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Sunday, Nov 27, 2022
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Car Wash Cuisine

Valley foodies hunting for the best Filipino adobo or Persian-Armenian shawarma in the neighborhood should look no further than the car wash. It sounds strange, but some of the best eats from North Hollywood to Northridge are hidden inside car washes, representing a happy and profitable merger of two of the region’s foremost cultures — cruising and cuisine. According to food consultant Liz Thompson, founder of Liz Thompson Marketing, this partnership works because of one simple aspect of the car wash customer experience: waiting. “You have people who are stuck there. You have a captive audience … and they have nothing else to do,” Thompson said. She added that sharing real estate can increase both businesses’ bottom lines by splitting rent costs and placing their products in front of each other’s customers. Symbiotic businesses Patrons of Cruisers Car Wash, located along Tampa Avenue in front of the Northridge Costco, would be remiss not to try an empanada from Lilian’s Bread & Sweets, an oasis of Manilan comfort food that occupies half of the car wash’s interior. Each crumbly half-moon is stuffed with juicy pulled chicken, ground carrots, peas and raisins, which afford each bite a tangy sweetness you wouldn’t find in most South American variations. Those a bit hungrier should explore the entrée dishes, from fall-off-the-bone Filipino adobo (a marinade consisting of soy sauce, vinegar and garlic) to pancit (a noodle dish) to milkfish served whole, face and all. Advertising at Lilian’s is limited to word-of-mouth — the only indication that food is served here is a blue “diner” sign above the car wash’s door — and that’s exactly how owner Lilian Masaya wants it. This way, she said, she cultivates a loyal fan base that comes back frequently and is eager to share the restaurant with friends and colleagues. “People tell me all the time ‘I hope you stay here for good,’” she said. “I’m always thankful for them.” Glowing features from Eater L.A. and CNN’s Great Big Story have helped send steady streams of new customers through her doors, she added. Masaya started out as a wholesale supplier to grocers like Seafood City, but popular demand led her to open a shop of her own three summers ago. Cruisers was the first open lease she could find and it made sense as an affordable way to test her chops running a retail food service establishment. She pays rent directly to the owner of the car wash. Thompson, the consultant, commended this approach. “I think (the car wash is) a fantastic, less expensive way to try out a new concept,” she said. “Then if they get to a point where they see that the concept works, it’s much easier for them to open a (traditional) restaurant because their name is out there.” In fact, Masaya is in the process of opening a second Lilian’s location at Sepulveda Boulevard and Nordhoff Street, about five miles West of Cruisers Car Wash. That restaurant will be a standalone retail storefront — she said rent there is more than double what she pays to be in Cruisers. Wash and shawarma If you’re not feeling Filipino, find homestyle Iranian-Armenian shawarma, kabobs, and lentil soup at NoHo Café, at the intersection of Laurel Canyon and Oxnard Street, nestled in the parking lot of NoHo Car Wash. Unlike Lilian’s, NoHo Café does not share a building with its car wash cohort, though they do share a landlord. Instead, it sits alone on the lot in a squat, grey house that doesn’t exactly scream “fine dining.” But appearances can be deceiving — NoHo Café has been named by Yelp as one of the top 100 places to eat in the United States two years in a row. “We weren’t looking for this, but location is everything,” said Chris Davoodi, NoHo Café’s head of marketing. “Oxnard and Laurel, that’s a prime on-the-corner location, especially with NoHo West and that whole development happening.” NoHo West is a 25-acre development scheduled to open in the fall; see story on page 17. Davoodi said this placement right off the 170 freeway means rent is pricy despite the fact that the property is shared between four businesses. In addition to NoHo Car Wash, the landlord owns West Coast Auto Body Shop and Butania Complete Auto Repair, which live behind NoHo Café. The partnership, Davoodi said, works in part because customers of one business often peek into the other while they wait. “People come in for a car wash and want to see what’s here (at NoHo Café). And the opposite way too — hungry people come and eat, then go get a car wash (before they leave). It’s a mutual benefit.” Their symbiotic relationship isn’t without drawbacks, though. “The only negative I can say about the car wash is the noise from the freaking vent, but it gives it character,” Davoodi said, referring to the constant racket that has made NoHo Café a takeout-first eatery. NoHo Café isn’t the only Mediterranean spot thriving under a car wash’s wing. Crazy Car Wash in Tarzana offers guests paninis, hummus and of course falafel at its sister business and next-door neighbor Crazy Falafel. Thompson said the car wash-restaurant partnership is on the rise beyond the Valley and throughout L.A. “It’s something that’s here to stay. I’ve noticed more and more barbeque restaurants are popping up,” she said. “If I were to open another restaurant, I would definitely go that route. It seems a lot safer and a lot less costly.” Dealership dining Another auto business taking advantage of high wait times endured by its customers is not a car wash but a dealership. Galpin Motors in North Hills has become famous for its in-house Horseless Carriage diner, open since 1966. The restaurant serves American comfort food like soup, pasta and burgers prepared by renowned chef Geovanni Euceda to car shoppers. “Bert Boeckmann, the owner of Galpin Motors, and his son Beau, the president, wanted it to be a destination dealership,” said Eduardo Encinas, a team manager at Galpin. “You would have folks who get hungry while at the dealership, or before making any decisions they would want to grab a bite. They built the Horseless Carriage as a convenience to customers. We have people now who come just to eat.”

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