We all know that Fairfax is a district with a rich history. It’s transformed from being a primarily Jewish neighborhood to a thriving streetwear mecca—skateboards and rambunctious kids included—to now adding culinary destination to its list of draws. The street that once only housed the legendary Canter’s Deli is now home to some of Los Angeles’s most talked-about restaurants. The Hundreds recognizes that streetwear and food have an inexplicable connection; that the small details we value in products is also true for the food we enjoy, which may be why Fairfax has become such a hotbed for delightful new restaurants.
This includes The Golden State, Cofax, and Prime Pizza. In this new ongoing series about the ties between food and streetwear culture, we caught up with Jason Bernstein and James Starr, the geniuses behind the three Fairfax mainstays. The pair first arrived on the block in 2008—before most of the other restaurants that have since popped up beside them. As native Angelenos, Fairfax has always been about culture and community, and their restaurants aim to uphold those unspoken values. “When we started in 2008, it was a Jewish destination, it was a skateboarding destination, it just wasn’t necessarily a culinary one,” James said. “When we got here it was important to us not to ‘stand out’ but rather ‘blend in’ to the culture that was here.”
Here’s why James and Jason chose Fairfax to be the home for their restaurants and how the neighborhood, including streetwear, has responded to them.
THE HUNDREDS: You guys have been in Fairfax since 2007, and now own Cofax and Prime Pizza, too. What’s it been like seeing the neighborhood change—and being part of that change? What has the response been—have you been met with any negative backlash or a warm welcome? If so, how do you respond to it?
Jason: Although we opened our first restaurant in 2008, both James and I are from Los Angeles. In fact, my mom grew up on Alta Vista and went to Fairfax High and I have fond memories of going to Diamond Bakery as a kid with my dad. I really recall Fairfax well from 30 years ago, but as all things, it has changed and evolved. It because a kind of ground zero for Los Angeles streetwear culture and the median age of people that frequented the block changed. Suddenly, Fairfax is a hotbed of youth. And young families live in the surrounding blocks. We want our neighbors to dine at easygoing comfortable places that use high quality ingredients; however, I love that there is still a huge Jewish contingent for whom Fairfax is still a dining and shopping mecca. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard anything negative from them. Of course they express that the Fairfax today isn’t the same as the Fairfax it was. But I’m also guessing that the reason that Judaica shops disappeared from the block has less to do with The Hundreds and Supreme and more to do with Amazon.
You guys obviously are very invested on a personal level with the Fairfax block. Why is that? What drew you to it? What is it about the culture on Fairfax that makes it unique to you particularly with your 3 businesses?
Jason: We were drawn to Fairfax Avenue for different reasons. Jim’s friend, Harry Blitzstein has had an art gallery on the block for more than 30 years, and my mom went to Fairfax High. We both had personal ties to the block. It was part of our own history. It’s a real melting pot. The newest influence on the block is obviously youth culture, but the surrounding homes and duplexes around us that raised families in the ‘50s are continuing to raise new families. We looked at the block and tried to create restaurants that the people around us would like. Our belief is that the most successful restaurants “listen” more than they “speak.”
“When we got here it was important to us not to ‘stand out’ but rather to ‘blend in’ to the culture that was here. We really strive to create places that are respectful to the residents of the block.”
Fairfax is one of the most walkable streets in LA and has an energy that is unique. Anytime you can have Havoc and Zlatan Ibrahimavic walk through the front door on the same day, you know you are in the right place.
James: We really love Fairfax Avenue because while it wears its history on its sleeve, it also represents the vanguard of modernity. It’s amazing—Judaism and streetwear. On face, they don’t seem to be the peanut butter and chocolate of cultural intersections but it works so well. When we started in 2008, it was a Jewish destination, it was a skateboarding destination, it just wasn’t necessarily a culinary one. When we got here it was important to us not to “stand out” but rather to “blend in” to the culture that was here. We really strive to create places that are respectful to the residents of the block.
The obligatory locavore screed aside, California is an incredible place to live. We were born in Los Angeles, grew up here, and are proud to call it home. We grew up during the East Coast West Coast rap beef of the mid-’90s and it made us double down on our passion for LA and California as a whole.
The streetwear culture has completely embraced you guys and vice versa—I know you have a special CLSC burger that you guys used to do on Mondays. Why do you think the streetwear community is so fascinated and open to food? It seems that Fairfax has not only become a streetwear destination but a place for food enthusiasts. Why does that work hand in hand?
Jason: This is such a great question. They do go so well together and yet I’ve never really thought in-depth about the elements of each that intersect. To be sure, the streetwear stuff predated our arrival, so as any good neighbor, it’s important to cater to the needs of those who were there before you. In terms of Fairfax being appreciated by food enthusiasts, I think it’s because its a historically significant street with a bunch of folks who care a lot about the food that they are serving.
Eddie Huang said in this interview I read that, “I generally feel that restaurants have the responsibility of being cultural distribution centers.” Then he equates them with museums and how you have responsibility as a cultural hub. Do you agree? What are your thoughts on that?
We are lucky enough to call Eddie a friend and we see eye to eye on a lot of restaurant, basketball and rap ethos related matters. He makes a great point. We aren’t just here to sell burgers, coffee, and pizza. We are here to enliven a neighbor to do what’s right for the community and to represent the culture. We choose to offer high quality at a reasonable price so that everybody feels welcome.
We want our places to be an inclusive space for all Angelenos, no matter their background or pocket book size.
Introduction by Kat Thompson. Photos by Paolo Fortades.