Originally published in WestView
“The fact that it’s pink is not a big deal to me,” says Julie Janklow, referring to the interior of Sweetiepie. She and Luke Janklow opened the restaurant last December. And it is pink…endlessly so, due to the mirrored walls and ceilings. The first time I walked in, I thought to myself: So this is where Wonka dines when the Oompa-Loompas go on strike. Tufted pink cushions offset stark white tables and marble flooring. Gumballs and swirled lollipops sit next to crystal decanters. Fanciful, indeed.
Located on Greenwich Avenue between 10th and Charles, it’s the kind of place you’d expect to find pastel-colored micro wedding cakes and a $75 dessert called the Sweetiepig. This monstrosity involves 18 scoops of ice cream, bananas, strawberries, fresh cream, hot fudge and sprinkles. For good measure, there’s a slice of cake in it too. But these treats are outliers on a menu that’s otherwise focused on comfort food like mac and cheese, roast chicken, waffles, tuna salad and tater tots. The home-style cooking is a throwback to the Sixties and Seventies—food that is nostalgically simple and satisfying, especially in the current state of economic sludge.
Inspired by eateries that shaped her LA childhood—the Brown Derby, the Luau and (the original) Schwab’s, to name a few—Julie wanted a place where she could take her six-year-old son, August. Set designers were often responsible for crafting the theatrical look of such Hollywood relics. Julie, who designed her talked about townhouse on 12th Street, did the same at Sweetiepie. She wanted something whimsical but still suitable for adults. “It’s a hybrid of many restaurants that I grew up with,” she says, also mentioning the Fountain Coffee Shop and the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotels as atmospheric muses.
Julie has a spirited, dreamy way of talking, bouncing from thought to thought, often interrupting herself. She is quick to point out that Sweetiepie welcomes everyone. Neither exclusive nor inclusive, she compares it to a hotel, in terms of both clientele and food. To that point, the menu offers anything from burgers and milkshakes to beet risotto and absinthe.
Executive Chef Humberto Guallpa spent a day with Julie in LA, eating at places that captured the cuisine she had mind. Kind and soft spoken, he takes pride in cooking and loves opening restaurants. This is his fourth (the others being Capitol Restaurant, the Forum and BLVD). He grew up on a farm in Ecuador, where his family raised their own food—fava beans, carrots, peas, potatoes and the like. His mother moved to New York when he was a child. Raised by his grandparents, he followed suit several years later. Like countless New York chefs, he started out as a dishwasher.
And then there is the giant brass birdcage in the window. This aviary has welcomed anyone from hyper toddlers to birthday revelers to indie rockers (Julie used to be in an alt rock band). “It’s nice when you can implement something from your imagination,” she says, noting that this was one of her more fantastical ideas that came to fruition. In case you’re curious (like I was), you can reserve the birdcage in advance. While the décor speaks foremost to children, and perhaps secondarily to flamboyant adults with a hankering for sugar, the restaurant is open until midnight. Once the kids are asleep, it takes on a darker mood. Think less ice cream, more alcohol.
Opening a business during a recession is not entirely without benefits. It places constraints on what you can do, driving the use of your imagination. I think this might work to Julie’s advantage. She says friends in the industry have kept her lateral, providing no shortage of advice. Still, the self-described greenhorn says that “ignorance can be a valuable asset.” Sweetiepie wasn’t planned out entirely in advance. It was born out of a desire to have a kid-friendly but sophisticated establishment that smacked of old Hollywood glam. Her imparting words of advice: “Like anything else in life, don’t think it out to the end, because it’ll scare you into doing nothing.”