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Moby Talks About His New Vegan Restaurant 'Little Pine' In Silver Lake
Just before Thanksgiving, Moby's new restaurant, Little Pine, began serving a Mediterranean-inspired, plant-based menu. And, now that the small, vegan eatery is in full swing, LAist spoke with Moby to learn more about the ideas behind Little Pine, hear his thoughts on how eating vegan has changed over the years and find out what we can look forward to on the menu—and on the stereo—at the musician's restaurant.
What inspired you to open Little Pine?
I had a restaurant in New York for a long time called TeaNY. And almost everything about it was stressful, expensive, time-consuming and difficult—except that there was a really unique satisfaction that I got from walking into the restaurant when it was busy and people were happy and in a way, that kind of made up for all the stress and frustration. So, I hadn't really been thinking about opening a restaurant, but I saw that the building where Little Pine is was up for sale about a year ago. And, so what really made me want to get back into the world of restaurants was that this really odd, idiosyncratic Art Deco building was up for sale. That, and the fact that it was really close to my house, because I just don't see the point of opening a restaurant if you don't plan on being there at least a few times a day.
There's an absurdity to wanting to open a restaurant—because it's so time-consuming and expensive, and if you spend all this time trying to make it work out, if you're really lucky, you'll break even. When looked at objectively, it's such a completely absurd and foolish enterprise. But there's a strange joy and satisfaction that comes from creating a space that people can be well fed and be happy.
And in a way, opening a restaurant is a way of addressing a whole bunch of my strange, disparate interests in one place. By opening Little Pine, I can promote organic farming and veganism, create something nice for the community I live in, do something interesting with architecture and design, and employ people.
How did the retail shop inside of Little Pine come about?
The whole space is about 1500 square feet and the city has a parking algorithm where they figure out how many parking spaces you need. And we have 6 parking spaces, but the restaurant is just a little too big for 6 spaces. So, the city came to us and said that the only way we could open would be to have a little retail area. And, at first, it seemed really arbitrary to me and I was a bit annoyed to have to take away restaurant space. But now, with it all set up, it's really fun and the space is adorable. I get to go around and pick out things I like and put them on the selves. And if people buy them, that's fine, and if they don't, it's not the end of the world because the restaurant it really what keeps the lights on.
Anything on the shelves that you're particularly excited about?
There's a woman who makes rough-hewn silkscreened pillows and they're stuffed with Douglas fir needles and so they smell like Christmas. They're really cute, but when you smell this—I don't want to sound to pretentious—but it's kind of this Proustian thing, where you smell these pine needles and you immediately feel like you're six years old at Christmas.
The shop at Little Pine (Photo courtesy of Little Pine)
What was your aim in designing the menu for Little Pine?
We have lunch during the week and dinner at night, and brunch on the weekends. Our lunch and our brunch menu are a little more on the traditional side. And our dinner menu is more Mediterranean small plates and is a little more unique. If I go out for lunch or brunch, I don't really want experimentation, I just want really great, simple food. Whereas, dinner tends to be a little more creative.
One thing on the dinner menu that I'm really excited about is a vegan cassoulet. Traditionally, cassoulet in France is a very meat-centric dish and the one that we've made is more like a southern French cassoulet because it's very tomato based. It took a long time to get it right, but now it's really special.
What differences have you noticed between opening a restaurant here in L.A. and doing so in New York?
The biggest thing that I've noticed is that in New York, you just kind of rent a space and open a business, and that's it. Whereas, here, there's a huge permitting process and all the different boards and inspections and everything—I had no idea that L.A. had such an entrenched and vast bureaucracy. And I've talked to the mayor about it, and he wants to fix it, but it's so entrenched, I don't know if anyone can fix it.
Have you noticed a broader acceptance of vegan food lately compared to when you opened TeaNY over a decade ago?
Definitely. First off, I think that vegan food has just gotten a lot better. I've been a vegan for 28 years and being a vegan back then meant eating cold lentils and brewer's yeast. And now, vegan food has become really satisfying, sophisticated and interesting. And also, I feel like veganism has just become a lot more normal for people, especially in Los Angeles. Most of my friends who are carnivores in L.A. are perfectly happy to go to vegan restaurants, but 10-15 years ago that wasn't the case. Veganism 20 years ago seemed so strange and so fringe and now it just feels like a normal food choice. At least, that is, in Southern California. If you're in Oklahoma, veganism probably still seems pretty strange.
The exterior of Little Pine (Photo courtesy of Little Pine)
What do you hope to bring to the conversation with Little Pine about eating vegan?
Whether it's health, animal welfare, climate change, rainforest deforestation, water use, there are so many compelling reasons for people to at least look at veganism. And one of my goals with Little Pine is to present veganism in a really attractive, non-didactic way. In my past, I used to scream a lot, and be a really loud didactic, militant vegan. And now, I feel like I can attract more people by presenting veganism as a really seductive and compelling way to approach eating and being alive. You don't have to scream at people, you can attract them through example.
I can write tons of essays, and take tons of pictures and do tons of interviews. But, taking someone into the restaurant and pouring them a beautiful glass of wine, serving them a vegan cassoulet and panzenella salad, and then a phenomenal vegan dessert, that's almost as effective, or perhaps more effective than any of the essays I've ever written.
What can we expect to hear at Little Pine?
The idea is that the music will never be louder than a conversation. It's one of my pet peeves when I go to a restaurant, I have to yell while I'm eating my dinner to be heard. I like loud music in a nightclub and in a bar, but I just don't understand it in a restaurant. And we have a couple of other rules. One rule is that my music will never be played in the restaurant because that would be weird. Another rule is a list of "no's" and it's basically no Top 40, no commercial hip hop, no banging EDM tracks. Basically no songs that you would hear in a clothing store at The Grove. As much as I appreciate the music in H&M, you won't hear that in the restaurant.
There seems to be a trend of restaurants having live DJs spin during dinner. Will Little Pine have anything like that?
For a few reasons, we won't do that. One: we simply don't have the space. And two: I just don't know if we need a DJ to play Neil Young and Massive Attack records. I'm okay using Spotify. To have someone set up in the corner to just press "play" on After The Gold Rush, just seems absurd.