Govind Armstrong has a long history in this town, dating back to when he worked as a 13 year-old apprentice for Wolfgang Puck in Spago's kitchen. Armstrong, who is still maybe younger than you are, went from Spago to City to Campanile, with time spent time in European kitchens, including Juan Mari Arzak's in Spain, before opening Chadwick with Ben Ford. Armstrong opened Table 8 in 2003, which was reinvented as 8oz. in 2008, and closed permanently a few months ago. Add appearances on Top Chef and Iron Chef, and it's no wonder that the man might want to get off a plane and come home.
Which is just what Armstrong has done. The chef and business partner Brad Johnson are opening Post & Beam in Baldwin Hills in a month, maybe two. The new restaurant is going into the Baldwin Hills Plaza, along with the chef himself and his staff from 8oz. The location, which is still under construction, will seat 100 (“on paper,” says Armstrong, “once the furniture comes in, maybe about 80”) in a 2100 square foot space that was once a Golden Bird. For more details on Armstrong's new project, the kind of food he'll be cooking, and why he wanted to come home, turn the page.
Squid Ink: What's up? You're back in town.
Govind Armstrong: I've been back for awhile, I'm happy to say. I'm definitely spending a lot more time and focused attention in L.A. I've been bouncing around for several years. L.A.'s always been the base, always been home, but with all the other projects–I was living in New York for a long time, spending a lot of time in Miami and getting back to L.A. only every other month or so. People think it's this glamorous life, but it really is not. It's brutal.
I've been looking forward to getting settled back in LA. All my family's here: my mom, all my sisters, and my girlfriend. I'm happy to be home and putting my time and creative focus into developments here.
SI: When did you close 8oz.?
GA: Very unfortunately, we were forced to close 8oz. on Melrose about 2 1/2 to 3 months ago now. There were a number of reasons for that, which ultimately came down to inoperable issues with the lease that we signed almost 9 years ago. We had great success in that location with the original Table 8 and then with 8oz.; we had a successful business and the community really loved it. I loved it. We tried renegotiating, but it was just one thing after the next. It became really frustrating, as we but it just wasn't going to work out any longer in that space. It was tough – but we are moving on.
SI: You have other 8oz.'s.
GA: Yes, two currently — one in Louisiana, one in Miami. And 3 locations are currently under construction — one in north Miami, and here in L.A., the first of which will be at LAX.
SI: When is that going to open?
GA: I'm not sure exactly; sometime next summer. It's a big development project and partnership with HMS Host, and you know how that goes. I'm excited about it — it's an interesting partnership and looks to be a pretty amazing project.
SI: You grew up here?
GA: Yeah, yeah. Born here in Inglewood. I spent some time in Costa Rica; that's where my mother's from. Then came back and we lived in the Valley for awhile, been around. But L.A. is definitely home.
SI: So what are you planning on doing?
GA: Ahhh, well, I'm definitely now in full “doing” of what I've been planning for several months — and I'm really excited about it. I've partnered with Brad Johnson to open a new restaurant in the heart and soul of L.A. in Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. I was born right down the road there. It's a very interesting community that's currently undergoing a major revitalization. We hope to create a destination restaurant that is the centerpiece for the community. I haven't been this excited about a project in a long time. It's brilliant to be a part of such refreshing developments — bridging the lines of L.A.'s vast landscape — dining and otherwise. You know, the more I talk to people in the community, they're just excited to have a place to call their own.
SI: What was the space originally?
GA: It was a Golden Bird actually. Golden Bird was an old fried chicken institution, a big chain back in the day, and this location was one of the first. It had very interesting architecture. We basically stripped it down to the studs and some of the load-bearing walls.
SI: Roy Choi's place went into an IHoP.
GA: It's kind of like that. It's not a huge restaurant, very humble. We tried to retain as much of the original post and beam style of structure as we could. But the more you dig, you find stuff, and the more you dig…
SI: So why Post & Beam?
GA: It's sort of an homage to the neighborhood. A lot of the homes in Baldwin Hills have that old post and beam architecture. It's definitely something that's very reminiscent of the era, when it was in its prime in the 50s and 60s.
It's a perfect little venue: we have a fair amount of outdoor space, where we're planting an herb and vegetable garden.
I'm not bringing in any “hallelujah” anything, it's a straightforward, familiar kind of spot — a cool neighborhood restaurant with broad sensibilities and local character.
SI: So do you have a rough target date?
GA: Ha. It is a moving target. But we're getting closer and closer. It looks like mid-September.
Everything else I've been working on, I'll still go and set up shop. But I just really want to be back in the kitchen and spending more time cooking. As opposed to managing, which can be fun and it's obviously doing both at the same time, but I really miss it.
SI: You always wonder about chefs who have reached a certain point in their careers who spend less and less time in the kitchen. You're running around your empire: don't you miss the kitchen? At what point do you want to go back?
GA: You miss it. I've been cooking at home a lot. I think I've destroyed my Viking range.
SI: Then you need a restaurant, I guess.
GA: I do. It's fun to cook at home, but it's more like recipe testing — as the 6 people who follow me on Twitter can attest. Now I'm looking forward to getting back in touch with L.A. diners — it was always great to be in the kitchen and on the floor at 8oz. — 8oz. is something that I'm very proud of… and making the personal connection with friends and guests that filled the restaurant every night is what it is all about. We built an open kitchen at Post & Beam for that very reason.
SI: But you're not going to open another 8oz. here? Other than the one at LAX.
GA: Not on Melrose, I'll tell you that much. There are still a few that are in the works, but my focus is on this. I still crave a great burger.
SI: Will you have a burger on the menu on the new place?
GA: No, not at the moment. I say that now… But then I say that I won't put things on menus, and then learn otherwise. I'm still playing with the menu.
SI: It sounds like what you started doing in the first place. Farm-to-table.
GA: Exactly. And that's what I have been doing. Getting out to some interesting farms. I've been dying to get out there, but when you're caught up in everything, it's hard to focus and do those things that you really want to do that mean a lot to you. Post & Beam is definitely allowing me to do that and then some, which I hope will be evident in the overall experience.
The restaurant and the menu celebrates locality, from the growers and purveyors, to Los Angeles — the people and the food, and California in style and cuisine. It's seasonal ingredient-driven, open hearth cooking, with a focus on sustainability, whole animal utilization, definitely — no Fear Factor approach — it just needs to make sense.
I can't complain. If anything it's been a fun ride and I've met some great people.
GA: That was a couple years ago. That was really interesting, to say the least. It was a great time. I was on a radio show and she's going through my book and she became obsessed with the grilled cheese and kind of snowballed from there. Two days later I was sitting on the stage with Oprah. The whole thing was so surreal. We made it and then we flew out to Chicago and I made a couple sandwiches. All my sisters and my mom flew out with me; they were ridiculously excited. They freaked out. It was just nuts. So much fun.
SI: So how long ago did you find the Baldwin Hills location? You've been under the radar.
GA: Brad showed me the property a long time ago, maybe a year and a half ago. We signed the lease maybe 8 months ago. We've stayed under the radar. I'm not hiding anything. I drive an old convertible. But who's cruising around Baldwin Hills, you know what I mean? There's no need for a lot of hoopla.