Over the past few years, since Roy’s opened Downtown at 8th and Figueroa, I’d guess I’ve eaten there around two hundred times. The sheer size of this number could lead one to believe that Roy’s is somehow commonplace—it’s not. I love food, I could have eaten anywhere, Roy’s is simply that good. And I should point out here that while Roy’s is a chain each Roy’s does offer dishes that are unique to each and every location—so consider this a story about Roy’s Downtown and Roy’s Downtown only.
The story of Roy’s Downtown requires Roy’s to be considered, like Staples Center and The Standard Hotel before it and Ralphs Market and Bottega Louie after it, to be a game changer. I came to the story early on. Literally, when the space was under construction and I ran into Leslie Kaden who was working out of a temporary construction office (Now a private dining room) in the back of the space. Leslie as I recall was in charge of something to do with wine and what not. Frankly, what I recall with greater clarity was how nice she was. And after running into her a few more times she invited me into the office of humble beginnings to meet the rest of the management team responsible for opening Roy’s Downtown.
It’s funny now to think back—how serious Matty was in those days. Matty, is the managing partner of Roy’s Downtown. Sharply dressed with a ponytail and a history with Roy Yamaguchi, the founder of Roy’s, that dates back almost twenty years, impressive under any circumstance, but particularly impressive given Matty looks all of thirty-years-old. I remember asking him something to the effect, “What, did you start working for Roy when you were ten or something?” He laughed and probably wondered why there was a writer hanging out in his construction office. I was writing a little 620 page novel titled “Stan Lerner’s Criminal” back then.
Well, Roy’s opened and became one of the most successful restaurants in our city and probably the country for that matter. My novel came out, earned rave reviews and won the Grand Prize at the Hollywood Book Festival. And Matty got used to me always being around—and eating most of the time. But more than this intersection of restaurant, restaurateur, and novelist is the sum. By sum I mean that Roy’s, Matty, and your humble writer along with tens of thousands of others became part of a community, which blessedly is greater than the sum of its parts. So, with our story now firmly standing on a foundation of a vibrant and successful community the extraordinary can now take place.
I stopped in one afternoon a few weeks ago at the DCBID’s Marketing Round Table Event—several restaurants were represented, I of course was there on behalf of downtownster. I should mention here that if you own or operate a business in Downtown and you’re not involved with DCBID and going to its’ events you’re absolutely missing out on opportunities to grow your business and meet some very good people. After the formal part of the Round Table I was chatting it up with a few of the cool people in attendance—including Aya from Roy’s.
“I’ve been wanting to do a story on Roy’s, I’ve just been waiting for something out of the ordinary to write about,” I said.
“How about May Day? We’re having a party and Roy himself is going to be there.”
“I like the sound of that.”
“And there’ll be hula girls dancing—“
“Put me down for two. I’ll be there for sure.”
Later, it struck me that Roy’s was the only restaurant I knew of doing something for this pre-Christian Holiday. I know most people think of May Day as being a Celtic celebration of the weather turning nice. But the first May Day was actually celebrated in Rome. It celebrated the Goddess Flora the Goddess of flowers and to this day it is a tradition to give flowers on May Day. So with a bit of reflection and the help of a poet you can see how this caught on in Hawaii.
In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day, and is normally set aside as a day to celebrate island culture in general and native Hawaiian culture in particular. While it was invented by a poet and a local newspaper columnist in the 1920s, it has since been adopted by state and local government as well as by the residents, and has taken on a sense of general spring celebration there. The first Lei Day was proposed in 1927 in Honolulu. Leonard “Red” and Ruth Hawk composed “May Day is Lei Day in Hawai’i,” the traditional holiday song. Originally it was a contemporary fox trot, later rearranged as the Hawaiian hula song performed today.
So Matty found a nice table for my young lady friend and I. Being a guy’s guy he was kind enough to seat me so I could easily see the band and hula girls without having to noticeably turn my head away from my dinner companion. The girlfriend went with the prefixed, which was a five-course meal each course prepared by either Roy himself or one of his executive chef’s—including Gordon WK Hopkins, the original Hawaii Kai Chef Partner. A particular treat was that each course was pared with just the right wine, something Roy’s only offers on May Day—I can’t describe exactly why this added so much to dinner, but trust me, it did.
I opted for a different experience. Given that I have eaten at Roy’s so often and have had a few years to decide on what my favorite dishes are, I made the decision to get the usual. But this time prepared by Roy Yamaguchi, Lorin Watada (Corporate Sushi Chef), Gordon Hopkins, David Abella (original Kahana, Maui Chef Partner), and Leslie Gorman (Desert Ridge Pastry Chef). Imagine the chance to taste some of your favorite dishes made exactly the way their creator intended them to be. Not that any well-trained chef, and all the chefs at Roy’s are trained by Roy himself, can’t offer a great translation, but it will always be a translation. This was a chance to taste pure perfection because as Roy told me in the course of a very nice little conversation, “the cooking comes from inside”—he gestured with his hand toward his heart.
The band, the hula dancers, the lei made of orchids Matty gave to my girlfriend, the wine paring, meeting Roy, who at age fifty-three looks thirty, and frankly food that was already some of the best in the world prepared by the best of the best—well this was as good as dining gets. It is hard to resist the temptation to describe each dish and to want to do comparisons to other restaurants, I had planned to, but it just wouldn’t be fair. Having Roy Yamaguchi come to Downtown Los Angles and make dinner is not really going to dinner—it is a life experience. Fortunately, I’ve probably had more of these experiences than I deserve, but I’ll take it. And I urge all downtownsters to do the same. Los Angeles and Downtown in particular is filled with treasures ranging from art, to theatre, to music, to food, and so much more. Don’t just be here. Get to know your neighbors. GO OUT AND ENJOY EVERYTHING. And let me recommend a stop at Roy’s for lunch or dinner. It really is one of the best reasons to live and work in the neighborhood. Oh, and if you haven’t taken in a May Day at Roy’s—mark next years calendar now. It’s a great way to get leid.