Category Archives: Restaurants

Lascari's

Hometown restaurateur John Lascari has opened a new cucina in La Habra’s Westridge Plaza. When I visited the restaurant at the former site of Pasta Bravo a month ago, the signs weren’t up, but Jim and Shirley Pierce, of Whittier, had found the restaurant anyway.

“We just made a trip to Italy in May. All the food we had in Italy, we said one thing: ‘When can we get back to Lascari’s?’ The food (in Italy) is very bland.”

The Pierces are longtime devotees of the Lascari’s chain. They started eating at the first Lascari’s in the 1970’s when it opened on Whittier Boulevard east of Santa Gertrudes. That location now houses the Taco Shack.

La Habra’s new store is part of a major expansion. Jorge Cueva, who’s in charge of opening new restaurants for the chain, told me he was about to open six new locations, two stores a month for three months. “We’re ready to take this business to the next level,” he said. “Next comes franchising.”

The Lascari’s brand includes three styles of restaurant: Full-service, deli, and cucina. The cucinas offer the same great food, but there are no food servers. And, Cueva pointed out, cucinas give a senior discount all day, unlike the full-service restaurants which reduce prices for seniors from 2-5 p.m. only.

“The senior special is great,” Jim said. “We can never finish, and the wine is great.”

“I started at the top (of the menu),” said Jim, “and worked my way down — even the eggplant; and I don’t like eggplant.”

Lascari’s Cucina
1360 S. Beach Blvd
La Habra, CA 90631

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Stephen Elliott – Part 2

Stephen Elliott ran an open mic night at La Habra’s It’s A Grind until he decided to leave to teach English in Korea. I interviewed him on June 24, the night after his last open mic. In the first segment of that interview, he talked about open mic nights. Here he talks about earning a living waiting tables while feeding his creative self by doing non-profit projects.

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“They should teach bar-tending classes in film school.”

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You have a job waiting on tables, don’t you?

Stephen: Yes. It seems like everyone I know that went into creative fields in college and studied commercial music, writing, film, music, that sort of thing… acting… they ended up waiting tables or they’re working for a catering company. They should teach bar-tending classes in film school so that you’d have something to fall back on… a minor in bar-tending. I should have thought of that.

Where do you wait tables?

Stephen: Morningside at Fullerton. It’s on Brea and Bastanchury. It’s actually inside of a retirement community. There’s like a little restaurant and there’s about 300 residents that come in there daily. We serve a whole three-course meal, soup, salad, appetizers, desserts. We even serve filet mignon every once in a while.

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“Since I’ve been working there I’ve had to cater four different funerals.”

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So, in other words, this is a retirement community that I’m not going to be able to retire to.

Stephen: Probably not. Me neither. They say if you stick around long enough the might just let you sneak into one of the empty ones. So that’s plan B. It’s gonna take me a good forty years and I’ll be right there.

Since I’ve been working there I’ve had to cater four different funerals. A lot of the people that you start off getting to know will develop conditions, get worse, and die. They probably have about four people die a month. It’s a large community, and the average age is about 85. It’s a part of life I suppose, though. It’s the end part.

Sometimes grandchildren or even great grandchildren will come to visit. There was this lady who sat in the corner, and she was practically blind. She just stared off into the distance and listened to the noises of people moving around. She was sitting with her friend eating dinner and there was a baby over in the corner, screaming his head off. He was just crying so incredibly loud, and as I was walking by I heard her turn to her friend, and she said, “Such a beautiful sound!” They just listened to that baby crying for like 15 minutes. It was a deep moment.

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“You’re a grip. I’m gonna find out what a grip is and get back to you.”

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You graduated a couple of years ago. What have you been doing since?

Stephen: A lot of life right now is about trying to survive. I got my undergrad in film, and I tried to find work there, but I felt like the people were too panicky. They were always frantic, running back and forth. Their boss was always like whatever they wanted was the most important thing in the world. I got in trouble for calling the wrong person on the phone when I was working the switchlines at this tv production studio. I got into trouble for forgetting someone’s cream with their coffee.  They were super upset. They were yelling  and stuff…. but it’s coffee, and you’re not the president of the United States, even. So I decided to just cut out of that industry altogether.

Kind of in the tradition of open mic night, we didn’t have a platform, so we made one for ourselves. That’s what I’ve been doing with film. I’ve been working on the side. It does not pay my bills. As a matter of fact, it gives me more bills.

I’m doing short films. I just had one premier at the Fifth Annual Talent 1 Media Film Festival last weekend. I grabbed all my friends together and I said, “You’re a producer, you’re an editor, you’re a grip… I’m gonna find out what a grip is and I’m gonna get back to you.” And we made a movie. Spent all our money.

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“I could stay up all night doing this. … I get into it and I don’t stop.”

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Do you do your own editing?

Stephen: It’s a pretty fun thing when you get really into it. I can do post-production. I feel really bad for one of my producers. We were editing on his computer at his house because he has a better computer than I do, and I would be over at his house, at, like, one or two in the morning and I would have to go home because I could stay up all night doing this… I get into it and I don’t stop, but his wife is pregnant and he’s trying to go to work in the morning because he has a job. He’s not really a producer, we just decided he was going to be a producer. And I have to go to work too, but I don’t care, because I’ll just go all night and then wake up in the morning.  It’s kind of addicting when you get into it.

What kind of software do you use?

Stephen: We’re editing on Final Cut right now, on a MacBook Pro. It’s amazing, the technology. When I started editing films I was in high school, so I was maybe like 15 years old, and I had this big computer, and I remember telling the guy at the computer shop that I wanted a gig of ram on the computer, and he said, “You’ll never use a gig of ram, you’re just wasting your money,” and he wouldn’t give it to me. And now you look at these laptops, and you can hold it in your hand, plug in a little hard drive to the side, and you can edit anywhere, and it’s ten times as powerful as what we were using back then, about a tenth of the size, and it has more than a gig of ram. So I was right.

I don’t even know what we’re going to be doing in five years or ten years.

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“How do we treat people that we want to ignore?”

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What was the name of the film you did for the festival?

Ian Wang and Exavier Orlino play two boys who find the body of a homeless woman in a park near their school.

Stephen: It was called “An Unfortunate Situation,” and it’s about a thing that I’m really passionate about, the issue of homelessness, and it was also about family ties. It’s about two kids who find the body of a homeless woman in a park by their school. One of the boys is the son of the principal of the school, and they tell him about it, and it’s just what his reaction is and how that’s different from if she was a different kind of person. Really, the film is about: How do we treat people that we want to ignore?

We ignore them.

Stephen: We ignore them. Right. Is there a better solution? A question I want to ask is, when you ignore someone that’s on the side of the street — and I have this answer myself because I’ve been able to befriend a lot of homeless people and get involved in their lives: Are we missing something? Like is it them that’s poor when we can’t even speak to someone that’s on the street? Who’s really poor, you know? Where does that poverty come from?

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“This is my little brother. I want you to meet him because I think he has a good story.”

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You mentioned a blog. What’s your blog address?

Stephen: PoorReflections.blogspot.com. It’s nothing professional. I just talk about my life and try to be as interesting as possible. I try to be as open as possible with it. And sometimes I get comments from complete strangers that are like, “Hey, I appreciated this,” or “I think you should think about this before you go there with that thing.”  It’s interesting.

I feel like — and this is something that applies to my film-making career — I like it when it’s personal. I think people like it when it’s personal. When you say, “I feel this way. I think these things.” You know?

Timmy Elliott and Karolina Hepper in "A Soup Kitchen Romance."

I did a documentary last year called “A Soup Kitchen Romance.” It’s about my little brother, a story about how he met his girlfriend working at a soup kitchen. I went in and I videoed him and her preparing food together, working… They’re working there to this day, maybe three and a half or four years. When they started they were like 15 or 16, and they loved these homeless people in the Salinas Valley. They know them by first name, remember when their birthdays are.

I thought that was a beautiful story. I did the voice-overs myself as opposed to getting someone who has, I don’t know, a better voice to read it. I said, Hey, this is my little brother. I want you to meet him because I think he has a good story, you know?

People really connected to that. I think a lot of people who saw it at the premier appreciated that it was personal and that I cared about it and that the people who worked on it cared about it.

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“If you’re doing it for free, people are willing to let you get away with stuff.”

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I also do slide shows, often for non-profits. Some of them are doing work that I agree with and I just want to support them. But for the most part, if no one’s paying me to do what I’m good at, I should do it anyway, because it’ll make me better. So I did a lot of work for free after graduating from college. I’m doing less of it now, but I’ll probably still continue to do it because also there’s more room to experiment. If you’re doing it for free people are willing to let you get away with stuff. I can approach each project with my own eye.

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“You can be what other people say you should be and everyone will think you’re alright. Forget that!”

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Be yourself, be honest, be true, and some people will love you and some people will hate you or you can be what other people say you should be and everyone will think you’re alright. Forget that!

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In the previous segment of this interview, Elliot talked about running open mic night at It’s A Grind, a coffee shop in La Habra.

In the next and last segment, Elliott will discuss how going to work in Korea fits in with his life’s goals.

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Open Mic with Stephen Elliott – Part 1

On June 23, Stephen Elliott hosted his last open mic night at It’s A Grind in La Habra. This summer he leaves for Korea to teach English there. I caught up with him the next night to interview him. This is the first of three posts based on that interview.

Stephen Elliot (standing on the right) watches Will Kim perform at It's A Grind in La Habra, June 23, 2010

How did you get started on open mic night?

Stephen: When I was in school I kind of fell in love with poetry  and the written word, and I had a friend [Mike Harper] who worked here at It’s A Grind a while ago. He was a poet as well. He spent most of his college life working here. There weren’t a lot of places for poets to perform. If you are a musician, especially a talented musician, there are a lot of places you can play. There’s open mic nights that will cater to you, there are coffee shops that will even pay you sometimes, but for poets there’s not really anything. We wanted to create a platform for our poetry, which spawned into a magazine, actually, called Lexicon Polaroid. We published one issue and tried to publish another one, but we didn’t have any money.

Through that we just started hosting open mic nights here. Mike eventually moved to Portland, leaving me here to either carry it on or let it die. I really loved the environment here, so I just kept going. It was about two years ago.

What school did you go to?

Stephen: We both graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 2008. There was a long stretch of time where I felt like I was in school even though I wasn’t because I was unemployed and I still saw the same people every day.

We’d done a few events here before, like some poetry slams, and we got some groups to play here.

A lot of coffee shops have open mic nights. I know several in the area. I’ve been to a few other open mic nights just to see what they were about. They have one at the House of Blues over in downtown Disney, and they’ve got one at the Gypsy Den in Santa Ana that’s supposedly huge. I’ve been once. It’s interesting. But it’s a different demographic, I think. I know most of the people that come to my open mic’s.

I wanted to ask you about memorable open mic’s.

Stephen: Memorable open mic nights. Oh there have been a bunch. We’ve had theme nights this last year. We had a Christmas themed one. It was a lot of fun. Veronica and I did Christmas carol covers and someone wrote a poem about Christmas, and a lot of people sang Christmas songs, and we had a really good time. Everyone sang along. That was a whole lot of fun.

Veronica Tofolla sings at It's A Grind in La Habra, June 23, 2010.

We had a Valentine’s Day one where everyone had to go up and before they performed they had to talk about something that they loved, so we got to know people a little better through that.

There have been some interesting ones because I personally don’t believe in censorship, so I remember one night in particular there was this person who wanted to sing a worship song from her church and it was like fine, you know, that’s fine. Do whatever is dear to you. And right after that this woman came up and recited a poem about pro-life advocacy resulting in murder and all these other things, and calling out Christians for being hypocrites. It was kind of awkward because they were sitting next to each other, but I refused to censor and I refused to not give anyone a place to stand and state their opinions, so it had to work out.

And did it work out?

Stephen: It did. It did. Neither of the two were regulars, but they both came back at different times and performed and felt comfortable. Ya. I think the world really worries too much about offending. They think that if you offend somebody, that’s the end of something. I think you can learn a lot through what offends you.  Even at times when I’ve been offended I’ve held my tongue and been glad that I have, because I have learned things from those people.

Now I’m trying to think about what offends me so I can learn something about myself.

Stephen: Hang out with artists. Eventually someone’s going to say something that offends you.

What did you get out of the experience of running open mic nights?

Stephen: Obviously the friendships. There are people that I know, when I come back here, I’m going to find out what they’re doing and try to hang out with them.

But, you know, I feel like the biggest thing — and this may be true also for some of the people who participated in open mic night — it’s just an opportunity to be heard. Even if it’s just by a bunch of other people just like you, who don’t get to be heard either, the opportunity to say, “This is really important to me.”

I went through some dark times this last year, and I wrote about that. I wrote short stories, I wrote blog posts, I wrote poems, I tried to write songs. Those things were deep and personally important to me and it felt really good to have a group of people, as small as it may be, that wanted to hear what I had to say.

And I think we’re more like a family, you know? If you go to Gypsy Den or House of Blues, you don’t catch people hugging afterwards or exchanging phone numbers or even talking, really. We tried to create a family out of this group.

"Singing songs is one of the ways I loosen up the crowd... I always want to give people an act they can follow."

What is that instrument you play? An electric ukelele?

Stephen: It’s just a regular ukelele. It has an acoustic electric pickup. I got that last year. Singing songs is one of the ways I loosen up the crowd, because I’m not a very good singer. But I feel like I always want to give people an act they can follow.

You sing badly and that encourages them.

Stephen: Ya, exactly.

You’re leaving your sound equipment here so someone else can use it to keep open mic night going?

Stephen: Yes. I would love for open mic night to continue. That to me is more valuable than my sound equipment. I think it may continue. I hope that it will.

"I have to perform... but my favorite part was watching."

No matter what happens to me from this point on, wherever life may lead me, I love that  I got to be here for the time that I was here, meet the people that I met, and just watch. My favorite part — I have to perform, because it’s part of open mic night; I can’t just go there and host, I have to be one of the performers — but my favorite part was watching.

Especially someone who had come and I knew they were talented and they just didn’t want to share it or they were nervous — people that sing with shaky voices — you can see them as the weeks progress. They become more and more confident. They put aside their fears and they get into sharing themselves with people. I think that the world should get into sharing themselves with people, and I was so lucky to get to see this happen here on this small level. So I’m really grateful for what this last year has been.

Next interview segment: Waiting tables for financial survival and film-making for the joy of it.

Links: Check out Stephen’s blog, APoorReflection.

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Panera Bread

My life has turned into a game of “Where’s Rosie Espinoza?”

Yesterday I saw the La Habra councilwoman at Mike McGroarty’s memorial. On Memorial Day she was at The Gathering of the Crosses. When Fire Station 193 was dedicated, she was there wishing she could slide down the fire pole. And today I saw her at the opening of Panera Bread, looking like she was working hard. I didn’t interrupt.

Panera Bread opened today at 1331 West Imperial Highway in La Habra. (Photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

I did interrupt David Babbush, one of the partners of the group that owns this Panera and three others in north Orange County. He told me the store bakes all its own goods — bakers come in at 10 the night before.

Tempting display case at La Habra's new Panera Bread. (Photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

Pastry display case at Panera Bread in La Habra. (Photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

In case pastry sounds like too much of a good thing, Babbush recommends the strawberry, poppyseed and chicken salad with a frozen strawberry lemonade. Strawberries are in season, and the whole meal will only set you back 430 calories.

You can get that to go, eat inside, or take your food to the patio Panera shares with Starbucks and Pick-Up Stix. It’s been made more inviting with privacy screening to shelter it from the parking lot and a fire pit for warmth and cheer on cool evenings.

Patio outside La Habra's new Panera Bread. (Photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

Panera also strives to be a good neighbor. They partner with Make-a-Wish Foundation. Panera doesn’t accept tips. Instead they make it easy for you to donate at the cash register. They also give food to food banks and churches.

Panera partners with Make-A-Wish Foundation. You can donate at the cash resgister. (Photo credit: Cindy Cotter)

Panera Bread
1331 W. Imperial Hwy
La Habra, CA 90631
(562) 690-2100

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