By Ural Garrett
INGLEWOOD — As residents begin to see a revamped Hollywood Park Entertainment District with venues like Sofi Stadium, YouTube Theater and the upcoming Intuit Dome, the change has disrupted the dynamics of the area’s restaurant economy.
Some local entrepreneurs are using recent developments to build upon established legacies, revamp popular eateries or utilize the community in unique ways.
“When we thought of Martin’s Cocina + Cantina, we were tired of people leaving to go to Los Angeles, Culver City, Santa Monica and far out for fine dining,” said Christian Martin, who owns the three-month- old upscale downtown Inglewood extension of the Fiesta Martin Mexican restaurants alongside his family. “This restaurant was dedicated to our community.”
Though many Inglewood residents have dubbed the four Fiesta Martin restaurants as some of the best Mexican food in the city, Martin’s Cocina + Cantina provides a much-needed upscale feel that’s been missing from the area for decades.
Besides offering unique takes on their standard south-of-the-border fare, the fifth eatery from the Martin family also serves sushi, filet mignon and plans on eventually adding tomahawk steaks.
Martin has understood the city’s food culture since the original Fiesta Martin opened up at North La Brea location in 2009. Now, he gets to watch a new guard within the city including next door coffee shop neighbor Hilltop Café, which opened in late 2019.
“Look at Hilltop Cafe who are our neighbors who sell coffee,” Martin said. “It looks beautiful there and they serve good quality coffee. The ownership and people are great. I think it’s a good synergy between the businesses. Hopefully, that spreads to the rest of the neighborhood.”
That same family atmosphere extends to Sunday Gravy off Centinela Avenue. The nearly two-year-old restaurant is owned by siblings Sol and Ghazi Bashirian. Both brother and sister inherited the space from their father Ahmad Bashirian, who ran Jino’s Pizza & Deli at the same site for more than 40 years.
Leaving the more Americana style food that Jino’s transitioned to once the restaurant was leased to another owner, Sunday Gravy is traditionally Italian all the way. As the only real Italian restaurant in Inglewood, both Bashirian siblings wanted to establish a real connection to the community.
“I realized that through research we had so many great resources around us,” Bashirian said. “There’s a fresh pasta factory in Inglewood that was a two-minute drive away from the restaurant. There’s an organic bakery that’s been serving bread to a lot of the top restaurants in L.A. that’s also like a two-minute drive from the restaurant.”
According to Sol Bashirian, though many residents were sad to see Jino’s go, word of mouth quickly spread around about the ability to get fresh pasta without having to go too far.
“The first two months, me and my sister were there constantly so we got to meet all of our guests,” Bashirian said. “They would try the food and go tell the neighbors and the neighbors would give their recommendations.”
With the current NFL season underway alongside performances at both The Forum and YouTube Theater almost in full swing, it’s clear both restaurants are enjoying the foot traffic.
“We’re making adjustments every week,” Martin said. “We’re getting people coming before the game and after the game. It’s definitely a huge spike.”
That doesn’t even count the number of restaurants set to open within the next couple of years, including Crowns & Hops.
Co-owned by Inglewood native Teo Hunter and Harlem native Beny Ashburn, they represent a small number of Black-owned breweries. Having their products on shelves both locally and nationally with various specialty flavors like Inglewood Juice, Crowns & Hops beers are also sold at Sofi Stadium during events.
Now, they’ve recently purchased the former Manchester Adult Center Property off Crenshaw Boulevard and Manchester Avenue for a restaurant and brewery.
“We love premium activities, food and beverages and feel that it is terribly important for us to have access to this in our neighborhood,” Hunter said. “The reality is that our neighborhoods are over policed and those activities are rarely opened or produced in our neighborhoods.”
Taking a community economics approach to fundraising, they’ve utilized equity-based crowd sourcing to help grow the company. So far, Crowns & Hops has raised almost $500,000 through their initiative.
“What this equity crowd funding does is give the community an opportunity to help build the brand and have a stake in the company,” Beny Ashburn said. “As we grow, we want the community to grow with us.”