How Baran’s 2239 Became a Strip Mall Superpower
Opened: March 2016
Location: Hermosa Beach, California
Owners: Jonathan and Jason Baran and Tyler Gugliotta
Average check: $35–$50
Description: Cuisines collide in this modest Hermosa Beach establishment with subtle nods to a family legacy.
Perhaps no city in the country lives by the rule “location, location, location” more than Los Angeles. In a sprawling metropolitan area where traffic dominates many a conversation, business success is often inextricably linked—for better or for worse—to geography.
But Baran’s 2239 is proving the old logic may be broken. The casual bistro with fine-dining chops opened last spring in an Hermosa Beach strip mall. It’s only a mile from the ocean, but the route crosses the Pacific Coastal Highway, a seemingly arbitrary line that in reality marks a deeper divide.
“It took about three months until the outside public started hearing about it because we’re in an unassuming location. … It wasn’t the norm when we opened. The norm was to go down to Manhattan Beach or downtown L.A. for the quality of food that we’re putting out,” says cofounder Jonathan Baran.“To be on this side of PCH—not the highlighted area of the South Bay—was our biggest challenge at first.”
But the word got out and business has been booming ever since—to the point that reservations are often necessary, even on a weekday. What started as an Achilles heel has actually turned into a superpower for Baran’s 2239. As one writer observed in an LA Weekly review, the understated opening is one reason “why it’s so easy to fall in love with the place.” Diners who have discovered Baran’s 2239 become part of a faithful legion of fans.
The strip mall location and simple space belie a menu of finer fare. Chef and co-owner Tyler Gugliotta had worked at such noteworthy establishments as Bistrot Bagatelle and The Tasting Kitchen before joining brothers Jonathan and Jason Baran in their new concept.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the type of cuisine at Baran’s 2239 as Gugliotta synthesizes flavors and dishes from around the world.
“We didn’t want to open an Italian restaurant or a French restaurant per se. I wanted to open a California restaurant. Essentially the way we do the menu here is we pick some of our favorite stuff from around the world and then we put our spin on it, using as much local, seasonal ingredients as we can,” Gugliotta says, adding that the menu could feature everything from Japanese and Indian to French and Thai. “There’s no country-of-origin base. It’s more about what we want to be cooking. We’re able to go with the bigger, bolder flavors.”
Chef Gugliotta adds that he lets the products dictate the menu. At times, the menu changes frequently, while some months it remains the same. As Gugliotta says, it’s always fun to compose new dishes.
Nevertheless, three items have risen to mainstay status. One is the Gnocchi Nero, featuring king crab, squid ink, Calabrian chili, and fine herbs. Another, the Indian Egg, has become a media darling in L.A., appearing in just about every review of Baran’s 2239. The dish puts a spicy twist on the traditional Scotch egg—a hard-boiled egg wrapped in meat and deep-fried. The lamb sausage exterior and curry jus are balanced by a cool cucumber salad.
The last of the three staples has a bit of history embedded in it. The Smoked & Fried Chicken both reflects the restaurant’s international flair with a soy-chili gastrique (sauce) and pays homage to a family history. The Baran brothers’ grandparents owned a restaurant called Brotherton’s Farmhouse from 1937 to 1987; the address was 2239 East Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena (hence the new restaurant’s moniker).
“They were very, very casual. My grandma was from Iowa. They had a lot of stew on their menu, fried chicken, fried rabbit—just home cooking,” Baran says.
Brotherton’s influence also reveals itself in the restaurant interior, where the atmosphere is intentionally laidback. A chalkboard adjacent to the bar lists the taps, while the latticework of dark-brown beams overhead and wood-panel walls call to mind a cozy barn. It’s a small venue, about 1,500 square feet, with room for 40 to 50 guests.
Baran says the low-key environment works, not only because of the restaurant’s proximity to the beach but also because it encourages average diners to give it a try. “This is the first time people are seeing this elevated cuisine on this side [of the PCH]. We don’t want them to feel intimidated by what the menu has to say. It’s a lively place; it’s fun,” he says.
To that end, the restaurant recently added the ever-popular daypart of brunch to its operation. Baran says that, as with the initial opening, it will take a little time for patrons to become aware of the new menu, but, he adds, they’ve already seen some repeat guests.
Beyond its exceptional cuisine, the best draw Baran’s 2239 has to offer might just be the friends-and-family vibe. Jonathan and Jason Baran have been friends with Chef Gugliotta since they all worked at the same restaurant more than a decade ago; Gugliotta recruited his best friend Corey Cryer as sous chef; and the Barans’ sister and her boyfriend run the front of house.
The traffic to Hermosa Beach may remain unbearably heavy, but like the pied piper, Baran’s 2239 manages to draw guests from the most far-flung neighborhoods. And with any luck, turn them into regulars.
“I think the biggest part of our success has been our team here. It’s family and friends who are working here,” Baran says.