Over the past year, many have started calling Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles the new hottest area, especially when it comes to restaurants. But what does this mean for the current community? Some fear that they will be pushed out of the area when gentrification undoubtedly hits. According to American FactFinder, 21.4% of citizens in that ZIP code live below the poverty line, compared to 17% in Los Angeles County.
There is a fine line between advancing this neighborhood and wiping out its history. Although gentrification has yet to consume the historic area, restaurant owners in the area are prepared to fight to keep the tradition of Historic Filipinotown alive.
The Park’s Finest BBQ has quickly become an institution in Historic Filipinotown. Starting out as a catering business in 2009 and then transitioning into a brick and mortar restaurant a few years later, The Park’s Finest offers Filipino-inspired barbecue food.
“It’s a product of us growing up in the area,” said Chris Araquel-Concordia, one of the founders. “If you make a Venn diagram of the Philippines, American food and Los Angeles, The Park’s Finest is where all of those things intersect.”
The group of family friends that built this business, including Araquel-Concordia and Johneric Concordia, knew from the start that the restaurant needed to be more than a place where people can enjoy good food.
“We are of this community,” Araquel-Concordia said about her and her fellow co-founders. “We wanted to make sure the needs of the community were met.”
Historic Filipinotown has many needs; some have changed over the years, but many remain, including education in schools, affordable health care for senior citizens, and what Araquel-Concordia believes is most important: affordable housing.
“With the recent designation of Historic Filipinotown one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world, it’s got its different implications,” Araquel-Concordia said. “It’s good for drawing people to the community… [But] as residents of this community, as folks who are renting, there is a fear of possible displacement.”
Both owners do not want to get priced out as residents or restaurant owners. They want to make sure that the community continues to feel like they have a home at The Park’s Finest. It is a fear they talk about regularly.
“We reflect the demographics [of the area],” Concordia said. “We’ve made it a point to always be a safe space for our folks, [but] as you make it a place you can trust and feel comfortable in, it immediately raises value.”
Araquel-Concordia feels the same way.
“We’re all for development, but we want to be able to be a part of the development and have a say in what gets grown and developed in this community. We want the existing community to help build that up,” she said. “It’s about preserving ‘Filipino-ness.’”
In the end, The Park’s Finest needs and wants to continue to be a space for any and all members of this community for years to come.
HiFi Kitchen is a newcomer to Historic Filipinotown, having just opened in February. Owner Justin Foronda grew up in Historic Filipinotown in the 1990s. He, like the founders of The Park’s Finest, is a member of the community and also wants to see his restaurant serve the community for years to come.
“I know the neighborhood is changing. I’ve seen it,” Foronda said.
He noticed that there are new people in the area walking around the block and moving into older apartments. Foronda has found himself asking if they are going to lose the neighborhood.
“There are even people dubbing the neighborhood South Echo Park,” he said. “I just thought now is as good a time as any [to start this restaurant].”
Foronda believes that he cannot tell people where to live, but he can teach them about the area they live in; he is doing this through his restaurant and cooking Filipino-inspired dishes. He also worries about getting pushed out due to gentrification in the area.
“As a business, you have to adjust. If you don’t adjust, you’re not running your business correctly,” Foronda said. “If you’re not growing with your community, are you still serving your community?
However, he did note that it is important to stay true while being cognizant of the changing demographics.
Ultimately, lifelong alliances have been built in this area and values like cohesion and solidarity between ethnic groups are strong. The community is a tight-knit group of people working to lift each other up. Each family and restaurant has new and different things to offer, and there is lots of support between businesses to ensure the vibrant history of Historic Filipinotown is cherished for years to come.