Owner: LA Paella
476 South San Vicente Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Interview Date: Tuesday, June 15, 2010
There are two things that Pasqual Franqueza, owner of LA Paella, tells me as soon as I sit down: first, that there are no computers in his restaurant; second, that he is in the service business, not the food business. These two statements sum up a lot of Pasqual’s beliefs about running a restaurant.
Pasqual believes that Spanish cuisine – that is, food from Spain – is confused, misunderstood and ignored. Because of the widespread use of the Spanish language, many people mistakenly believe that Argentinian, Venezuelan, Mexican and other foods from countries that speak Spanish are the same as food from his home country. “We still get people coming in here looking for guacamole and margaritas,” says Pasqual.
Originally from the Valencia region of Spain, Pasqual found his first restaurant opportunity in Paris. He was working in the kitchen in a seedy neighborhood in Paris until he found a job on Avenue Montaigne (a much better neighborhood) that paid more for him to wash dishes. “I made the switch, and that was when I started to understand how customers and neighborhood can shape a restaurant,” says Pasqual.
In 1973, an opportunity with an uncle running a bakery in Connecticut brought him to the U.S. “I found out quickly that my uncle just wanted to squeeze me – he started me working the night I arrived,” says Pasqual. When his Visa expired after several renewals he made his way back to Spain and began working in the town of Javea at an American-owned restaurant called Scotthy’s Western BBQ. “Then I met a woman from London and we decided to go there,” says Pasqual. The high cost of living in London, where he worked as a bartender, soon drove them back to Spain, and Pasqual opened a small bar, Cul de Sac, with the capacity for 22 people … standing. “I was having a ball, and then the opportunity came up to start a restaurant with a partner,” says Pasqual.
Two years later he moved on, this time to Los Angeles. “A successful American restaurateur was touring Spain and a friend introduced us,” says Pasqual. “He promised me a job either with his restaurant or through one of his connections if I ever moved to the States.” So, in 1984, Pasqual moved to Los Angeles and began working at Dante’s Restaurant on Wilshire (which closed a year or so ago). “Everything was working for me,” says Pasqual. “I was always busy at work, and I needed something outside of work to do, so I started taking classes at Santa Monica College.” Thus, while working at two restaurants, Pasqual completed his degree at Santa Monica College and then attended National University, from which he graduated Summa Cum Laude.
Feeling that perhaps the restaurant business wasn’t where he should stay, Pasqual explored other avenues, and was considering pursuing a Certified Public Accountant degree (CPA), but after passing the four parts of the CPA exam and several interviews at big firms in Los Angeles, he discovered that it was unlikely he could find as much happiness in that industry as with a restaurant. After managing a successful restaurant in Malibu for three years, Pasqual felt confident in his path: he was going to open a Spanish restaurant in Los Angeles.
A friend from college wanted to invest in the business with Pasqual, and their agreement helped get LA Paella on its feet. Pasqual later bought out his partner and now owns the restaurant independently.
“The restaurant business is a team business,” says Pasqual. “It’s like a string of pearls – each pearl has value on its own, but when strung together they are worth much more than the sum of their parts.”
As for the best part of the business, Pasqual gave me my most interesting answer yet: “I never have to go shopping or cook a meal – everything that I need is right here.”