UPDATE 3/17/2015: As of this past weekend, David Mora is no longer involved with La Chuperia and has moved on to work on future craft beer projects. According to both sides, Mora and the Leal family went their separate ways after increased business led to tensions over ownership involvement (remember kids, always get everything in writing). The craft beer program will continue, according to family member Sergio Leal.
Beer and tacos are the quintessential after-hours combo for Angelenos. At La Chuperia in Lincoln Heights, a budding craft beer bar in the shadow of the L.A. County-USC Medical Center, you can indulge in both late-night pleasures at once: for instance, Ohana Brewing’s Saison Noir ($6) paired with a two-fisted carne asada torta ($6).
The marriage of craft beer and street food isn’t exactly common in this mostly blue-collar Latino neighborhood. But Lincoln Heights native and unexpected craft beer ambassador David Mora is aiming to change all that.
The idea first struck Mora around six months ago, when the 29-year-old was a few semesters into USC’s MBA program. After sitting through several motivational speeches from self-made guest speakers (the founder of UFC being one) he decided that he, too, wanted to launch a business — one that involved his passion for craft beer. Without a large sum of money on hand for permitting or rent, he devised some pseudo-guerilla tactics.
“In Lincoln Heights there were a lot of tiny Mexican restaurants that had beer and wine licenses but weren’t really making the most of it,” says Mora. “You’d occasionally see a bunch of older ranchero types hanging out drinking buckets of Corona and Bud Light, but most of the time they were pretty empty.” Mora approached several restaurants in the area with a proposal: the owners would operate the restaurant as usual during the day, and at night he’d install his own his own taps and pour craft beer.
After being turned down twice, Mora reached an agreement with Amado and Minerva Leal, owners of The Torta Spot — better known to locals as La Chuperia. The couple had been slinging tortas along a hospital-adjacent stretch of Mission Road since 1985, and at one point kept their restaurant open 24 hours a day. Recently though, they were looking to take time off to visit family in Mexico without having to sell the space.
Mora scraped together funds for a quick renovation, painting the weathered walls black, replacing the bartop, adding a few more stools and installing five beer taps, one of which was a homemade “kegerator” from his college days. Soon after, Andrew Luthi, owner of the Alhambra-based brewery Ohana, rolled by with some plastic kegs of beer. And Lincoln Height’s first home-grown beer bar was officially pouring.
La Chuperia currently is open seven days a week: from 6 p.m. until midnight Sunday through Thursday, and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Mora runs the bar himself, with occasional help from a friend on busy nights — no small feat when you consider he still attends his morning classes three days a week. Draft beers go for $6 each, which already would be a great deal in most parts of L.A., and on Fridays, Mora marks all beers down to $4, which is mind-bogglingly cheap.
“It’s still early on, so I wanted to attract people who might be put off by craft beer because it’s more expensive,” Mora says. “I don’t really see it as about making money right now. It’s about expanding brand awareness.”
The bar might not need much help broadening its appeal. Over the past few years there’s been a groundswell of interest in craft beer in the greater East L.A. area, buttressed mostly by young second- or third-generation Latinos with a passion for homebrewing or for seeking out rare-release ales at Ramirez Liquor. In Boyle Heights alone, two new craft breweries are slated to open this year.
“The only place to drink craft beer near Lincoln Heights used to be Barbara’s at the Brewery,” Mora says, “but it always felt a bit exclusive because it was part of a private loft complex.” In planning La Chuperia, Mora says he was mostly inspired by his favorite bar, The Glendale Tap, which combines the feel of an old-school neighborhood dive with a top-notch beer list. “They pour Budweiser on nitro there sometimes just to trip people out. They don’t get overly serious about the whole thing.”
Mora offers baskets of roasted peanuts on request — just like the Glendale Tap — though most customers can be found scarfing down a few $1 tacos instead. Nirva Leal, or one of her cooks, helms the plancha grill in the small kitchen every night, sending out home-style tacos, tortas, burritos, and quesadillas to appreciative bar-goers. In the summer, Mora plans to open the covered patio outside, and has already hosted a few nights featuring karaoke and local DJs. And now that he’s linked up with several distributors, he plans to carry hard-to-find beers from local breweries, along with adding a few more tap lines.
La Chuperia, 1145 N. Mission Rd., Lincoln Heights, 562-652-5207, instagram.com/la_chuperia