WeHo’s Best House Party Is at BJ Novak’s Ode to Chain Restaurants

“The Office” actor teamed up with Chef Tim Hollingsworth to launch Chain, a pop-up series dedicated to celebrating and reinventing beloved chain restaurant dishes. Here’s how to score an invite.

The crowd at Chain
Photo courtesy of Chain

On Google street view, the Chain house looks like any other on its block, a lovely West Hollywood bungalow just off 3rd Street. But when you actually step in the front door, the home reveals itself to be something very much unlike its neighbors—it is unmistakably Chain, the pop-up concept that deconstructs and reconstructs chain restaurant classics, brought to you by an in-crowd collective headlined by BJ Novak and chef Tim Hollingsworth.

You enter into a reimagined, vintage-style restaurant lobby, where a host checks you in and hands you a buzzer to let you know when your food is ready. A neon-green sign with the Chain logo hangs on one wall, casting a waxy acid glow over a statue of Colonel Sanders in a Chain-branded apron, a Nintendo 64 Mario Kart setup, and the KFC-scented yule log.

For the Chain founders, it’s a project fueled by nostalgia and whimsy that started as a pick-up only pandemic-era lark, recreating beloved dishes from national brands with a luxurious, chef-driven touch. That lark has now grown into a real thing, a dinner series in a wildly set-designed, multimillion-dollar house that is regularly attended by celebrities, influencers, and well-connected cool kids.

Merch table at Chain
Courtesy of Chain

You wind your way back through the house, past more memorabilia cases and a bathroom with a tub that’s been converted into a ball pit (don’t jump in), and then you hit the gift shop. There are sweatshirts, t-shirts, bucket hats, bumper stickers, ash trays, lighters, and a handful of different sauces and seasoning salts bearing the Chain logo and their signature red cardboard box. It would be easy to get wrapped up in the merch, but there’s just too much else going on, both in the crowd and in the kitchen, where Hollingsworth and his team are kicking out dishes that are pure fun.

Past drops have taken inspiration from Outback Steakhouse (“The Bustin’ Onion”), Taco Bell (“The Wagyu Beef Cruncho Perfecto”), BJ’s (“The Spooky Pizookie”), and TGI Friday’s (“Pappy Van Winkle Whiskey BBQ Sauce: Chain Reserve”). In order to pull off such homages, Hollingsworth and his team had to be a little sneaky, borrowing concepts without infringing upon trademarks or running afoul of big corporate legal departments.

But for their most recent pop-up, they went legit, or as close to legit as an intentionally chaotic concept like this gets. Novak himself slid into Chili’s DMs to ask about a team-up. For their part, the Chili’s folks were extremely receptive to a collaboration, opening up their recipes, branding, and deep well of secrets, which led to a trippy take on an already far-out dish—Chili’s Southwestern Egg Rolls.

Desert dusted egg rolls at Chain
Photo courtesy of Chain

You leave the gift shop and emerge into the backyard, where there are a handful of picnic tables and yet more memorabilia: a Bob’s Big Boy statue with the Chain logo, vintage Chili’s bar stools, and plastic chairs clearly rescued from an old McDonald’s.

The buzzer goes off and you get your box of food, with those Southwestern Egg Rolls sitting right on top. They look remarkably like the Chili’s original, two fingers of chicken and a charred corn and red pepper sofrito rolled into dough and deep fried, sliced on the bias and laid out in a little paper tray. The secret is in Hollingsworth’s Desert Dust spice blend, sprinkled all over the egg rolls and the accompanying fries and chicken tender, too. It is an appropriately named seasoning, earthy and layered with a gently warming heat.

When you finish wolfing down your egg rolls and tender, and you’ve used up all the Taco Bell-style hot sauce you can, you come up for air to look around and find a hell of a scene. Chain is clearly about more than food; it’s an LA stereotype, a backyard party full of those actors who were so funny in that thing, stylish people you vaguely recognize from the internet, and the awkward ones in the corner who must be writers or something.

Mario Kart lounge at Chain
Photo courtesy of Chain

The delegation from Chili’s has made the flight too, and they stand out as much as the celebrities, a half-dozen corporate marketing, partnership, and development types flown in from Dallas for the week. They’re staying in West Hollywood, and they look a little shell-shocked from driving all over town but also happy, engaged, and maybe a little tipsy. They laugh about this crazy thing, the reinvention of one of their signature dishes, in on the joke in a good way. They, too, finish eating and then disperse around the room, maybe to talk up the Chili’s side of the partnership and maybe to mingle with celebrities. Perhaps you will follow their lead; the world is full of possibilities.

The initial run of Chain and Chili’s collaboration is sold out at the moment, but there will undoubtedly be many more nights like this in this insane house/restaurant/museum/venue. To get on the list, send a text to 323-310-4642 and hope they don’t leave you on read. You can also get on the list by entering your phone number on their website, and you’ll get a text next time they open up dates. It’s also probably worth following them on Instagram, for the memes as much as anything.

It’s not yet clear exactly what they’ll do next, but lord knows there are a ton of chain restaurants ripe for reinvention, and a ton of people who love them, too.

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Ben Mesirow is an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in The LA TimesLitroMcSweeney’s Internet TendencyLos Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.