“I feel like Watts chose us, spiritually,” said chef Roy Choi, referring to the home base of his latest restaurant concept, Locol.
Since the unveiling of their plan two years ago, Choi and fellow visionary Daniel Patterson have been on a quest to upend prevailing notions about the fast-food industry, beginning with a simple premise—that it’s possible to nourish a community with both affordable and healthful food. If the opening day at the Watts location this past January is any indication of its potential impact, the future looks bright.
But if Roy was going to take down the Food Establishment, it was going to be on his own terms. Back in May 2015, it was announced that emcee Evidence of Dilated Peoples and producer Alchemist would be Locol’s “first endorsers.” Choi’s integration of hip-hop should come as no surprise—the chef has long paid tribute to the genre, from collaborative dinners with A Tribe Called Quest’s Jarobi White, to expertly curated playlists.
Those playlists are a big part of the reason that Evidence, a Venice Beach native, linked up with Choi. “About four years ago, I went to Choi’s restaurant and they were playing Hieroglyphics and Dilated Peoples,” says Evidence. “I didn’t expect them to play that kind of music, so I was kind of tripping out. Then an employee came over and said, ‘Roy’s a fan of what you do.'”
But their relationship extends beyond mutual fandom. Not only did Evidence take many of the photographs that you’ll see framed in Locol’s interior, but we also recently learned that he inspired Choi to feature an egg-in-the-hole sandwich, now featured on the new breakfast menu.
To find out more about how the connection was made, we spoke to Evidence about playing hooky as a kid to make breakfast, how an opportune invite from Beastie Boys emcee Mike D set the stage for his dreams to come true, and why he gets goosebumps thinking about the change taking place in Watts.
We heard you played a role in Locol’s breakfast menu. How did this come about?
We gotta rewind for a sec. The story involves Alchemist, who’s one of my best friends and one of the great hip-hop producers out there. He plays a big role in this whole thing. Back in the day, we would ditch school sometimes and head back to his house and cook food. He’d make this one thing where he’d toast some bread, cut out the center, and put an egg in it. At that point I’d never seen an egg-in-a-hole or bird’s nest or whatever you want to call it. It was mind-blowing.
I love breakfast restaurants, and years later I thought it would be cool to have my own place called “Egg In A Hole.” You’d make all these variations: the “Hole in One” would be one basted egg; the “Hole Enchilada” would be a Mexican influence; the “Holy One” would be a vegan thing. We got really high and came up with all these names.
Years later I’m having lunch at A-Frame, Roy’s restaurant in Culver City, with Mike D from the Beastie Boys. I thought it was an opportunity to run my breakfast concept by him, so afterward we all headed back to my place, and I asked Roy, “Do you like ideas?” And he’s like, “I love ideas.” So I lay out my Egg in the Hole plan, and he was really into it. He said “Breakfast is what I need to tackle eventually.” It was crazy to hear him say that. I’m a music guy, so for me, this was creative, something new and fun. There was the possibility of expanding my life outside of its usual realm.
We started scouting for locations, but we put it on hold because Roy had his projects with the Line Hotel. He said “This is a great idea, and if you want to take it to somebody else, I understand. But I promise, in the future, if I can find a way to do something, I’ll think of you.” Three or four years later, he calls me up with this idea about Locol, and I was just in awe of it. And he told me that he was going to do an egg in a hole, inspired by our conversation.
We heard rumors about French toast too.
Word. So Roy did something cool. Basically, when you cut the little hole out of the bread you have these two little dollar size coins leftover. So he dips those in egg batter to make French Toast holes. So there’s no waste. As far as making dreams come true in Watts on a real and important level, he also did so on a micro level by making my own come true. This guy’s word is bond.
You took some of the photographs that appear on Locol’s walls. Were you given direction? What did you shoot?
My mother was a photographer, and it’s been a side passion of mine for a long time. So when Roy gave me the opportunity to shoot pictures for the restaurant, I took it seriously. I used my mom’s 35mm film camera and went around the neighborhood, to schools, et cetera. I mostly just shot whatever caught my eye. I took a picture of the Watts Towers, but for the most part, I was trying to stay away from the cliches. In one photo, there’s a plane out of focus with a wire up front. If you look up in Watts, that’s what you’re seeing—a lot of phone wires, plus you’re in the flight path of LAX. I was just trying to capture the little things like that, so if you’re from Watts, it felt more familiar. The goal was to shoot things in the moment, not necessarily what would do well on Instagram.
What gets you most excited about Locol? What does it mean to see this type of change?
I trust the hair on my arms, and I have a lot of it, and when that stands up, nothing is lying to you at that point. I get goosebumps when I go there. Like, Roy, you actually did this and went through with it? It’s like, yo, you’re the illest, you’re like Jordan.
Roy’s bringing 50 jobs to Watts. That doesn’t sound crazy, but I don’t see anyone else doing that. A lot of these people might not have had perfect records, but now they’re head chef. It’s a reputable job. I tried to tip someone in there and they said, we can’t, they’re paying us well. The street that Locol is on is known for a lot of shit, but it now may have less drama because of what the restaurant is doing for the community. Kids are chilling in there, listening to music; you got free wifi and there’s art on the walls.
What it’s doing for everybody is bigger than food. You got people coming in from out of the city, getting to see different walks of life interact. And when you see the community in there, it’s not just foodies driving from Hollywood—and no disrespect to where you live. I’m just saying there’s a lot of Watts residents or people who live on the outskirts, like South Gate or Compton. It really feels like Watts’ restaurant, not just Roy Choi’s.
Lastly, what do you hope to do down the line with Roy and Locol?
I’m just honored to be apart of it. It’s humbling. If people like the egg sandwiches, that’s great—they’re actually cheaper than an Egg McMuffin, and it’s more filling and it’s good for you. I’m down to support in anyway I can, to spread the message. I’m stoked, and I think everyone should be. Roy and Daniel [Patterson] deserve so much credit. I always thought the mayor of Los Angeles would’ve done something like this. I didn’t know that it would be Roy. That’s just crazy.