Monday, January 16, 2012

Imagined Scenario #1

The sign you see from the 10 Freeway 

(I've forgotten how different writing an article is from writing a blog post—much harder! The freedom to do or say anything you want is limited; whereas in a blog post, you can do whatever you want. To get started on something I'm writing I've tried to fall somewhere in between, not sure it's working, but at least it's gotten me started.) 

Imagined scenario #1: What if the derelict warehouse on Grand Ave between 36th and 37th Street, in South Los Angeles, hadn't been transformed into the Mercado La Paloma—with it's many eateries and social services stationed under one big roof— and say, a Wal-Mart had been put in its place? 

Working backwards, I'll take a wild guess at what that might look like: there'd be no foot traffic on the broad tree-lined street, no lunch time rush hour, no paradores meeting other health care workers over tacos al pastor, no USC students spread out around the communal tables, slurping spicy Tlalpeño soup from Vista Hermosa. 

Beth Weinstein, who manages the Mercado, with Raul Morales, 
owner and chef of Vista Hermosa
His traditional Tlalpeño soup from Michoacan

There'd be no cultural or holiday events centered around a radish!

Noche de Rabanos/Radishes Night

There'd be absent the 13 entrepreneurial families who set up successful businesses with the help and resources of the Esperanza Housing Corp, who launched the project in 1999. 

Nancy Halpern Ibriham, executive director of Esperanza Housing Corp.
looking over the menu

In fact, what the neighborhood might look like if a Wal-Mart were here is what Figueroa, a few blocks away, looks like today: a nondescript stretch of colorless concrete, with fast food franchises and faceless warehouses, where people come and go as fast as they can. If a Wal-Mart were here...well, I shudder to even imagine...

It took five years for Esperanza to raise the funds in a capital campaign to purchase the 34,000 sq. ft building in the mid-2000s, pushing forward despite the nay-sayers. Under Nancy Halpern Ibriham's direction they rejected national franchises, and instead brought in vendors who had ties to the community.  

Sometimes, that's all they had. In 2009, when Ricardo Zarate approached Beth Weinstein, director of marketing, about opening a Peruvian food stand, he had never done anything like that before. But hallelujah, Weinstein said yes! Soon after Zarate's Mo-Chica opened, Jonathan Gold wrote a glowing review in the LA Weekly. Zarate has gone on to garner awards—Best new chef for 2011 by Food and Wine— and recently opened Picca, a restaurant outside the 'hood. But what if Weinstein had said no? She took a chance on a nobody because, sometimes, given who's standing in front of you, that's the right thing to do.

I went down to the Mercado last week, and as promised, enjoyed an exceptional meal. I recommend a trip to the Mercado, if for no other reason, to see the community of lunch time eaters. People come from all over LA, because unlike Wal-Mart or fast food joints, here, you can sit back with friends and stay for awhile. 

Yum—Chili Rellenos

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Charlotte. The Mercado sounds so vibrant and alive. Hurrah for the visonaries and pioneers and risk-takers willing to take a chance and build something new.

    And your description & photos are making me hungry.