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A new restaurant for the Natural History Museum to amplify black voices

History, dinosaurs, insects and horticulture won’t be the only main draws at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History starting March 17. A new restaurant is established from the team behind Post & Beam, one of the most lauded southern restaurants in Los Angeles. to open that day, bringing a mix of intercultural street food and comfort food.

Post & Beam’s Neighborhood Grill is a more casual sequel to John and Roni Cleveland’s Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw restaurant, winner of the Los Angeles Times 101 Best Restaurants award and a community staple. The Clevelands will also launch grab-and-go items highlighting black and brown-owned food businesses as part of an expansive culinary revamp overseen by South LA Cafe Hospitality, founded by Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace.

The partnership between the Clevelands and South LA Cafe Hospitality will make it possible to select to-go juices, salads, deli meats and other items from Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen, Prins Wellness, Hotville Chicken, Southern Girls Desserts and others, in addition to their own home. Made items in a refrigerated to-go display case inside the Neighborhood Grill.

According to museum officials, this marks the first time the Natural History Museum has worked so closely with local chefs and restaurants to spearhead its food program.

“I’m very excited to be able to play,” said chef John Cleveland. “This is going to be a lot of exposure.”

During the last few months, he has been playing a lot in the kitchen.

(Oscar Mendoza / For the Los Angeles Times)

While Post & Beam’s cuisine focuses on traditional Southern cooking with a California twist, the chef sees Neighborhood Grill as more representative of the fusion of Los Angeles street food with Southern food, and inspired by the edible garden. from the museum. Her new take on cabbages reuben subs for sauerkraut, remoulade for Russian dressing and smoked gouda for swiss, while grilling wild mushroom tacos, frying up cornmeal-crusted rockfish bites, baking seasonal flatbreads and Grill short rib quesadillas. It is also a new opportunity to serve families and children, including your own.

The Clevelands recently learned that their 6-year-old son, Miles, requires a special diet that eliminates gluten, soy and eggs. The chef has come up with gluten-free options for almost every menu item, including the flatbreads. Aside from the rye bread in the pastrami sandwich, Miles Cleveland will be able to eat everything on the menu.

Much of the beer and wine menu will echo Post & Beam’s, with a focus on local makers like Crowns & Hops, South Los Angeles’ black-owned craft beer company. SLAC Hospitality’s contract, which began February 1, also includes culinary and catering options beyond the restaurant and take-out kiosks, such as event food trucks, which will also include area family-owned restaurants and produce.

Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace and Roni and John Cleveland stand inside their new restaurant against a beige and green wall

The team behind Neighborhood Grill by Post & Beam: Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace of South LA Cafe Hospitality, left, and Roni and John Cleveland of Post & Beam.

(Oscar Mendoza / For the Los Angeles Times)

“We wanted to double down on our “for and with Los Angeles” focus and community partnerships, and make the food service program speak to our hyperlocal community in a way we haven’t in the past,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of the museum.

Over the past six years, Bettison-Varga says the museum has sought to showcase the neighborhood’s talents, creators and businesses, highlighting the cultural richness and diversity of South Los Angeles in a way that historically hasn’t existed for the institution. 110 years old. . Some of his initiatives to execute this goal included forming a community engagement office to reach out to area businesses and residents and engage in discussions about their needs and concerns; another included a more diverse programming, like last year series on the cross-cultural intersection of bread and pastries in Los Angeles.

“When the request for proposals was submitted, we were very excited that Joe and Celia responded with such innovative ideas to really curate local food vendors in South Los Angeles, and include them when NHM Commons opens,” Bettison-Varga said.

The Ward-Wallaces he reached out to some of his favorite South Los Angeles chefs and businesses, including Post & Beam’s Clevelands, whose community-advancing ethos aligned with theirs.

South LA Cafe will also operate its own outpost on the south side of NHM Commons, which is expected to debut in mid-2024.

By showcasing more Black chefs and food products, the museum aims to connect with the communities in its immediate surroundings and be more representative of the fabric and visitor numbers of Los Angeles as a whole.

“We really hope to tap into the creativity of Joe and Celia and John and Roni,” Bettison-Varga said, “and the other local food services to create opportunities in the future that we wouldn’t have been able to.” on our own by any stretch of the imagination.”

A pastrami sandwich on marbled rye against a green wall

Neighborhood Grill’s next signature sandwich is a southern version of a reuben with hot pastrami, rye bread, remoulade, collard kraut and smoked gouda cheese.

(Oscar Mendoza / For the Los Angeles Times)

Neighborhood Grill will occupy the space previously occupied by NHM Grill, which closed at the end of January. In preparation for the March 17 opening, the dining room is being painted with a mural. Digital aisle kiosks could help speed up the ordering process, especially when hundreds of guests arrive simultaneously. New furniture, including a communal table, will also help accommodate large groups.

In the calm before the storm, John Cleveland sees Neighborhood Grill as an evolution of Post & Beam, which as its own restaurant appears to be in a state of growth. During the pandemic, the Clevelands’ restaurant began hosting farmhouse dinners, appearing at more festivals and hosting historically-minded culinary events, the latest of which was spearheaded by chef Martin Draluck, which houses the Black Pot Supper Club at Post & Beam honoring the legacies of enslaved chefs. To continue the discussion, Draluck is currently planning with the museum to bring historic foods to the NHMLA grounds and draw from their archives to tell the story of Los Angeles and the Great Migration, among other voices and eras throughout history.

But Neighborhood Cafe is also an evolution of friendship and mutual respect, and a partnership that her team says is just getting started.

“One of the great things about running a business in South Los Angeles is that the business community is pretty close-knit and we all patronize each other’s businesses,” said John Cleveland. After years of conversing with the Ward-Wallaces via social media and over their meals at Post & Beam, and respecting South LA Cafe’s community grocery giveaways to those in need, the opportunity to work together was something the two of them loved. Clevelands couldn’t take advantage soon enough. . The Ward-Wallaces felt the same way.

“We felt like this was like part of our destiny,” Celia Ward-Wallace said. “We live five minutes away, (the Clevelands) live like eight minutes away, and (Joe and I) have had a family membership since our children were born. This place means a lot to us; it’s not just an opportunity. In fact, it feels like a divine assignment or that we were all getting to this moment.”

Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace hope that this new partnership and business base will one day grow beyond Exposition Park, and that other curated restaurants and programs will not only be the future of SLAC Hospitality but the rest of the country as well; Perhaps, they say, when it comes to amplifying Black voices and products on such an institutional scale, this is not a one-time restaurant opening but the start of a movement.

A margherita and a garden-style flatbread on a cutting board

Margherita and garden-inspired varieties are two of the flatbreads on the menu, which can also be ordered gluten-free.

(Oscar Mendoza / For the Los Angeles Times)