Cafe Stella owner Gareth Kantner, who has played a major role in turning Silver Lake’s Sunset Junction into a dining and shopping hot spot, plans to transform an Echo Park discount store and snack stand into a pair of new restaurants.
Kantner has purchased the Sunset Boulevard building that is now home to E’Pack Family Clothing Store and the Sunset Snack stand. Work will soon begin on renovating the Sunset Snack stand into Dinette, a take-out sandwich shop featuring foods from Vietnam and Cuba as well as American classics, like Lobster Rolls and Po’ boy sandwiches. Dinette is expected to open by February of next year, he said.
Meanwhile, Kantner is also working on plans to build a much larger, restaurant and bar, called Libre, in the adjoining E-Pack store, which will remain open for the time being. Kantner plans to create indoor and outdoor dining spaces within the 6,500-square-foot building, including a dining area facing Sunset Boulevard. Customers can expect a menu with grilled meats, vegetable dishes, salads and oven-baked pizzas. He said the price range will allow diners to “afford to have a nice meal without it costing them $80.”
Libre, which is probably 18 months to two years away from opening, and Dinette are Kantner’s second attempt to expand into Echo Park, where he and his family have lived for about 25 years. A previous attempt in 2008 to open a restaurant a block away in the historic Jensen’s Recreation Center failed to materialize.
Kantner is credited with helping revive Sunset Junction through his renovation of a Mediterranean-style shopping complex at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Sanborn Avenue. Over time, Kantner renovated the complex – painted terra-cota red and crowned by the iconic Sunset Junction sign – and filled the spaces with upscale tenants – Intelligentsia Coffee, Cheese Store of Silver Lake and his own restaurant, Cafe Stella. Early last year, Kantner was criticized by many residents for building a walled-in patio in front of his new corner bar.
Can Kantner trigger the same kind of change in Echo Park, where the block in which he will open his restaurants has so far shown few signs of gentrifying? Since Kantner’s last attempt to expand into Echo Park, several new, restaurants, some with ambitious menus and high prices, have opened nearby. But Kantner said he has a casual, straight-forward approach in mind. “I am tired of everything being so precious.”