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Don't Call it a Pop-Up: Felix Barron's KTCHN 105

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Photo by A.Rios/R.E
Photo by A.Rios/R.E

On a gray Sunday morning in an industrial space downtown, there are poached eggs lazily oozing over mountains of Brussels sprouts mac and cheese. There are warm macerated strawberries polka-dotting sweet goat cheese grits. Waitstaff ferry spicy, produce-laden Bloody Marias to plain wooden folding tables. In a corner, downtown-based Handsome Coffee Roasters scribble out lattes. Neighbors in neon scarves linger in an herb-studded garden far beyond their reservation times.

It makes one wonder: Why don't more Sunday mornings across L.A. look like this?

Photo by A.Rios/R.E

Answering that question is chef Felix G. Barron IV, a man who believes -- passionately, obsessively -- in brunch. He believes in it so much that last weekend the 32-year-old chef brought his under-the-radar, semi-secret brunch 15 blocks north to The Gorbals, and he plans to do it elsewhere. "People are itching for it," he says of his comfortable, affordable experience that is not delivered by L.A.'s traditional restaurants. But it should be, he argues. "It's the final hurrah of your weekend. You might as well do it up in the morning since you can't go out that night."

Photo by A.Rios/R.E

Barron grew up in Orange County knowing he wanted to cook for a living. But when he opened a small Laguna Beach restaurant at 23 he didn't enjoy the effect it had on his social life. He started a catering company instead, which gave him flexible hours he wanted--but took away his creative outlet. So on the side, he started a brunch series in his backyard. On the weekends, he'd host 40 people, mostly friends and family, with a set menu and an open bar. "It was a great little networking thing at a good price where you could hang out in the sun on a Sunday afternoon," he says.

Photo by A.Rios/R.E

Two years ago, his business took a dive and Barron headed north to L.A., where he could experiment with another idea. "I decided I wanted to open a kitchen and culinary learning space where people could learn about food, and dine in an intimate environment." He found the cozy industrial loft nestled inside an old factory in the Produce District, naming it KTCHN 105. He started with a series of cooking classes where he'd show people how to make a simple dinner for four, or master preserver Delilah Snell would do a canning demo. It was scrappy and casual: His bed was only a few yards away from the airy high-ceilinged kitchen.

But aside from a handful of friends, no one came. Barron was perplexed. He began brainstorming ways to announce his presence in downtown. Quickly he realized: It all came back to brunch.

In the summer of 2010, Barron launched POP-that-KTCHN, a bare-bones weekend brunch in the KTCHN 105 space, just him and a dishwasher in the kitchen, with two friends serving in the front. Now he serves 100 people for brunch per weekend day, with 12 people on staff. At first they ran it like a traditional restaurant, turning tables after an hour, until Barron realized people didn't want to surrender their seats. "Now I give everyone two hours to eat, and if someone's lingering they can move to the outside and sit on a bench and drink cocktails," he says. "I want everyone to enjoy themselves."

KTCHN 105 still feels like an underground location. You won't find it on your first try. Reservations are made via a web form. It's cash only. And although he calls it a pop-up brunch, he doesn't compare himself to the trend of transient chefs. For him, the "pop-up" mentality simply means operating with low overhead. "I just want to create something that is cost-effective for myself and the consumer, and provide an experience that they can enjoy." Staying close to the ground means he can innovate faster than other restaurants, he says. "I change my menu constantly, and I think people like that."

And should you have any of those L.A. brunch hangups--you hate driving across town in traffic, slinging back mimosas for a few hours, then having to get back behind the wheel of your car--Barron says his model presents a solution. Instead of you coming to him, he plans to come to your neighborhood. "I want people to walk to me, to have this special thing twice a week, for a few months." In fact, ideally, he'd only have people walking, biking, or taking transit to his brunches, he says. "People ask me where they should park at The Gorbals and I say, you get off the Metro at Pershing Square and walk two blocks."

Photo by A.Rios/R.E

On December 18, Barron has another one-morning stand booked at The Gorbals. Look for a collaboration with the Brazilian restaurant Wood Spoon soon, and then, Barron has his eyes on the westside. "Ideally I'd have someone who can stay here and do KTCHN 105, and I can be out there," he says.

Photo by A.Rios/R.E

In fact, Barron is now serving dinners on Thursday and Friday night, a side project he started earlier this year. And a new schedule of cooking classes for 2012 will go up on his website soon. But don't let those semi-regular hours at a semi-regular location fool you into thinking he's gone the way of the traditional restaurant. "I would never do the everyday grind," he says with conviction. "Having this is great--I can start and finish something. And then start something else."

Upcoming brunches:
December 10, 2011 @ KTCHN 105 11am- 3pm
December 11, 2011 @ KTCHN 105 11am- 3pm
December 17, 2011 @ KTCHN 105 11am- 3pm
December 18, 2011 @ The Gorbals 10am- 3pm

[Photos by A.Rios/R.E]

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