Friday, 10 April 2015

Countering Gentrification — Eating Cheap and Healthy in Venice Beach [With a List of Places & Their Menus]

When I first arrived from Denver to L.A on March of 2014 I didn’t have any fixed plans. I had already been roaming around the U.S for a few months, but once I reached Venice Beach I fell in love with it. I thought that it’s probably the best place for me to live. However, I had no idea that the rents are that high. It actually took me several months of everyday searching to find a place in that Bohemian hood.

During this time I stayed in many different places. The Valley was hot and lifeless — especially without a car; Santa Monica too clean — for me, these days; and Marina Del Ray, oh well, didn’t feel like a real neighbourhood. Venice, on the other hand, was just the right vibe which has instantly resonated with me. The right amount of artists, the right amount of crazies, and the right amount of people in general. And of course, the sublime weather of the Westside. I truly hold that one can happily thrive here.

After finally moving, I attended an event called The gentrification of Venice organized by some caring community members from activists and artists. It was where the lexophile in me first learned the new word Gentrification, meaning the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas, which often displaces poorer residents. Apparently, that’s what has been happening to Venice for quite some time.

As a matter of fact, by the end of 2011 the median housing prices in the area had jumped 16 percent. Commercial rents on Abbot Kinney went up as much as 33 percent from the year before to a wacky $10 to $12 a square foot per month. Whether it’s food or clothes, the prices of the sold merchandise naturally increased to be able to keep up.

To get to where it is today, the gentrification of Venice occurred over a period of time. The chief cause was how a number of rich white people, wanting to be close to the cool multicultural artists by the beach, started moving into the area. This happens in many places around the world as well as within the U.S; Brooklyn, N.Y is one example. Inglewood, it is speculated, may be the next city in Los Angeles to be gentrified.

Areas where artists live always tend to be vibrant, lively, and colourful. Many of those “urban pioneers,” as they are sometimes called, lack this healthy mix in the environment in which they live. They are usually somewhat young, adventurous and have a knack for art. So they follow the artists; whether by moving in or by setting up businesses.

Then, over a period of years, the gentrification begins, which usually ruins it for the artists who end up by not being able to afford living in the area. So they move to another place. Then they are once again followed by the rich who are looking for a cool, liberated, alternative life. And so on and so forth.

In our case here, many artists had already left Venice to cheaper Inglewood. And that’s why it is believed that the neighbourhood will soon join the unavoidable dance. The same process likewise happens with gay communities. Whenever they move into a neighbourhood they usually beautify it and take care of it, so the prices go up.

Another reason why Venice was alluring is the fact that it was one of the last and cheapest areas where you could still buy a residence by the beach without having to spend millions. In addition, its proximity to fancy Santa Monica and LAX airport are a major plus.

It is widely believed that one of the factors which had stirred up the topic of gentrification followed GQ magazine naming Abbott Kinney the coolest block in America in 2013. Venice residents were not particularly happy by this media attention. They later responded by protesting and even mocking the magazine, calling it Gentrification Quarterly.

From one the Save Venice Facebook Pages

One more factor joining the domino effect was the new Google headquarter opening in Venice in 2011. Of course the high-income peeps who work there moved to the area, which, again, naturally forces rents to go up. It’s actually one loop where everything is related.

Even though gentrification is most often used negatively, it may have a few advantages.

First, the fact that gangs have died out and the violence and crimes have diminished. As I was told by many, not so long ago things were pretty dangerous that the area was dubbed “Ghetto By The Sea”.I know for a fact that people used to come score drugs from Venice. Actually, from around Abbot Kinney itself.

Bret, my bungalow mate who has been living here for 10 years, told me that a few years back gunshots were frequently heard. Several times police closed up our street and came into the house looking for armed runaways, and drug baggies were found thrown all over the streets.

This is found in my street and I had no idea why would this relatively nice’ area have such a sign.
Now that I know the brief history it makes sense.

Today, you find none of that; we rarely hear about a local crime. Not that I watch T.V or read the news, but we would know. Venice has now become a mixed income neighborhood; rich folks, poor folks, and some in between, somehow all peacefully coexisting.

Gentrification is a sign of economic growth. So the second advantage would be that it eventually leads to better quality of services, more jobs (construction and retail), as well as better parks, streets and places to eat. This supply and demand dynamic is all based on the same money being pumped into the area. As the property tax base increases, so does funding to local public schools. And that’s always a great thing, right?

A third advantage solely involves home owners. For them, the gentrification of the area has been a gift presented on a silver platter.

Even though it could get a little crazy by the beach especially during the holidays, but living here is different; it is peaceful and inspiring. Whether you want to walk, bike or jog, you have enough space to do so. Most neighbours are smiley and friendly and there is a sense of community in the area.

Bret, however, is saying that this sense is not as it was, and he’s nostalgically blaming gentrification. When the rents went up, many of the people he knew had to move out and others moved in; a few friends left and some of his favourite eateries have closed down. So understandably he lost this sense of community which once was. I heard other old residents complaining about the traffic since it was not as bad in the past.

Unlike Bret, I haven’t been here for a full decade so it’s relatively all new to me. I’m constantly making new friends in the neighbourhood and I’m sincerely enjoying the experience. I believe that when you choose to live in Venice you do so based on a conscious decision. This brings like-minded people together. So you end up being surrounded by those who are not so much different than you, and that’s a great place to be. For we should live where we’re celebrated not where we’re tolerated. At least that’s how I feel.

You can read about what happened to me in the Valley in this earlier article, Stop-n-Search That Hippy.

With all that said, paying the rent eats up most of my income. Saving on food becomes the only natural thing to do if I were to survive. When I was still looking for a place I was staying with my aunt in the Valley. This saved me money so I could afford to come spend Sunday at the Drum Circle then go have a fancy dinner at the Tasting Kitchen or at Wabi Sabi, both on Abbot Kinney. Knowing that it was the only real break I get in the whole week, $60 at the time to wine and dine was fine by me. 

Now that I stay in Venice and pay the rent that I pay, my priorities have certainly changed. For example, I find it preposterous to have a glass of rosé at Zinque for $14. A bottle of La Vieille Ferme is sold for $6.5 in Ralph’s, which is four minutes away by bike. In fact, they have an offer that if you buy six bottles, you get each for $4.70 (with the Ralphs card). Even better, at Trader Joe’s French and Chilean rosé is sold for 3.90 and 4.40. So, to drink one glass of wine in some of those places you pay almost the price of three bottles. And who goes out to have a single glass anyways? This is utter madness.

As for food, you know I love to cook. But since I don’t eat meat anymore I don’t cook as often as I used to, which was every single day. I still eat most of my meals at home. However, since I’m surrounded by healthy, affordable places I sometimes like to eat out for a change. If, however, it happens that I have a date and we end up going out I forget about all and just have fun.

The following is a list of 10 places I have tried and compiled here to help you live cheaply — and comfortably — in that not-so-cheap-anymore neighbourhood.

1- Lemonade on 1661 Abbot Kinney

This has been my favourite so far. Three portions from the salad bar are quite filling and they cost about $9.50. If you’re into meat (BBQ Brisket, Chicken Basque, or Chicken Pot Pie) you can have a hearty portion for $7.50, along with the delicious mashed potato for $3.50. For lunches, dinners, or picks ups anytime of the day, it is where I frequent the most since the food is healthy, affordable, and they have lots of varieties.

The friendly staff there have an amazing attitude. Mani the Indonesian busboy who owns a blind dog back home, Kia behind the counter who once spotted me with 65 cents when I was short, and the smiley Tiana from Armenia, to name a few. The menu also changes every few months so you don't have the time to get bored. 


2- Abbot’s Pizza Company on 1407 Abbot Kinney:

For $8.60, you get two big slices that should be enough for anyone. The “Five Onions,” “Goat Cheese”, “Bianca”, and “Greek” make one drool. I eat there at least once a week.

Interestingly, when I went there a couple of days ago to take a few shots to use in this article, I sure couldn't resist and went in to grab a slice. This was when I met a talented Israeli photographer, Milan Sigal Ashley, whom I caught mid-shooting some mouthwatering pizzas. As I found out, she is behind the cool black and white shots that decorate the walls of the place as well as the ones on their website. You can check her own website, Milan Photohraphy and her Facebook page.


Abbott’s Pizza and CasaLinda on the corner, Hal's is further ahead on its right

3- CasaLinda Mexican Grill on 1357 Abbot Kinney: (Closing down due to gentrification)

Right next to Abbott’s Pizza by California Ave, this Mexican place serves grilled shrimp burrito for $11.50 and the tacos are for $2.50, which are tasty and light. Though not being loco about Mexican food, I only eat there maybe once every couple of weeks.

In an ironic twist of fate, as I was writing these lines I was notified by a neighbour that CasaLinda is closing down soon. It belongs to the same owner of Hal’s Bar & Grill, one of Bret’s favourite places that he was telling me about, which will also be closing down after 30 long years in the area. Even though they will be opening somewhere else as one of the staff just told me, Bret and our neighbour are definitely not happy. And I’m sure they are not alone.

EDIT: CasaLinda relocated to 1025 Abbot Kinney as you can i teh

The new location along Hal’s Bar & Grill


The new location of Hal’s next to the newish Casa Linda — Both closer now to the beach on Abbot Kinney

4- Bellisimo Gourmet Foods Cafe on 68 N Venice Blvd:

Simple yet to the point, and is one-minute away from the beach. Big sandwiches in fresh, crispy bread cut in two halves for less than 10 bucks. The California Panini and the Turkey avocado BLT (with Dijon mustard) are quite something. Ideally for brunches, they also serve eggs, bagels, and croissants for breakfast, though I haven’t tried it since I usually have mine at home.

Their business card is printed on recycled paper with soy ink. Nice Touch.


5- French Market Cafe on 2321 Abbot Kinney:

Great for breakfasts and brunches. Your own 3-egg omelette or scrambled for $10.75 including 3 toppings. The smoked salmon omelette is served with a French-style mix of baby green salad, toasted baguette, butter and jam for about $13.5. They also have a variety of coffees and they sell and serve wine. I visit every now and then to enjoy editing on their sunny patio and to practice my French with the female staff.


6- Whole Foods buffet on 225 Lincoln Blvd:

Their prepared food buffet is healthy and affordable. A full meal (with meat if you wish) would cost about $10. Their convenient salad bar also makes great ingredients to use when cooking at home. Other than that, I don’t really use Whole Foods since it’s quite expensive.

Those articles are about recipes I have made using the salad bar from there: New Kreation: Onion-n-Garlic Pasta with Mussels and Other Yummy Stuff and New Kreation: Veggie Pasta.

7- Gaby’s Express Middle Eastern on 3216 Washington Blvd:

Naturally, every now and then I crave Middle Eastern food. This really affordable place serves hummus, baba gannouj, tabouleh, grape leaf, and falafel. Chicken/Beef Shawerma and Chicken/Beef kebob pita sandwiches are all for $5.50 each. They also deliver.


8- Gjelina Take Away (GTA) on 1427 Abbot Kinney:

A cool place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sandwiches, pizzas and salads are authentic and they range from $13 to $17. It has a cozy outdoor seating area on the side where you can sit on wooden benches or soda bottle crates and devour your catch. The fish stew soup was healing. Though I still have a lot to try. 


9- Cairo Cowboy on 46 Windward Ave:

Another Mediterranean that is owned by an Egyptian couple. The chicken shawerma was tasty but was hard to eat as the bread was loose and the food was spilling left and right. The following time I explained my dilemma to the cool waitress, who happened to be half-Egyptian. She suggested I try the shawerma burrito, which was much easier to eat, even on the light side compared to the greasy ones served elsewhere. The vine leaves are succulent and their “special” sauce served with the sandwiches is mouth-watering. 

They have internet, an outdoor garden at the back, AND allow you to bring your own alcoholic drinks. Emad was pleasant and courteous.


10- Kreation
Organic Kafe & Juicery on 1202 Abbot Kinney:

Great for healthy wraps and salads with hefty portions. Prices range from $12 to $16, while plates (with meat) can be slightly more expensive. They have a wide selection of juices, though I find them a tad overpriced. Then again, it is a “juicery” after all.


* Prices may be approximated due to taxes

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