Saturday, June 30, 2012


The Soloist is a movie based on the true story of an unlikely friendship between Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, a Julliard trained musician who ended up on skid row - homeless and suffering from schizophrenia.  The story encapsulates the passion of music and the beauty of redemptive friendship.  Off screen, Steve Lopez was able to assist Nathaniel Ayers with playing his violin at Disney Hall, producing a cd, meeting President Obama at the White House, and eventually getting him set-up in an apartment.

Another great L.A. story involves the owners of a grocery store, Jon Murga and Helena Jubany (husband and wife). They were actually inspired by "The Soloist" movie when they were designing plans to open up Fresco Community Market. Jon and Helena opened the market with the idea of reinvesting their own profits back into the local Hermon neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles.  This couple also established the Fresco Community Foundation which helped them to maximize the amount that they can pour back into the community.  Since the market's opening, John and Helena have hired about a dozen people who were recruited through the L.A. Mission's Work Start program; all of these hires were once homeless.

In addition to the humanitarian efforts that Jon and Helena have provided to the locals, they have also blessed the neighborhood with a top-notch store.  One customer remarked, "It's like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's had a baby."  L.A. Weekly gave Fresco Community Market the distinction of being the "Best Grocery for Saving the World in a Time-Efficient Manner."  They say its a one-stop shop for all your ethical-food needs.  And, indeed when you venture through this customer friendly, super clean store, you can find an on-site butcher, organic produce, an extensive cheese selection, a wide variety of cultural foods, a reasonably priced bakery and cafe, a generous micro-brew collection and many other general and exotic items.
 Photo by Felicia Friesema - LA Weekly
When I met John Murga I was so impressed by his efforts to take his personal business and invest in people rather than focus merely on corporate profits.  This is a man who truly believes in community restoration.  Last year, during a flurry of windstorms in the area, several thousand people lost power during an outage.  Mr. Murga helped the local residents by offering refrigerator-freezer space in his market so that his neighbors would not lose their own groceries.

If you happen to be in the Highland Park-South Pasadena area, make sure you drop by this terrific little market.

Friday, June 1, 2012


This week has been particularly difficult because of the loss of a great man and friend.  Chef Robert Wong of Bridge Road Bistro passed away on Tuesday.   I met Robert when I was the executive chef at the Greenbrier.  Prior to serving at the White House, Robert was my sous chef.  When I left the Greenbrier, he took over the helm as the executive chef for the next five years.  Robert went on to launch a successful career as a restaurateur, opening several establishments including Eli Tavern at Snowshoe Mountain, The Power Alley Grille, and the Bridge Road Bistro in West Virginia.  However, one of his finest gifts that he offered to people was his involvement with the Breaking Bread ministry at Christ Church United Methodist.  He and his wife helped launch this outreach program to help feed people in need every Wednesday night.
Photograph from the Bridge Road Bistro website

I was blessed to have  spent time with Robert just a few short weeks ago at the Mary Babb Randolph
Cancer Center Gala where several Greenbrier chefs gathered together to help with a fundraising event.  Robert was so full of life and generous with the sharing of his Christian faith.  It is very unfortunate that he has been taken at such a young age. 
Services for Robert will be held this Sunday, June 3rd at 6 p.m. (eastern time), at the Christ Church Methodist on Quarrier Street in West Virginia.  I am missing him greatly.  My condolences go out to Robert's dear family, friends and the greater community at large.

Unable are the loved to die, For love is immortality.   ~Emily Dickinson

More about Robert can be read here.