A decade ago you did not go to the mall to eat. You snacked on a squishy hot dog or a too-sweet lemonade between bouts of shoe shopping. You did not seek out the food court for sustenance that was anything but, well, retail fuel — something to keep you from keeling over and into the sale rack. But now, because of an influx of big-name chefs and cult-favorite restaurants, malls and shopping centers in Los Angeles are a different breed.
With chefs such as Dominique Ansel — the pastry chef who brought you the Cronut — and restaurants like Egg Slut (chef Alvin Cailan’s ode to the egg sandwich), Taiwanese dumpling specialist Din Tai Fung and New York burger joint Shake Shack, not only has the food become worthy of a shopping trip, but you could call most Los Angeles malls actual dining destinations. You’re going to want to go there — and deal with the parking — to eat a plate of excellent fried chicken; to pull apart the layers of a truly great kouign-amann; or share a steamer full of soup dumplings.
Companies such as Westfield, which owns more than 30 malls in the United States, and Caruso, owned by developer Rick Caruso — who is behind the Grove, the Americana at Brand and the Commons at Calabasas — recognize that shopping centers can be about much more than just shopping. And they are making an effort to bring lauded chefs and popular, independently owned, local restaurants to their centers. Here’s a brief guide to four of L.A.’s biggest shopping centers, a breakdown of what you’re eating, and why some of the country’s best chefs and restaurants ended up at your local mall.
Caruso’s outdoor shopping center opened next to the Original Farmers Market in 2003. Within the last year and a half, the center brought on Ladurée, one of France’s most prized macaron shops, and Ansel’s 189 restaurant and bakery.
At Ladurée, the French shop is turning out its famous macarons along with a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. And at 189, the French chef’s first full-service restaurant, and at his bakery, there’s kouign-amann, Cronuts and pork shoulder with red pepper coulis.
According to Jackie Levy, executive vice president of operations for Caruso, the company courted Ansel for five years before he opened the restaurant and bakery in 2017. Caruso is also behind the Americana at Brand in Glendale, where there is a Bourbon steakhouse by Mina, a Din Tai Fung, a Tsujita ramen restaurant, and a Shake Shack and Egg Slut across the street (also managed by Caruso).
“Our overall philosophy is that each store is extremely valuable, and an independent draw to the property,” Levy said. “We were the first to identify the need to bring exceptional restaurants to the properties, and it’s great to see other shopping centers have followed and acknowledged what we realized a long time ago: that restaurants are a big part of the experience. The restaurants are a great draw to our properties.”
“It’s all about traffic and location and they [the Grove] have the traffic, a good location and they have the farmers market,” said Ladurée U.S. President Elisabeth Holder. “And we love the fact that it’s not only about shopping. It’s about eating and the experience.”
Ansel says being part of the Grove helps offer a certain level of hospitality to his guests in terms of parking and security. He also wasn’t hesitant about putting his biggest restaurant project to date into a shopping center.
“The food scene really has been changing, and so many shopping destinations have transformed what they’re doing to really create something special for their guests, whether they’re shopping or dining,” Ansel said. “I think there’s a revolution that’s happening with what people consider to be a ‘mall‘ atmosphere. There’s been a real open-mindedness with the L.A. crowd, our guests and critics, who have been able to judge us more based on our food and our service without seeing the ‘mall‘ aspect as a negative thing.” 189 the Grove Drive, Los Angeles, thegrovela.com.
By Jenn Harris