"We’re going to build a concept that has the heart... of a chef, but it’ll have the relevance of McDonald’s or Burger King," Choi explained at the time. "We’re going to go toe-to-toe to see how we can challenge the status quo of fast food."
It’s a bold statement, but LocoL’s got bold talent backing it. The advisory board includes René Redzepi, ultra-modernist chef of Copenhagen’s Noma and hyped subject of Netflix documentary Chef’s Table. Chad Robertson, James Beard Award-winning pastry chef of San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery, is also on the team.
In Choi’s trademark renegade style, LocoL’s bucking fast-food industry norms. For starters, the restaurant thumbs its nose to the frozen, chemically engineered products that McDonald’s and Burger King have relied on in their quest for world domination. Choi and Patterson insist on cooking everything from scratch, without preservatives. And, instead of bulk-buying discounted ingredients, LocoL sources its meat and veggies identically to Choi’s other upscale eateries. “[The] supply chain will be something we have to deal with later as we grow," he told us on opening day. But for right now, it’s working.
To keep costs down, the restaurant’s burgers and chicken nuggets are mixed with grains like fermented bulgur wheat -- they’re about 70% and 50% meat, respectively. Larger fast-food chains have been doing this for decades, but usually using highly processed fillers. Grain- and vegetable-heavy options include red miso tofu stew and a veggie burger, which was surprisingly popular on opening day.
Can these moves yield sustainable profit margins? Hopefully. Choi and Patterson know that just supply-chain engineering and flavor development can’t guarantee success, though. They both recognize community support as key.
Choi and Patterson were careful when approaching Watts residents with their new idea. "There’s a big difference between you [imposing] yourself upon someone, and then asking permission," Choi said. He connected with Aqeela Sherrills, community leader and anti-gang-violence campaigner who’s best known for brokering a peace deal between the Bloods and the Crips in 1992. Together, they started going to meetings and knocking on doors. "It was like I was running for office," Choi joked. "But it wasn’t political, it was completely soulful."
After construction started, Choi hired local street teams to publicize the upcoming launch. Apparently, it worked. "Two days ago, they served 600 people. The day before that, 500," a team member estimated, talking about the soft openings.