Today marks the 40th anniversary of my moving to Santa Monica. I remember my first July 4th strolling on the boardwalk alarmed by people setting off fireworks that flew in my direction. In just my time and well before, our city has gone through many changes.
Consider my neighborhood, Ocean Park. On the corner of Ashland and Main Street is the trendy “Areal” restaurant with its elegant patio dining. Decades ago the location was hardly trendy.
In the 1940′s it was the home of Kilroy’s bar, a popular watering hole for Ocean Park residents who had migrated after the Dust Bowl. Kilroy’s was notorious for its jukebox that blasted country western music well into the night, much to the chagrin of blue-collar residents trying to sleep.
In the early 1950′s the corner became a Shell gas station, owned by a pair of brothers from Baltimore who, unfortunately, were compulsive gamblers. Apparently their impromptu visits to Las Vegas while cars sat unrepaired at the station were so frequent the business was doomed.
Over time the corner was home to many unsuccessful commercial ventures. That is until “The Wave” restaurant in the late 80′s which only had 49 seats, not enough to sustain itself. Rumor, however, was that Prince owned the Wave, fueled by his occasional dinner appearances. But in fact it was Prince’s then manager who was part-owner.
Years later the Wave evolved into the “World Café” under the guidance of the late David Teck, a partner and legendary Ocean Park character. David could often be seen riding his segue or walking his Boston Terrier, Max.
David hired local artists to help turn the World into the funky, popular gathering place for locals of all ages to eat and drink. With neighborhood support, he successfully lobbied city council to permit more seats. Soon David and I became friends. In fact, one fateful night in 1991, and I hope this doesn’t sound crass, David informed me I was about to “get lucky.”
David introduced me to a hot 30-something female customer named Leslie. Coming off a recent divorce, my confidence was shot but Leslie didn’t seem to notice as she had imbibed a fair amount. In fact, she quickly steered the conversation to “When is your favorite time to have sex?”
Before I could answer “Any time” we were suddenly joined by her friend who wanted to leave. I immediately suggested that the friend, who curiously was also named Leslie, have a seat, as I’d gladly buy her a drink.
As I tried desperately to resurrect the conversation with Leslie #1, Leslie #2 kept insisting that she knew me. In fact she did. Leslie Paonessa was my girlfriend when I was a freshman at UCLA and she a senior at Birmingham High, all of which was three decades ago. (Or as Leslie #1 shrieked, “This is your old boyfriend?!”)
In an instant I went from “getting lucky” to “striking out.” As it turned out Leslie P. was the Special Events Planner for the World. (Or in this case, the small world.)
Currently a sought after private chef, when Leslie moved to Santa Monica in 1985 she was in the in the movie business. She was an Associate Producer on an early Oliver Stone movie, “The Hand,” assistant to the director of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Commando” and ran a script consulting service.
“Film and food are my two passions,” Leslie says. In that regard, four years ago she came up with a terrific idea. Along with her partner, Esquire Jauchem, a three-time Emmy-nominated producer, she created “Le Secret Supper,” a monthly “underground” social/dining event at Jauchem’s beautifully restored 110-year-old beach house in Venice.
Each supper is unique in guests, menu and décor. It’s always a diverse group. Guests come alone, with a friend or significant other, or in a group. Spirited conversation and delicious six-course menus of “creative comfort cuisine with global influences,” are part of each event.
Featured in “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier, Leslie continues to work as a script consultant. She’s also busy cooking for personal clients, and catering gatherings, including the Le Secret Suppers. Leslie jokes, “Anyone who has a mouth and enjoys good food, could use my services.”
Meanwhile, to celebrate the 4th and my 40-year Santa Monica anniversary, maybe I’ll meet Leslie #2 at Areal. (Still owned by the same Oklahoma City family that owned World Café.) We could reminisce, have a couple of Areal’s signature Margaritas and their great Happy Hour appetizers and most importantly, stay clear of the flying fireworks.
(For info about Leslie’s private chef’s services or the next Le Secret Supper, July 19th from 7 to 10 p.m. e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or check the Le Secret Supper Facebook page. Jack can be reached at email@example.com.)