cabbage Patch in Beverly Hills–while on the basketball court. The consulting chef constructed a menu that matched Starr and Bernstein's vision for showcasing local microbrews and artisan foods.
To keep their budget low, the restaurateurs did not hire an architect. “By not having blue prints we were allowed to fine tune things on the fly,” Bernstein says.
Despite low design and construction costs, their improvised plans hit some financial snags. After the high school friends skipped hiring an expeditor–a restaurant consultant fluent in the intricacies of Los Angeles County's many zoning issues and business codes–the pair faced some major challenges navigating the labyrinth of city codes on their own. One of their most costly lessons came in the form of a mammoth grease trap–an expense sprung on the new business owners by the city of Los Angeles to the tune of sixty-thousand dollars. “Dealing with customers is peanuts compared to the bureaucracy of doing something [city] compliant.” Bernstein admits.
Open since March, Golden State's menu boasts draft beers from Craftsman Brewing, hotdogs from Let's Be Frank, meat from Huntington Meats, and handcrafted ice creams from Scoops. Brothers Rene and Narcizo Lopez, run the kitchen as the restaurant's two chefs de cuisine. And with Bernstein and Starr acting as the entire front of house staff, there are few other Golden State employees.
So when an enthusiastic guy in a Golden State t-shirt offers you an esoteric beer pairing suggestion for the lamb burger, don't be surprised. “When customers find out the guy serving them food is also the owner, their whole attitude flips,” says Bernstein. “It's like finding out the guy in the subway is actually Joshua Bell.” Maybe so. Or maybe it's like finding out that Zach Braff is pouring your brew. Never know these days.
Golden State, 426 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. (323) 782-8331.