Chefs from all over the country right now are drawing inspiration from Jessica Koslow’s humble LA breakfast and lunch restaurant Sqirl. It’s small, it’s hip, the people that work there are shockingly friendly, and the food is out of control delicious. In the interview below, Helen Rosner and Greg Morabito talk to Jessica about how she kickstarted the jam/grain bowl/toast/soft-scrambled egg revolution that’s currently sweeping the nation.
As always, you can get the Eater Upsell on iTunes, listen on Soundcloud, or subscribe via RSS or search your favorite podcast app. You can also get the entire archive of episodes — plus transcripts, behind-the-scenes photos, and more — right here on Eater.
Here's the transcript of our conversation in The Eater Upsell Episode 12: Jessica Koslow, edited to the main interview. For Greg and Helen's conversation about chain restaurant price inflation, you're just going to have to hit the button on the player above.
Helen: So here in the Eater Upsell Studio we have Jessica Koslow, the chef and proprietor of Sqirl and Sqirl Away in Los Angeles.Jessica: Hi.Helen: It's one of the coolest, most influential restaurants in the country right now.
Greg: This is in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles?
Jessica: You know, Silver Lakers would say it is actually in Virgil Village, it is the backside of Silver Lake. So, area of — Silver Lake area.
Helen: Is it like the Silver Lake of Silver Lake?
Jessica: It's the new Silver Lake of old Silver Lake.
Helen: All right, and like, Silver Lake — I haven't been to L.A. in a really long time, so I'm very out of the specificity of it, but Silver Lake is like the Williamsburg of L.A.?
Helen: It feels like the — where the beautiful people with, like, artfully torn T-shirts live.
Jessica: Lots of man-buns in Silver Lake and in Venice. But we have a joke that there's a manhole on the street, and you just pick it up, and you jump in, down, and you come up into Williamsburg, so that's pretty much —
Helen: Like a total portal.
Jessica: It is, it is portal.
Greg: Oh yeah. I'm in.
Helen: I love that.
Helen: So Sqirl, is um — again, I have not been to L.A. in forever, but from what I understand, Sqirl is like, in many ways this sort of emotional and culinary center of a lot of what's going on in Silver Lake. And the food that you serve and the type of mood that you have in the restaurant has wound up being exported all over the country, and, like, people are like, "Oh my God, I want to hit this cool L.A. vibe," and that winds up being basically the Sqirl vibe.
Jessica: It's a little crazy, you know, sometimes, like, my inner me is like, "You need to take responsibility for that and say, ‘Yes, that's exactly what's happening.’" Um, but I do feel it. I feel that there is this thing happening with breakfast and lunch, that people are paying more attention to those meals at the start of the day. And how to create areas or restaurants that have a sense of an emotional attachment, a sense of community. A place that you feel like you can go every day, and that is unique both in, you know, the energy in the room and the food that's being served. And you know, for me, that's what been important in creating the quote-unquote "Sqirl vibe," and so, yeah, I think maybe that's what people are doing now, is trying to create their own energy and a place where, you know, people can feel at home.
Greg: Jessica, how did you get into food? Were you somebody that grew up, like, loving food and cooking, you know, or is this something that you found later in your life?
Jessica: Yeah, I found it later. I grew up figure-skating. And because I grew up figure-skating, I actually grew up with a — not really with an awareness of food, but not an attachment to it. Basically, more eating to sustain and be active, and maybe more consciously eating, but not really getting to fully explore what food was. You know, I also — my mom was a single mom, and she was working a lot. And so it was basically whatever was in the freezer, like Tyson, a lot of Costco, kind of upbringing. Unfortunately, it wasn't the most exciting food upbringing for me, and only later, when I wasn't skating was I, like, actually navigating, I was like, "Wow, this — I've never heard of this, this is interesting." And it started in college, when I met a friend who is a cranberry farmer in his — third-generation cranberry farmer. And he was, like, really excited to explore food, and I was so curious, and I was like, "Take me on all these adventures." And that's kind of how the love for food started.
Helen: Did you ever go to his cranberry farm?
Jessica: Yeah, and so —
Helen: Was it like a bog, like a real —
Jessica: It's a total — it's the Ocean Spray commercial. It is a bog, he lives in Carver, and this area in Carver is Finnish.
Helen: In Massachusetts ?
Jessica: Yeah, in Massachusetts. It's a Finnish area where — a lot of Finnish people emigrated in the 1800s, and now these generations later own these bogs. And they all really connect with Finland still, but they don't speak the language. They all have saunas on their property, and talk about, like, Finland, but they've never been. It’s so crazy — it's a really unique thing and area.
Helen: Are cranberries a Finnish thing?
Jessica: I don't — I think it was more that they had emigrated to this area.
Helen: And that's where you farm the cranberries?
Jessica: And that's where you farm the cranberries. So yeah, they're part of the Ocean Spray co-op, but they — it's the only jam we make at Sqirl that is not from California, we get cranberries from him every year and we make his cranberry jam.
Helen: And jam is the thing that Sqirl began with, was that you make these incredibly creative, slightly left-of-center, not super-sweet, not, like, lowest-common-denominator-palate-style jams.
Jessica: Yeah, it started there. I guess the thing is, I went to college and graduate school, and then —
Greg: Where did you grow up?
Jessica: I grew up in California.
Greg: Oh cool, in southern California? Jessica: Yep. Yep. So, but my mom's a dermatologist, so I grew up in an ice rink and not in the sun, so I really like — summers to me were how I could be in an icebox and —
Greg: What was your thing with ice-skating? Were you single? Did you ice-skate with a partner? What did you do?
Jessica: No, I was too big. Like, can you believe that?
Helen: You're, like, a tiny person.
Jessica: Yeah, but the type of partner that is for pairs is like 4’9", you know, 90 pounds.
Helen: I guess the TV doesn't accurately convey that when we're like —
Jessica: Yeah, everyone looks so tall there.
Greg: Did you like it? Were you somebody that was like, going to the rink all the time after school?
Jessica: Yeah, a little rink rat.
Greg: Rink rat?
Jessica: Yeah, but I think what the good thing about being young and hungry and really 100 percent committed to something was it gave me that passion to figure out, you know, that path. It gave me passion and that understanding of giving 100 to 110 percent of my time and energy. And I was able to transfer that once I figured out what was next for me into what I do now.
Greg: Wow. Did you want to go to the Olympics?
Jessica: Yeah. I think every kid who's like 110 percent is like, "That's what, you know, Monopoly prize," you know.
Helen: Who was your, like — who was your figure skater that you were really into?
Jessica: Scott Hamilton.
Helen: Oh, really? You weren’t, like, a Kristi Yamaguchi ride-or-die?
Jessica: No, no. I was more of a Scott Hamilton. He did these really beautiful, intricate patterns in the ice. And it was just so classic. I loved him for that.
Helen: I feel like the early-to-mid ’90s were, like, peak cultural figure-skating.
Helen: You know it was the whole Nancy Kerrigan moment, and —
Greg: That shit was addictive, that drama.
Helen: Oh, my — the Tonya Harding thing was like — what was it like being on the inside? Like, you were in figure-skating culture when all of that was happening.
Jessica: I was still so young, though, you know. Those were like my idols, like, beating the crap out of each other. It was very strange to be, you know, looking up to people who are — and going to the Olympics and seeing that they were basically in a very terrible feud.
Helen: Yeah, and like, literately kneecapping each other.
Helen: That was my first exposure to, like, major hit-style violence.
Greg: Totally. So when did the ice-skating bug die? Did you just go to college, and you're like —
Jessica: Yeah. I went to college, and I worked. I did a sport that doesn't exist anymore in the world. It's called school figures. That's kind of why I love Scott Hamilton —
Helen: Like school figures?
Jessica: Yeah. There are these beautiful, intricate figure-eight patters. That's why Peggy Fleming won the Olympics. It's so not food-related.
Helen: No, but everything is food-related, in its way.
Jessica: Yeah, but I was at the last National and World Champion in that sport. It doesn't exist anymore. It couldn't really continue on.
Helen: So the logical next step is jam.
Jessica: Eating, more like it. The logical next step was like, "Oh my God. There's a world of food out there that I've never known." It felt like such a mystery, you know. So that was, I think, that was the first step, was exploring all of what the food world was. And then, trying to mimic that at home, and cooking at home, and finally after grad school. I was like, all I wanted to do was cook at that time. It was just like a cooking fervor.
Greg: What did you go to grad school for?
Jessica: It's a program called Communication Culture Technology. It’s like —
Helen: It sounds like what we do. Like our job.
Jessica: It might be.
Greg: I'm going to tell people that’s what I do from now on.
Jessica: Yeah. It was this very multifaceted program at Georgetown that was partially MBA, partially academic. And everyone who left there — in my class, anyway — is either, like, works in digital broadcasting, digital media, or works for Google, creating new products, and yeah, it's —
Helen: And you own L.A.’s hippest restaurant.
Helen: Which is the Google of restaurants?
Jessica: I don't know. I mean, it’s the Apple of —
Helen: But it does sort of speak to, I think, a certain amount of, like, focus and drive. And I also I have this hypothesis that has been slowly building over these conversations that we've been having with folks for the Eater Upsell, which is that the people who really pull it off in their careers are people who like to do everything. Like, who don't just like to cook, or just like to be on TV, or just like to pick out the chairs for the restaurant. But, like, who have interests, and like, get turned on, and get their passion sparked by, like, every facet of everything.
Jessica: Yeah. I think that there's a couple of different kinds — types of people that fit into that category, too. There are chefs that you know an investor sees a great investment. And they're like, "Look. We're going to be your front person. You just cook in the kitchen." Even like Hugh, I think Hugh Acheson is a great example of someone who, like, he can do it all. He was like, he can be in the kitchen. He can be on the floor. He's very personable. For me, actually, going and working in kitchens late, and also having a job, as I worked in production also —
Helen: Like TV production?
Jessica: Digital production, yeah.
Helen: Oh, whoa.
Jessica: So, having those other roles. Production allows you to see, all right, you need ten people to finish, to do this task, you know — in a kitchen, if you're a chef, you see you're cooking. That's your goal, is to check things off a list. When you have to step out and be a different, like a producer — you see, it's not only about that list. It's about ten other lists. And so all those other, you know, the academics, the other work that has nothing to do with the kitchen, help to define how to create something successful. I don't know, a model of success, or what works for me, I guess.
Greg: So after grad school, before the jam and prior, did you work at any kitchens?
Jessica: I did, I moved to Atlanta and got a job at Bacchanalia with, it's Anne Quatrano’s restaurant in the South. It's beautiful, James Beard.
Helen: It's a great restaurant.
Jessica: It's great. And I worked at her restaurant Abattoir.
Greg: What was your thing on the line? What did you do?
Jessica: I did pastry. That's also the thing, is, like, we did a lot of preserving. We did a lot of — I mean, that's the way of the South. The way the South is. Charcuterie, preservation at its core in every element. So that is my background, is in pastry. After that, I did work in L.A. doing — I was the bread baker for a place called Village Bakery and, you know, got to experience what night baking is all about. Um, but yeah, it's always been on the more sweet side of things.
Helen: So How did the jam thing happen? What is the story of the jam?
I was working in the South, and preservation is just a part of what, you know, what we did out of necessity.
Jessica: The story of the jam is just, I was working in the South, and preservation is just a part of what, you know, what we did out of necessity. And in California, it’s, the sun is shining every day. You can have a peach in your hand and be like, "There's jam," and I'm going to make that the same thing for, like, five more months. But you don't you know — living on the East Coast, I didn't really — I'm from L.A., but as an adult, hadn't really experienced, you know, how I was living. I didn't realize that I had — I was taking all this stuff for granted. So only when I came back to the West Coast, I was like, "Wow. Wow. I can have strawberries all year ’round, not just at this point where they're at the market, fleeting, for a couple of weeks," and no one else was really doing this. It was also something I knew I could do by myself. I didn't necessarily — I didn't have investors. I started from just me and a pot, and it just grew organically. And that seemed like something attainable. You know, like, just starting with one person.
Helen: And then it now is like this mini-empire.
Jessica: It's crazy. It's a lot.
Greg: So you started selling the jam at a market, is that the story?
Jessica: Yeah. I mean just farmers markets, and I sold a lot of stuff to Short Order. I was doing all of her pickling and jam on the backend. And, you know, I was doing it and I was like, "Wow, this is" — I'm glad I didn't know how hard it was going to be, you know. I'm glad that I went into it and was like, "This is what I love to do," that passion mind of like, just go and do it and see if it works out. And then, you kind of grow and evolve as you can. So I knew that the jam was a thing, but was it sustainable on its own? How was I gonna grow it. and It seemed logical to bring a breakfast and lunch element into the space. Because I had the space, and because it seemed — it seems, and it is, a connection between what I was doing with the jam. So the next step after doing the jam was to create this little café that was kind of the spinoff of what you could do with it.
Helen: I love that you only serve breakfast and lunch. I feel like there has been such a resurgence of appreciation for non-dinner dining in the last couple of years. And I mean, personally, like, I have become super-obsessed with breakfast, and I never thought I would be.
Jessica: Where do you go when you — is there a place that does, like, that obsession for breakfast can be —
Helen: I think it depends on what kind of breakfast you're obsessed with. Like, personally, I don't like maple syrup, which is a weird thing to dislike. And so many breakfast places are so maple-saturated, or that's the way they make a food into a breakfast food, is by adding an aspect of maple syrup to it. So I tend to like breakfast at places that have some kind of, like, not traditionally American culinary affiliation. Like, I really like going out for Asian breakfasts, or Italian breakfasts, or French breakfasts. But I don't know. How about you, Greg?
Greg: I'm a big fan of breakfasts as well. You know, I think that in New York —
Jessica: Of eating in general.
Greg: Eating in general, but seriously, I mean, I think I've maybe even talked about this, like, on the weekends, I love to wake up and immediately have a meal at somewhere nice, and something good.
Helen: Weekend breakfast is, like, one of my secret favorites. Because everyone’s so obsessed with brunch.
Helen: But, like, rolling into restaurant at 8:30 on a Saturday morning if you have your shit together and actually wake up. Jessica: At Sqirl at 8:30, it's bonkers. Everyone is, like, trying to beat the rush. We open at 8, and there's a line, like, out the door around the corner at 8. You're like, everyone’s trying to beat the rush, and they just made that 8 o’clock rush.
Helen: So are you —
Jessica: Come at 9.
Helen: Then do you, like, chill out at, like, traditional brunch times? If you roll in at 10:30, it's empty? No, it's never empty? No.
Greg: I'll say this, that New York has a lot of hotel restaurants.
Helen: Yeah, that's true.
Greg: Those usually serve — like the NoMad, for example. Which is, most people, I think, associate as a cocktail place, or —
Jessica: Special-occasion-dinner kind of thing.
Greg: Splashy thing, but, like, their breakfast that's served at 7:30 or 8 or whatever is amazing. You know. There's a few places like that in the city, but I don't think there's as much of this culture.
Helen: Well, your menu is — the sort of star of your menu are these bowls that you do. Like rice bowls and grain bowls, which are — now, like, Panera does grain bowls. I mean, they're, like, everywhere. I feel like this is all very traceable back to Sqirl. How does that feel, to, like, walk through the world and be like, "Oh my God," like, "My shadows are everywhere."
Jessica: I feel like — it's so — we all reference things, right. If there's a grain bowl, it will probably reference some sort of Japanese dish, or some sort of Jook dish. So I don't know that, if I feel responsible. I feel excited that — that it's just happening. I don't know how to describe, how I feel that.
Greg: I have this theory, actually, about Sqirl's influence on New York. Can I lay it on you?
Helen: I am psyched about this.
Jessica: Oh, gosh.
Greg: So, you know, I cover the New York restaurants, and in the last two years, there's been this new trend, I think of, what I call the kinda neo-health-food, California restaurant. Which is not, um, they're borrowing from it, but like people borrow musically, from different countries or something. Like —
Helen: It’s like the world music of restaurants?
Greg: It's like this idea of California. It's maybe, whitewash walls and some succulent plants, and, you know.
Jessica: I know who you're talking about, but who?
Greg: Well, there's many. There's many.
Helen: And when I say who, I don't mean one. I mean, like, I know, yeah.
Greg: Right, right, and —
Helen: They're very Instagram-friendly restaurants.
Greg: Yeah. And the food is, to my eyes, very — it takes a bit of inspiration from your restaurant in the sense that there are — emphasis on breakfast, emphasis on lunch. Grains, vegetables.
Greg: Vaguely healthy toasts. Toasts were a big deal.
Helen: Toasts. I mean, toasts, my God. Toasts.
Greg: Coffee. And, um, yeah, but, it’s just this thing that I find very new. There's always been kind of health-food restaurants in New York, but they haven't really been — they haven't had an aesthetic like this before. They've been kind of like, like, yeah. You wake up and you go to Angelica Kitchen. It's like, basically a diner for people that just eat healthy, or, you know.
Helen: Well, I think the New York place is — and maybe this is the case with L.A., I mean, I'd be interested to know how you feel about this, but the New York places are not actually healthy. Like, they are healthful, but, like —
Jessica: They're hearty. The food is hearty.
Helen: Yeah. It's not, like, a low-calorie experience. It's more of a virtuous experience.
Jessica: And that’s actually — when I think about references of what we're doing, I think about Richard Olney. I think French technique. I — we just had this incredible Iranian breakfast in Toronto. Like, those are like — I don't think California as my inspiration, but maybe it's ’cause I'm in the center of it and I don't see, but I know, like, avocados are everywhere.
Helen: Well, what do you call it? Like, in New York, we, or they — the word has become "California," but, presumably, you don't call your food California food.
Jessica: No. I mean, what I hope to see — yes, I mean, I hope to see vibrant, healthy, lighter fare. And a breakfast and lunch experience that has, like, a good vibe, sure. Put a succulent in the room, that's fine. But I'm also — what I don't see, and what I want more of, is I want to be challenged. I don't want just, like, a grain bowl to be put in front of me. Because they're out there. There's a ton of them out there.
Greg: So when you're putting together a dish, let's say a savory dish, because I know, and I have some friends that live in L.A. that absolutely love Sqirl and go there all the time. And they were explaining the phenomenon to me and saying, "You know, the savory breakfasts, it's just, there's nothing like it, and it's just different," that there's something else. And so let's talk about, like, a savory dish. Like, what's — you're putting something together. What are the components that, you know, are important to you?
This is the first meal you're putting into your body. How can you make it something that, like, sustains you in a way that doesn't feel like it’s, you know, a beer?
Jessica: This is a funny thing, ’cause I've said it a lot. A friend was asking me this, and my answer was acid. And they're like, "No. I think about acid like orange juice. Like, that should be your juice." I'm like, "No, but you need brightness in your food." He's like, "What comes to mind in breakfast is salt. Like, bacon salt, you know." What comes to mind is, like, pancake, something hearty, greasy-spoon thing. And here I am being like, "No. I want a lightness, like, I want to feel" — you know, this is the first meal you're putting into your body. How can you make it something that, like, sustains you in a way that doesn't feel like it’s, you know, a beer? And sometimes, that's when you go and eat breakfast, you’re just, "Oh man. I'm just going to sit on this couch for five to ten." But for me, I'm like, "All right. This is a meal, and maybe it's gonna guide you through lunch." And how can you make that meal get you going in, you know, in some way.
Greg: So it’s, yeah, it's about how it makes you feel, not just exactly how it's —
Helen: It's not just, like —
Greg: The components.
Helen: This grain, and then this green, and this whatever, but it's a gestalt. It's a holistic experience.
Jessica: I don't know if you, yeah. I really want you to come, and I want to know if you experience that gestalt.
Greg: Well, I'm curious to hear your thoughts as well. I actually have a — I have a theory about, a new theory about lines, especially really to breakfast, because I —
Helen: We have a lot of theories today.
Greg: A lot of theories today. A lot of theories today. Well, I was walking around Manhattan last weekend, and, you know, you see the, what I call a brunch bunch outside of, you know, just —
Jessica: Brunch bunch.
Greg: It's just a bunch of people standing outside. And it's never at the places that I think are really — well sometimes it is. Like Prune.
Helen: Prune is always —
Greg: You’ll see they always have a great crowd. But sometimes you see these places that are just like, why are people waiting outside? It's not even good. It's not even cool in there. And I think that sometimes, when people are like, "Okay. I need to go and have this meal," they just think of ,like, where they’ve seen crowds of people standing outside. And then theyre like, "Well, that's the place I have to go, then. That's what they serve it."
Helen: Well, the line phenomenon is that.
Jessica: That did happen to me. Like, in Toronto, there was the place Bang Bang Ice Cream, and I saw a line. And I was like, "You know what? I want to know what this is about. I'm gonna stand in this line." And I did.
Helen: It's good advertising.
Helen: I was in the middle of Kentucky a couple weeks ago, reporting a story about yard sales, and I was standing at some table, and I accidentally knocked over a pile of books, and I was, like, picking them up, and I apologized to the woman who was selling them for, like, blocking her table while I was cleaning up my mess. And she was like, "Don't worry about it. You're here." Like, "I want a crowd. Because a crowd draws a crowd." And I think that's true. I think a crowd draws — like, a line makes people be like, "Hey, what's the line for?"
Jessica: I know. It also keeps people away, and then when they don't see a line, the regulars are like, "Ah. Thank God. No line. I'll stop in right now."
Greg: I had heard this story that — Guy Fieri has a really bad restaurant in Times Square. And like, to say that it's bad is like, I know, an easy blow, but, like, it disappoints you on the —
Helen: I think that’s, like, just a factual statement.
Greg: It fails on the thing that it really shouldn't fail at, which is just being like a T.G.I. Friday’s.
Jessica: Have you guys been — I mean, it's so close.
Greg: Yeah. It's like that kind of thing where you're like —
Jessica: Eater holiday party?
Greg: You’re like, "The fries aren't crispy," you know.
Jessica: They're cold.
Greg: Like, the cheese isn't melted on this burger — it's like, just disappointing, you know, on all its levels, but —
Helen: This isn't like, "You had one job."
Greg: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And so — it's huge. It's 500 seats. And I was talking to someone who, right after it got all these bad reviews, said that there was a line to wait outside of it, and they waited in it for whatever reason. And then the restaurant was empty. They just set up a line outside.
Helen: That's so smart.
Greg: To drive up the demand.
Helen: That's brilliant.
Greg: To make it seem like the restaurant was full.
Helen: That's like a club, that's a club tactic.
Helen: But it works.
Jessica: It's been a long time, but I remember.
Helen:Well, but you mentioned regulars, and how regulars get excited when there's no line. And I think that's the thing — that might — I might be having, like, a therapeutic breakthrough right now. Like, I really like the feeling of being a regular somewhere, and maybe that's because I am a food writer. And so that's like a special break for me. But, like, I think oftentimes, a line is the enemy of being a regular. Like, because part of regularity is kind of having that feeling of comfort and familiarity, and sort of like you walk in and you have the Cheers moment. And like, you say hi to the person you know, and —
Jessica: We have a wall at Sqirl, and ever year we add plaques to it. We get together with all of — everyone of us gets together, and we talk about who are the regulars that come in to Sqirl every day or, that year. And we add their name to the wall. So it's been two years of plaques, and these regulars are those people who would come a lot. And you know, we've gotten a little busier, and so maybe they're not there as much. And there would be the ones that, like, "There's no line right now. I'm in. I'm here." And it is hard. It is hard to keep that regularity when you're serving more people. But at the same time, you want to keep your doors open. It’s a balance of it all, I guess.
Greg: So as a restaurateur, you like the line. You see that it’s, you know, it shows that people are —
Helen: Or do you have a complicated relationship?
Jessica: I have a complicated relationship on it. I think that, in order to be in business as a breakfast and lunch spot, you can't — because there's no alcohol, and this is something that I’ve talked about. And because the margins are just smaller, you can't — you can’t charge what you charge at dinner. You have to work in that way. You can’t — to have a seated restaurant and do two turns, three turns, it's just not going to be — you won't be in business.
Helen: Unless you have a line.
Jessica: Not in line. A different style of ordering.
Jessica: Like, the ordering system.
Jessica: So that's all I'm talking about. Whether we have a line or not, do I like a line? I mean, obviously, I would like to be busy. So I like that. I just want to make sure that whoever is at the register is kind. Because that first experience is something so integral to any coming back, is like, is that face nice to you. Right? Like, at this place I went to, I won't say what it is, but like, I stood in this line, I got to the front, and the person was like, "Huh." You know.
Helen: Just like, dead face.
Jessica: "Huh." And because of that, my response was, "Huh."
Jessica: You know, I didn't really want to go back there. And I'm sure they're exhausted. They're dealing with the line, and that breeds that kind of reaction as well. So —
Helen: But the line is an interesting psychology game. I mean, I think, like, you know, you're right, you know, as someone who has waited in lines, you do want to feel like there's a reward waiting at the end of it, and the reward is not just the food itself. But, like —
Jessica: But it’s also being in a busy, bustling restaurant. No line means, "Oh, it's kind of like, mellow day here." Like, where's the energy in the room?
Jessica: So it also breeds that experience as well.
Helen: I think a line is also kind of an inevitable by-product of the fact that food at lower price points is increasingly of very high quality. So, like, you know, like, people are getting super-excited here in New York about the fried-chicken sandwiches at Fuku, or the veggie burger that Superiority Burger. And, like, the nature of these spots is completely undermined by the idea of, like, reservations, or sit-down dining. And the product is, I mean, the prices are not unreasonable. Also, like, this is, like, super-high-quality food at a really affordable point —
Jessica: It's, Brooks’s — the food at Superiority Burger is absolutely delicious and incredibly affordable. In a way where I'm like, "Brooks, can you keep doing it this way?" Like, is that — everyone needs to go and eat there every night because it is just, it's too good, at a price that's too great.
Helen: But, yeah, and I think that's what the line is, is like, you have to — like, as a diner —
Jessica: That's the effect.
Helen: Youu have to pay. Well, you have to pay either money or time.
Jessica: That's true.
Helen: And what he's basically doing is saying, like, you know, "I’m going to keep the price really low, but the cost that is going to be borne by the diner is, like, you have to invest 20 minutes of your life waiting for the burger."
Helen: And fortunately, the product is totally worth it. But, you know, I mean, what's the other side of it? Right? Like, the places that have lines. With the one big line exception, which is the Cronut line, which I have a lot of feelings about. I feel like, usually, at the end of the line, there's something super worth it. And it's like, "Oh, yeah."
Jessica: I still haven't had a Cronut.
Greg: I've never had a Cronut.
Helen: This is not true. I've seen you eat a Cronut, Greg.
Greg: No, it's not true.
Greg: Yeah, no. I've never had one.
Jessica: Fauxnut, maybe?
Helen: My God. Am I the only of the three of us who's had a Cronut?
Greg: I think so.
Helen: I have never waited in line for a Cronut, though.
Jessica: Uh-oh. He wouldn't let you say that, really.
Helen: I shouldn't say that. Someone acquired a Cronut.
Jessica: Yeah. Because he like — yeah, someone acquired. Someone stood in line for that Cronut.
Helen: There was a line, but the Cronut line is a baffling phenomenon. Have you seen the Cronut line?
Jessica: Yeah, I mean — that's the amazing thing on Instagram, too, is like, he will tweet — or not tweet — he'll Instagram the line and be like, "Thank you, New Yorkers, for coming out today." And you're like —
Greg: Yeah. He's —
Jessica: Those are not New Yorkers.
Greg: He has an intimate relationship with his line. My favorite thing about that is that there are some people who are professional line-waiters. They have, like, a service, it's called, like —
Jessica: Oh, really?
Jessica: No way.
Helen: This is New York. You can buy anything.
Greg: I think it's just a few guys, actually, that will just wait in any line for whatever.
Jessica: Oh my God.
Greg: They charge $20 an hour or something.
Helen: It's a great gig.
Jessica: That's a great gig.
Greg: They have some company, and they tweet the photos of the Cronut line, and they're like, "We're ready. We're here." And, like, Dominique Ansel will, like, share that on his giant Twitter account.
Helen: He's playing into the secondary market?
Greg: He's fine. He doesn't care. He's like —
Jessica: He's like, you're givin me, you’re payin for a Cronut —
Helen: Shake Shack shut this down like four or five years ago. There was, like, a scandal that Shake Shack, the original one in Madison Square Park, on a beautiful day will often have a line that stretches around the block. And some, like, investment banks or something were sending their interns to hold places in line, so that, like, the bankers could stroll up whenever and just pick up their lunch. And Shake Shack totally shut that down. I don't know how, but, like, thought-policed it or something.
Jessica: But like, how? I mean, they're waiting in line. Someone's doing the waiting.
Helen: Do you think this is different from reservation-scalping?
Greg: I think it is different because the problem with reservation-scalping is then people don't take the reservations, I think that's the problem. Or people hold the reservations, they can't sell them, and then they don't get used. So it does — it hurts the restaurant.
Jessica: I don't know anything about reservation-scalping. No reservations at Sqirl.
Greg: It's a big, yeah. It's a big, it’s a big, weird racket in New York.
Helen: New York is full a lot of jerks who are obsessed with efficiency, basically.
Helen: I mean, I'm sure L.A. is in a different way.
Jessica: No. I think New York is such a fast-paced city. Change is happening all the time, and you have to be efficient here. In a way that, like, in L.A., you can still — I mean, I love the hustle. I lived here. I really embraced that energy. But, you know, it doesn't exist. I don't believe it exists at this level anywhere else.
Greg: I won’t ask you if Sqirl will ever come to New York, but will Sqirl ever live outside of L.A.?
Jessica: It's very possible.
Helen: I would be really excited about that.
Helen: Have you, um —
Jessica: I don't know if it would exist as Sqirl. With Sqirl Away opening, I think that that has more of a — I think Sqirl is a very unique situation where you know we’re being very creative every day, and pushing, changing the menu. And I really feel like I — that is, that’s why you go to Sqirl. You want to experience that.
Greg: To be present in the moment there.
Helen: That's so L.A.
Jessica: Is it? How so?
Helen: Just be here. Be present.
Jessica: Be present, guys. Come to Sqirl.
Greg: It's cool, though. See, that's the thing that doesn't —
Helen: Can I trade with that?
Greg: That's the California thing that is not at these California places. That idea, though.
Helen: They don't have the soul — have you been to any of the California-style New York restaurants?
Jessica: Yes, yes, absolutely. They're good. Yeah.
Greg: They're good.
Jessica: And the vibe is good, and it's fun, and they're busy. They're busy restaurants.
Greg: They're busy, yeah.
Greg: When is the book coming out?
Jessica: Spring of 2017.
Helen: That's wild.
Helen: I'm obsessed with the name of Sqirl Away. Like, that is — I mean, I don't know. I like terrible puns, but like, it’s so good!
Jessica: It's a terrible pun, but we were trying to think of what to call that space.
Helen: Because it's a takeaway restaurant of Sqirl. That, like, also, Sqirl Away is — it just makes me very happy.
Greg: It's so good.
Jessica: It's good. It feels right. We were trying all these other names, and then I was "Why don't we just call it Sqirl Away?" and we're like, "Why didn't we think about that?"
Greg: It's clever, but it's fun. It's not, like, "I get it."
Helen: And it works if you don't get the pun, but I didn't get it at first. Then, I remember, like, a day later, being like, "Oh my God, oh my God." I had such an excited moment.
Helen: No, it's good. It is good.
Greg: Well, Jessica. It's time for this part of the Eater Upsell that we like to call the Lightning Round.
Jessica: Okay. I haven't — what does that mean?
Helen: It means we're going to ask you a series of questions, and you tell us the answers.
Greg: It's terrifying.
Jessica: I'm terrified.
Greg: Just kidding.
Helen: If you answer them right, you win $10,000. That's not true.
Greg: Okay. So question number one is, you are on a road trip by yourself. You're blasting some music, and you're singing along to it. What is it?
Helen: You don't have to actually sing, but you can. You just tell us what it is.
Jessica: It might — oh God. It might be A Flock of Seagulls, "I Ran." Yeah.
Helen: Yeah. No shame. That's good.
Jessica: That's good.
Helen: This is a judgment-free zone, and also, that's a really good answer. Like, even if we were judging, I don't think we would judge that.
Greg: Yeah. I'm not judging. It's cool.
Jessica: You're just not looking at me right now. You're just like, "I’m not judging you." Eyes to the floor.
Helen: I'm just avoiding eye contact.
Greg: That was an incorrect answer.
Jessica: Where is the buzzer. I was —
Helen: When you walk into a bar that you've never been to before, what's your go-to drink?
Jessica: It depends on what kind of bar it is. If it's just, like, a really dodgy bar, I'll see if they have Campari and soda. Just, I feel like that's the go-to drink for me always. Nicer bar, I love Pisco Sour. Something with an egg white.
Helen: Oh, that's interesting. I don't think egg whites in cocktails, but this isn't about me. This is about you.
Greg: Aren't they called flips?
Jessica: Now you're not looking at me. This is like —
Helen: No, this is my personal —
Jessica: I'm not making friends here. Did you say farts?
Greg: No. I think they're called flips.
Jessica: Oh, flips.
Helen: Yeah, cocktails with egg whites in them. But sour mix — traditionally, if you're making your own sour mix and not buying the horrible, like, jarred shit from the store — traditionally it has an egg white to, like, give it that viscosity.
Greg: Well, Jessica. This has been real.
Helen: This has been a very special episode.
Greg: Thank you so much for coming by.
Jessica: Thank you for having me, guys.
Helen: Such a pleasure.
Greg: Are you on Twitter — what's your Twitter handle? Jessica: It's the same as Instagram. It's SqirlLA. No U. No U.
Jessica: It's just S-Q-I-R-L-L-A.
Helen: "Squirrel" without a lot of the letters.
Jessica: Oh, yeah. I'm sorry, guys. It’ll —
Jessica: Plague me forever.
Helen: No. We forgive you.
Helen: Cool. Thanks for joining us, Jessica.