"Do you sell birthday candles?"
Utter these five innocent words to the tattooed cashier standing in front of a wall lined with Popov vodka and Illegal mezcal bottles at the newly opened Tinfoil: Liquor & Grocery in Highland Park, and he will buzz you into the liquor store's back door that reads "Employees Only."
Once you take a step inside, you will be transported to a magical secret deli where every single piece of charcuterie is made from scratch and where the veggie option is just as satisfying as a sandwich stacked with chef Lung Ly's thick, applewood-smoked hazelnut-fed pork bacon.
One part East Coast-style bodega, one part West Coast-style liquor store, one part true delicatessen, and one part speakeasy, this hidden shop is the work of 26-year-old restaurateur Jeremy Fall. He has a tendency to open whimsical food concepts inspired by nostalgia, such as Tinfoil and his "breakfast bar" on the other side of town, where you can get eggs Benedict and spiked cereal-infused milk for dinner. Fall says he gets inspired "by the smallest little idea that pops in my head and [I] make it grow into something that you can eventually walk into."
His mother owned restaurants, and according to him, he's always been fascinated by how many stories and conversations could be created within an eatery's four walls.
"Restaurants, to me, are like galleries created to showcase different interpretations of culture. It's a world that strives by taking perfection and reinventing it."
He's definitely close to reinventing the perfect sandwich at Tinfoil. It is a place where you can purchase ice-cold alcoholic kombucha, grain-free dog food, and a pound of brisket made with Snake River Farms grass-fed beef. At the same time, it also may be Los Angeles' first bonafide bodega, as it's the first no-frills sandwich shop in the city that will be open until 3 AM every day. The question is: Will northeast Angelenos embrace a cold sandwich in the wee hours of the morning over the standard go-to late night street food traditions of tacos and bacon-wrapped hot dogs?
Fall thinks so, and he is doing everything in his power to tempt the city's taco-loving masses to show up in droves for his simple sandwich destination. This includes hiring Ly, who is fresh to LA from working at a butcher shop in Portland, Oregon's meat powerhouse Laurelhurst Market. The idea for all of Tinfoil's meats and sandwiches is simple classics. For a demographic as young and diverse as that of Highland Park, however, this means that even a simple roast beef sandwich will contain things like yuzu kosho, and the pastrami will be wet-brined and more corned beef-like.
Deliciousness notwithstanding, Ly humbly admits that he has a lot more to learn and do. Making bologna is his next project, and he tells me that there will eventually be a secret hot sandwich special, like porchetta.
One can not evade the topic of gentrification when talking about a new food establishment in a neighborhood as contested and up-and-coming as Highland Park. I ask Fall, a native Angeleno who grew up eight miles away in Downtown, about his thoughts on opening up this concept in a former liquor store beloved by the neighborhood for its neon sign touting "Coldest Beer in Town."
"Refinement does not equate to gentrification. Bringing quality goods does not mean that we are trying to turn this place into a mixed use building selling yuppie products."
He informs that he sources all of the rugged French rolls that he uses for his sandwiches from a panaderia down the street. They are $8 each, a little less than half a foot, and stuffed generously with meat. After all, he is going with the no-frills approach over gourmet, so most of his sandwiches are just variations of meat and bread with very little toppings.
It's hardly the cheapest in town, but it's definitely not the most expensive, either. (And they are certainly filling; after taking one of those sandwiches down for lunch, I wasn't hungry again until the late evening that day.) Fall compares his sandwiches to those available at the Subway across the street and swears that there isn't much price difference for the quality that you can get at Tinfoil.
"I don't want people to think that my simple sandwiches are gentrifying the neighborhood. I've always just wanted to preserve the history that this city has, as a person who was born and raised here. I restored all of the original architecture of this building and kept it as a liquor store—I didn't open a pilates studio or a $15 per-juice-shop. I just added a sandwich shop to a liquor store that was already here."
He adds, "This is real LA, and I just want to make the locals happy."