Thirty-year-old Los Angeles native Jason Bernstein first met his friend and future business partner, James Starr, when the two were in high school at Crossroads. Last year, they decided to ditch their marketing jobs and start the Golden State Café on Fairfax. We had a chance to talk to Bernstein (unfortunately, not over one of the artisanal draft beers he carries at the restaurant) about starting his own restaurant in L.A., and just what it is about beer that he loves so much.
LA.com: What made you and James decide to open up a restaurant?
JB: There may not have been a single catalyzing moment but I definitely recall getting an IM from James saying, "We should open a restaurant." I wrote back, "I'm down." A few minutes later, my phone rang and in about 10 minutes we had hashed out the basics of what a "James and Jason place" would be.
LA.com: What is the concept behind Golden State, and how did you come up with it?
JB: I am incredibly blessed to be constantly surrounded by the most talented people EVER. Those people came out of the woodwork to make The Golden State a possibility. My friend Norm painted the logo on the façade. Other friends Chandler and Gabe donated art for the walls. My cousin Mark is a genius with computers and design, and James's wife Mollie pretty much runs the entire place and keeps us in line. On paper, The Golden State is a celebration of California, but in reality, this place the manifestation of the talent that surrounded us.
LA.com: You have some special menu items like Let's Be Frank dogs and Scoops gelato . How did you get those on your menu, and why did you choose them?
JB: The restaurant is sort of a combination of "The Best of California" and "What James and Jason like." Every effort was made to dovetail those two. We had loved Scoops gelato for years and the reason that Tai chose to work with us was because we made it really clear that we wanted to present his stuff in the way that he felt was best.
James's dad Phil had been a huge fan of Sue Moore's Let's Be Frank for a long time. Those hotdogs were even served at James's wedding. When it came time to choose hotdogs, it was a no-brainer: we wanted them and Sue liked the space. It's been a great fit.
Mark Jilg at Craftsman Brewing is well known both for his meticulously crafted brews as well as making sure that his beers are served properly. After explaining what we were trying to do, he agreed to provide us with beers. It gets better though. One day I come back from a trip to the hardware store and I see a couple of legs sticking out from behind the beer case. Mark pops his head up, and says, "You didn't think I was going to trust you knuckleheads to set this whole thing up, did you?" So I can confidently say that our entire beer case has been set up and blessed by none other than the owner of Craftsman Brewing.
LA.com: What are some of the challenges of opening a restaurant in LA?
JB: When we began this project , I had heard from a bunch of people that running a restaurant is challenging and we were both anticipating those challenges. One thing that no one really talked to us about was how difficult it was to start a restaurant. What really caught me off guard was how contradictory some of the city departments were. When we had our final gas inspection, the inspector came by and said, "I can't approve this. You need the Fire Marshall to sign this off." We called the Fire Inspector. He came by and said, "Looks okay to me, but you need to have the gas turned on for me to sign this off." We explained the Catch-22 so everything turned out fine. There are quite a few stories like this. Impediments always pop up (especially when dealing with bureaucracy) so get ready to put on a smiley face to cover up those gritted teeth.
LA.com: What are some of your favorite beers that you have on tap?
JB: This is a bit of the "Sophie's Choice." It sounds trite to say that I love them all but I really do. Every beer here was chosen to fulfill a flavor profile as well as be representative of something that I believe in.
LA.com: What beers can we look forward to in the future at Golden State?
JB: In the not-too-distant future, we're probably going to put on Stone's Cali-Belgique Ale which is basically a synergistic fusion of a Belgian ale with an American-style IPA. We also have Pizza Port's Hot Rocks Lager coming on in the next week or so.
LA.com: What are some of your favorite places to grab a beer around town?
JB: My favorite two beer spots in LA are Pure Luck, which is right across the street from Scoops, and Blue Palms Brewhouse right by the Henry Fonda Theatre. They always have some terrific and interesting brews.