It’s 74 degrees on a sunny, still summer afternoon in downtown Granada Hills, located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley (“The Valley”) of Southern California. If you were driving, you’d miss it unless you knew what you were looking for; fortunately for me, I’ve been here before.
“Joe’s Cafe” reads on a chalkboard A-frame outside the establishment, its only other distinguishing element being an overhead hanging sign the size of a traffic light displaying a symbol of an egg whisk, and a hand drawn sign near the entrance, Food Done Good.
There are a few wooden tables and chairs outside, and for good reason: the restaurant seats a maximum of 20 people inside. Complete with exposed beams, dark colored walls, custom hanging metal light fixtures and hand-made wooden booths with a small bar, Joe’s looks and feels very out of place among the area’s chain restaurants that are just around the corner.
I’m greeted by a tall, handsome guy with a 5 o’clock shadow and tattooed arms, and I take a seat in a wooden booth while a woman with blonde hair greets and socializes with who I would later learn to be her sister and niece, along with other family members.
I sip Intelligentsia coffee—black—while I wait for them to say their ‘goodbyes’ to family and close up shop.
“Hi, I’m Joe,” says the handsome guy with an extended hand, “and this is Aliceon.”
Joe and Aliceon first met three years ago at a pig roast held in a friend’s backyard. Rather apropos that an event revolving around food brought them together.
Joe, a graduate of the highly-acclaimed Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute, worked as an executive chef for a large corporation, but admits that, “It was simply for the paycheck. I didn’t enjoy the position.”
Aliceon, who worked in advertising and marketing for a large car dealership in Southern California, now runs the front of house and marketing for Joe’s Cafe.
Joe’s Cafe officially opened its doors on October 20, 2012 under its current name and menu. It had originally been a diner opened by a prior owner who had hoped to pass it on to someone else.
Joe explains how he and Aliceon became that “someone else”:
“Aliceon was working in The Valley doing marketing when we walked by this new breakfast place. We talked to the owner, and 30 days later we were signing papers to take over what would become Joe’s Cafe.”
Neither Joe nor Aliceon were looking to open their own restaurant, but in their own words, “Everything just fell into place at the right time.”
So Joe & Aliceon went to work to renovating the ceilings, walls, counters and light fixtures, everything save for the floors. Their families played a crucial role, donating countless hours and ideas to help build booths, tables, a custom counter and metal light fixtures. This place had to represent their style, not the previous owner’s. After three months of non-stop work, Joe’s Cafe was finally ready to be enjoyed by the masses.
If its name sounds simple, it’s because it was meant to be.
“We played around with a few names while we were renovating the place, but finally settled on the simplest, most natural name.”
Indeed, the menu follows suit to its namesake: simple, timeless and inviting. In true cafe fashion Joe’s is open for breakfast and lunch, with 20 total menu items to choose from : 10 breakfast dishes and 10 lunch items. They aren’t open later than 4:30 on any given day, and are closed Mondays.
“Both of us are home bodies, so we wanted to create a menu that reflected our personalities along with breakfast and lunch standards that we knew people were used to,” says Aliceon.
The menu at Joe’s has that ability to take dishes you’ve tried dozens of times at other places and make you forget all about them. Their ingredients aren’t outlandish or avant-garde (build your own omelets, stuffed french toast) compared to other locally-owned Los Angeles cafes, but they are dang tasty.
My personal favorite is their breakfast sandwich, with thick cut bacon on top of an egg folded and layered, topped with smoked Gouda cheese on a buttery croissant, all for $6.99. Coming in a close second is a tie between their stuffed French Toast (arguably their most popular menu item) and short stack of pancakes. Both come with fresh berries and cream; hidden in between pancake stacks are thin slices of banana—I tasted a hint of vanilla bean in them too.
Many of the menu’s ingredients are purchased local; produce comes from nearby Oxnard farms, along with most of their meats. Fruit used for fresh jams is purchased at local farmer’s markets around Southern California. Even the daily-squeezed orange juice comes from local groves, some even from people’s backyards. Those who bring in oranges receive a 20% discount off their meal.
“People started bringing in bags and bags of oranges, practically begging us to juice them,” says Aliceon, adding, “The Valley used to be nothing but orange groves, so it makes sense that there are still a ton of orange trees here.”
Much of the menu and overall vibe of Joe’s comes from the culture and scene of Eagle Rock, a somewhat small, hip town outside Los Angeles known for its myriad locally owned restaurants and bars and creative scene. It’s also where Joe and Aliceon currently live.
“In essence, we wanted to bring a little bit of Eagle Rock to The Valley,” says Joe, who with Aliceon still commute
Not if, but when you go, be prepared for a crowd. Joe’s doesn’t take reservations, and the entire indoor space could fit into most people’s community pool. This isn’t to mention the throngs of regulars who know a good thing when they find it, waiting ever so patiently at 7:25 AM in their parked cars for Aliceon to flip over the hand made wooden sign to “open”, giving them a wave from the front door to confirm everyone’s wishes.
Joe’s Cafe is located in beautiful downtown Granada Hills at 17815 Chatsworth St. Their hours of operation are: Tues – Sun 7:30 – 4:30. Closed Mondays.
Photography by Benjamin Hunter.