Richard Foss

Restaurant titans Chez Mélange, Abigaile announce closures

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The two restaurants launched careers and trends, but both will soon shutter

Chez Melange partners Robert Bell and Michael Franks in 2009, on the evening they closed their original location in the former Plush Horse Hotel coffeeshop. Photo by Kevin Cody

Less than two weeks into the new year, South Bay diners were hit with not one but two bombshells: two restaurants that changed the area’s culinary culture were closing. Chez Mélange opened in 1982, Abigaile in 2012. Both launched trends that continue to shape the South Bay.

When Chez Mélange opened the South Bay restaurant scene was a decade behind the rest of Los Angeles. The new venture single-handedly dragged us into the contemporary scene. People came from miles around to gawk at a menu that wasn’t organized around any particular cultural theme, blurred the distinction between appetizers and main courses, and changed every single day, based on the best ingredients that were available. The wines included small producers few had heard of, and the staff was trained to pair them with items that were Italian, Chinese, Hispanic, or nothing we had ever seen before.

The Chez pioneered wine dinners, guest chefs, and many other ideas during their early years. Chef Robert Bell often came out of the kitchen to interact with customers and was as much a part of Chez’s image as his partner Michael Franks, who ran the front of the house. The two are one of the longest running restaurant teams in Los Angeles. In 2009, they expertly steered the restaurant through a relocation and in 2017 rebranded  their main room as the seafood-focused Sea Change.

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That partnership will come to an end on leap year day, Saturday, February 29, when, Chez Mélange will close. Bell will become executive chef at the new Pacific Standard Prime steakhouse in Redondo Beach, while continuing to operate his Mama Terano restaurant in Rolling Hills Estates. Franks hasn’t announced his plans. “This restaurant has been my whole life, the most meaningful thing I’ve done, ever, but it was time,” he said.     

Abigaile partners Jed Sanford and Chef Tin Vuong in front of the restaurant’s graffiti wall in 2013. Photo by Esther Kang

Abigaile doesn’t have as long a history, just under a decade, but has been similarly influential. The restaurant was a steakhouse called Union Cattle Company, when owner Jed Sanford decided a change was in order and remodeled and rebranded it. Founding chef Max DiMare lasted only a short time. When he was replaced by Tin Vuong the magic began. Sanford and Vuong went on to create a restaurant empire that includes branches of Little Sister in Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Irvine and downtown Los Angeles, Steak & Whiskey and Dia de Campo in Hermosa, Wildcraft Pizza in Culver City, and Bluegold and LSXO in Huntington Beach.

Abigaile is closing on January 19, but Sanford is leaving open the possibility that “something in the Abigaile spirit” will reopen in the South Bay. The current location has a fully functional microbrewery that is unused, so a new space might be much smaller. When Abigaile opened Sanford referred to it as his passion project, and it still is, but for different reasons. “Abigaile is where Tin and I came together, it’s the soul of where we started. It’s too big for what we want to do now, so we’re closing it and finding places for all the employees at our other properties. All good things come to an end,” he said this week. ER

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