American writer Allen Saunders famously penned that, “Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.” We discovered that 71Above’s Executive Chef Vartan Abgaryan is no exception to this timeless saying.
“I was in the process of opening a restaurant with a very good friend of mine,” he said, moving closer to the mic. “He owns a few restaurants in Los Angeles and we’d been talking about starting one together. It was going to be small, maybe 45 seats.” One day in the midst of planning, Chef Vartan received a phone call from his now business partner Emil Eyvazoff. “Emil wanted to speak with me about an opportunity in downtown. I wasn’t going to call back because I was already working on something,” said Chef. “The next day, I woke up and thought, let me call this guy— it’s so rude not to call back.”
Emil has a long history of developing restaurants as part of the DTLA renaissance. In 2004, he opened Takami Sushi & Robata and later established the popular lounge, Elevate. This time, 2013, the ownership of US bank Tower approached him to develop a restaurant for their 71st floor.
“Just meet me,” Emil stated as Vartan told him of his restaurant plans. This is where Emil’s experience as a producer becomes clear, “He brought me to the location, the elevator doors opened and - no question - my breath was taken away,” Vartan recalled. “I stood back like, oh my God.” 71Above, which soars a towering 950ft, was an empty shell at that time. The floors were concrete, its ceiling totally gutted and all that occupied the 71st floor was an elevator shaft, a bathroom and lots of windows.
The offer Emil presented was this: participate in the complete design, of both physical space and cuisine, for a restaurant that will occupy the top floors of the most iconic building in Los Angeles. It would seem that Chef Vartan had found the golden chef’s jacket! “The whole time I was up there I was thinking to myself, ‘Man, how do I get out of this other deal?’” Chef said laughing, explaining the excitement of that moment.
As fate would have it... the very next day, Chef Vartan’s friend told him, “The landlord is not willing to negotiate, I don’t think our restaurant is going to work out.” Chef called Emil right away, “Okay, what’s the next step?”
Emil said, “Cook for us.”
This wasn’t the first time Chef Vartan’s life took an unexpected turn. A Native Angeleno of Armenian heritage, he grew up with 3 generations of family members living in the same house. Translation: there was no shortage of delicious home cooked meals. “Every day when I got home from school there would be food waiting. We never really ate out. Maybe once a month we’d order pizza.”
Chef confided in us that the first time he ate anything that wasn’t home cooked, or fast food, was when he was 15 years old. He had taken a part time job at Baskin-Robbins and ventured to try the nearby Thai restaurant. “I still remember to this day, I took a bite of a beef salad and was like, ‘Oh my God what is this?’ Chef Vartan had always loved food, but this single bite revealed a whole world of flavors waiting to be explored.
“It all started there.”
For the highly anticipated tasting he was asked to prepare 7 items serving roughly the same number of people. To his amusement, Chef ended up cooking 13 courses for ten people and even brought in a friend to prepare two dessert courses. “Just to finalize the meal and my vision of the restaurant,” he remarked.
“At the end of the night everybody just said thank you and left. I was like okay…?” Chef chuckled with a quizzical look. “The next morning I wake up and was like, call me, something… nothing! At about 3pm Emil called, thanked me and said… ‘We have a few other tastings scheduled.'"
Chef Vartan Abgaryan immediately thought this was the end of his hopes, yet soon came the words that changed everything, “but we’ve canceled all other tastings.”
Over the next year and several months much work was done. With an entire city watching, including the Mayor of Los Angeles himself, you can be sure their pressure was intense. However, this team rose to the occasion and judging by the warm reception that 71Above has been receiving, LA seems pleased with its new fine dining haven in the sky.
In the final moments of writing this article, we took a short break to look outside the window of our 3rd story office. The sun was setting, reflecting off the smog of the day and a single low hanging cloud framed the US Bank Tower. We thought to ourselves... don’t be rude… call back...
71Above • US Bank Tower, DTLA • 633 W. 5th Street, 71st Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90071