DTLA, Calif.— With personal initiative, and the right intention, any of us can accomplish anything. Creating your own way in the world might be challenging, but as Jeffrey Faust and Woogene Lee, co-owners of the freshly popular Fundamental DTLA, proved to us, having your own business can be very rewarding!
Compatriots since the age of seven, Jeffrey and Woogene grew up in the middle class suburban neighborhood of Huntington Beach. Their homes were mere blocks from one another and, every morning, the two would walk to school together; first, elementary school, followed by junior high, then high school, and when it was time for university, both attended UC Berkley.
“We’d meet right here in the mornings,” says Woogene, pointing to a green patch on the map of his phone. “This is called 'the greenbelt', where we’d play baseball and soccer. After, we’d go over to Jeff’s house to play video games and eat pop tarts.”
“The good ol’ days,” smiles Jeffrey.
Clearly, brothers from two mothers, we deduce.
Fundamental DTLA is the second installment of Woogene and Jeffrey’s collaboration, which originated with Fundamental LA in Westwood. Their success in Westwood propelled them to the corner of 7th and Grand, sandwiched between Bottega Louie and Whole Foods.
“The kitchen always jokes that DTLA was opened with the cookie sales from Westwood,” says host Warren Poirier. Woogene confirms with a smile, “The cookies at Fundamental LA are crazy popular.”
Fundamental DTLA strives to be an easy and enjoyable establishment where you can grab breakfast, lunch or dinner without thinking too hard about, 'Where to eat?' during a busy day. In our time at Fundamental, 'Delicious food at a great value,' was the unofficial motto we heard over and over; with 'Fresh cuisine at the lowest price point that quality will allow,' not far behind.
“For me it always comes back to value,” says Jeffrey. “Whether it’s drinks, food or service… we want to be a one-stop shop in downtown, where you can come in and eat and drink really well.”
Their cuisine is a tasty fusion of North and South American dishes, combined with both classic Asian and European elements. During our interview Woogene posed the question, “What is fusion when everything is fusion these days?” The boys from Hermosa Beach like to think of their menu as, Modern American.
Short Rib Pappardelle, Fresh Shucked Oysters and Tuna Tostadas are the three items that we were fortunate enough to sample, and we have to say that our modest palettes were pleasantly impressed.
Rich yet light, the Short Rib Pappardelle sauce is amazing, and features strong wine flavors that burst into the front of the dish, brightening its composition, while truly tying all the elements together. The noodles are freshly made as well, and caramelized onions are always a favorite!
Before having the Tuna Tostada, we were told by Woogene and Jeff that many aren't sure about ordering the Tuna Tostada at first...'Perhaps it won't be enough, etc.' But the two assured us that it'll be worth it once you have it. We now know what they mean. The fish is super high quality and refreshing to taste. One of us isn’t the biggest fan of seafood; however, seconds were desired all around.
Finally, the half dozen oysters were clean and clear, with a bristling aftertaste that left you wanting more. Featured on the plate, you get 3 East Coast oysters from Misty Point, and 3 Fat Bastards from Vancouver. Dipping sauces are a Ponzu and Apple Mignonette.
While photographing these incredible dishes, we overheard the table behind us make remarks about the food they had just been served. "This is really good," said one patron. "This isn't anything that I would make at home," said another excitedly.
"What is the most popular item on the menu?" we ask Jeffrey and Woogene. They both laugh a little to themselves before responding, "Hands down, the breakfast burrito." Apparently, Fundamental's loyal fan base will come in morning, noon or night asking for their chicken sausage, eggs, tater tots, cheddar, aji verde, and guacamole fix.
"We had one gentleman come in the other night at 9pm asking for a breakfast burrito," recounts Woogene. "When I told him they weren't available, he actually got pretty upset about it. I guess that's a good thing though," both Jeff and Woogene laugh at the irony that of all the things on the menu for people to crave, it's a classic breakfast burrito.
"What do you guys normally partake in from the menu?" we ask. After a pause to think, Woogene admits with a chuckle, "I eat a lot of breakfast burritos."
Another major component to the operation is Fundamental’s large catering business, which offers both drop off and full service catering for anything from weddings to daily office meals. Moving to DTLA has really expanded this side of the business due to their perfectly situated location between residential living and the corporate offices of the Financial District.
“A nice pitch for us is that people come into the restaurant, they taste the food, they see the space, and they experience the service,” says Jeffrey. “Our catering program is the exact same value.”
In our time with Woogene and Jeffrey, what impressed us the most about their partnership was their work ethic and commitment to being deep in the trenches, leading Fundamental's talented staff. Jeffrey spearheads catering, whilst Woogene oversees the two restaurants. With such a professional sounding name like 'Fundamental DTLA' it’s really cool knowing that the restauranteurs behind it all, are two SoCal natives who are working tirelessly to build a business that services the community.
“Tomorrow we’re doing a wedding in a place called Bandit Town, northeast of Fresno,” says Woogene with a laugh.
“Yup, we’re taking a trip to Bandit Town because I’m not going to ask my team to go all the way up to Bandit Town,” chuckles Jeffrey. “So, he and I are going to execute the wedding. He’ll be kitchen lead and I’ll be service lead.”
“We’re getting a refrigerated box truck and heading on up to Bandit Town,” Woogene interjects, loving the words 'Bandit Town'.
The two bust up at the images this conversation has brought to mind before Jeffrey gets real for a sec, “There’s not much glamour in restaurants. It’s hard work.”
“It’s not nearly as sexy as people think it is," Woogene adds. "I would never want to do this alone.”
“Both of us would have thrown in the towel super early and been like, ‘this was a horrible idea,’ if we tried it alone,” concludes Jeffrey with great exclamation.
In conclusion ladies and gentlemen, if you’re going to make a trip on up to Bandit Town— no better person to do it with than your ride or die brother from another mother.
Fundamental DTLA • 750 S Grand Ave #30