Allumette in Echo Park to close in June; stirs questions on consumer demand

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Allumette Echo Park

Yet another one bites the dust in Echo Park. One day it’s El Batey, and another it’s Allumette. So what’s up, Echo Park?

After a little more than a year in operation, Allumette restaurant in Echo Park announced that it will be closing its doors in late June 2014. Allumette owners and chef, Charles Kelly, Bill DiDonna, and Miles Thompson, released the following statement:

A restaurant like Allumette requires tremendous and consistent effort in sourcing and producing the food and drink that we have been celebrated for. We took a calculated, but substantial risk opening a restaurant like this in Echo Park and ultimately we just couldn’t find the customer support necessary to sustain our business without compromising the guest experience. So, it is with bittersweet emotions that we announce that Allumette will have its final day of service on Saturday, June 28th. It has been a great ride, filled with exhilarating food, spectacular cocktails and definitive dining moments. We are all thrilled to have been part of something so special and know that all of our hard work and commitment to Allumette was well worth it. We remain friends and colleagues and are each excited for our next chapter in the ever-evolving Los Angeles dining community. – Allumette

Located at 1320 Echo Park Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, Allumette grew out of a relationship between the previous restaurant’s owners and chef Miles Thompson who began serving “pop up” meals twice a week while the place was named Allston Yacht Club.

In a little over a year, the restaurant was already lining up recognitions and awards, such as making the list of Los Angeles’ Magazine‘s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2013 and Bon Appètit Magazine‘s 50 Best New Restaurants of 2013 nationally. 

The restaurant had recently moved to a fixed menu that offered four courses for $45, or five courses for $60, with drink pairings as an optional addition for each. Main entrees you’ll find include prawns, squid, white bass, turnip, lemongrass bavarois, lamb loin, and more. See menu.

Szechuan Pork Dumpling Allumette
Szechuan Pork Dumpling, once offered at Allumette.

Allumette is also known for creative drinks and the photographs thereof, which were announced on social media via “drink of the day” posts, such as “Kahleesi” (encanto pisco, cheremoya, aloe, cacao, lemon, agave) pictured below. The cocktail menu and spirits list were created by Serena Herrick, the bar manager.

Allumette Echo Park Drink
“Kahleesi” Allumette drink. Source: Allumette Facebook’s page.

On another positive note for Allumette, Young chef Miles Thompson, 25, has just returned from New York City where he was invited to cook a special dinner for the James Beard House as a recognition for his work at Allumette.

Chef Miles Thompson
Allumette chef Miles Thompson. Source: Allumettela.com

But while Echo Park is well-known for the gentrification that has recently caused long-established businesses to fold, the neighborhood is also showing its complexities through the business closings of more recent establishments, such as Allumette and Cortez.

In a newsletter email to their followers, Cortez was another restaurant to share their intentions to close after unsuccessfully attracting enough customers to their menu.

It’s becoming clear that old businesses are having to adapt to a changing demographic in Echo Park, or at the very least higher rent demands. After 47 years, El Batey, a grocery shop along Echo Park Avenue that some accuse of not adapting to the times, is also being forced out due to an eviction notice for its inability to pay a rent increase of 300 %.

But what of new businesses that aim to acknowledge a new demographic and offer something unexpected of Echo Park–why are they surprisingly failing too?

Trencher LA opened just under two months ago as it aims for the above-casual market, and the verdict is now pending on their strategies.

The Park Restaurant, on 1400 Sunset Blvd., is another restaurant that targeted the above-casual consumer and not long ago announced its 10 year extension agreement in Echo Park, signaling success.

But just today, Eater LA published a piece that claims a new coffee shop, Blue Bottle Coffee Co., might be taking over the space currently occupied by Sage Vegan Bistro. Isn’t Sage believed to be generally well-liked, in spite of its vegan-only menu? Yelp would say yes.

And Señor Fish is expected to expand its location to allow for more taco-eating enthusiasts.

So who’s got it right?

At least commercially speaking, and especially in the restaurant and dine-in business, it seems Echo Park is searching for its identity. Both Allumette and Cortez were praised by some, while being criticized by others for their “tiny” plates and high prices.

Allumette did at least recognize that it had entered a risky situation by “opening a restaurant like this in Echo Park”. The restaurant was consciously aware of this decision even on social media, where on their Twitter they defiantly ask, “Who says we’re not supposed to be here?”

Allumette Twitter
Allumette’s Twitter account description.

Well in spite of what the critics said, the Echo Park consumer seems to also have a voice, and the crown will soon be available again for the most expensive restaurant in Echo Park. Though it’s unclear if anyone’s up for that challenge anymore.

This begs new restaurants to ask themselves: “Who is the Echo Park consumer?”

And it asks old restaurants to wonder how much their menus should change, or not.

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