Vicki Fan – Beacon Asian Cafe Culver City

Vicki Fan and Kazuto Matsusaka Beacon Asian Cafe Culver CityRestaurateur Profile: Vicki Fan

Co-Owner: Beacon

3280 Helms Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90034

www.beacon-la.com

Yelp: 3.5 stars

Interview Date: Friday, September 17, 2010

Vicki Fan and husband Kazuto Matsusaka, owners of Beacon in Culver City are in one of those rare marriages that thrive in the restaurant business. “We divvy up the duties and it all works out really well,” says Vicki. “He does sauces – I’m terrible at them. I do the vinaigrettes though. He loves to eat pastries, but doesn’t like to make them, so most of the time he doesn’t have to. We’re both pretty easygoing and know our own and each others’ strengths.”

Their partnership began in a kitchen: they met while working at ZenZero, a restaurant in Santa Monica that is no longer in operation. “There are two ways to get into this business,” says Vicki. “And we basically came from opposite backgrounds. Kazuto, who was born in Japan, started working in restaurants in Tokyo and moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s. He has worked with great French chefs, including Wolfgang Puck. I grew up in New York and attended CIA because I got a late start and wanted to catch up.”

Vicki and Kazuto began dating in 1995, shortly after he left ZenZero. They married in 1996 and moved to Paris for one year, where they opened a restaurant called Buddha Bar. Although they enjoyed their time in Paris, they moved back to the States to consult for a hotel restaurant. “We knew that we wanted to settle in LA, and so we started looking for locations here,” says Vicki. “We found this spot – it was before the redevelopment of Culver City was really complete and Culver City was an “in between” neighborhood. This space had great open space and lower rent than elsewhere, so we took it in 2004.”

Beacon Asian Cafe Culver City“People thought we were crazy to choose a location in Culver City,” says Vicki. “But things were changing and moving in Culver City, and it was exciting. We didn’t want a stuffy, fine-dining place – we wanted somewhere that people could come for lunch or dinner and just relax and enjoy.”

At the time, the small plate movement was just beginning, and Vicki and Kazuto determined that it was a good way to go for Beacon. “We wanted to have lots of options, like when you go to a Chinese restaurant,” says Vicki. “The portions in the U.S. are so much larger than in other countries, and it can mean that you don’t get to try as many blends and options.”

“As much as we wanted to stay away from saying we are Asian Fusion, that has become the best way to define our food,” says Vicki. “We make classic Asian dishes that have been updated. For example, we have a traditional Japanese udon soup with Chinese pork belly based on a recipe from my mother. This means that the food is familiar yet unique.”

The restaurant opened six years ago to great popularity. “It’s been great – we were crazy-busy – almost out of control in the beginning,” says Vicki. “It was great, but we actually prefer the flow that we have now because we really get to know our guests.”

Vicki and Kazuto’s two-year-old daughter Olivia has also become a part of the restaurant fabric. “We have noticed more families coming in now that we have our daughter here,” says Vicki. “I think they just feel more comfortable. We also feel that it’s great for her – she sees us welcoming our guests and so she does it, too.” When I met with Vicki, Kazuto had just taken Olivia home for a nap, which he does on most days, returning for the evening rush, when they have a babysitter at home. “It’s the reverse of most childcare situations, but it works really well for us,” says Vicki.

“The best part of owning a restaurant is the freedom,” says Vicki. “You can create what you want; you make the decisions.” In addition to having their own family of three on-site most of the time, Vicki and Kazuto recognize that their staff is much like an extended family, and many of the employees are siblings, partners and spouses as well. “It’s fun and exciting to work in a restaurant,” says Vicki. “But you also have to have downtime away from the restaurant so that you can have balance.”

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