Johnny Ballen, owner of The Squeaky Bean, which opens Monday morning at 3301 Tejon Street in the former Mondo Cafe space, finds it amusing that everyone seems to think his new spot is a java joint.
"I'm having fun with all the guesswork," he told me yesterday over Squeaky spritzes, a psychedelically orange cocktail with prosecco, Aperol (an Italian apertif) and sparkling water. "All the moms on the Highland Mommies web site are trying to figure out what we're doing over here."
Allow me to explain: The first thing you need to know is that The Squeaky Bean is not a coffee house. The name did come about over beans, but they were green beans -- not coffee beans. See, Ballen and his girlfriend, Linda, were having dinner where green beans, just plucked from the garden, were a side dish, which led Linda to announce how much she loved green beans squeaking on her teeth. Ballen agreed -- and there you have it: The Squeaky Bean, at least in name, was born. "It wasn't at all contrived," said Ballen, adding that he equates the name with "freshness and earth."
But while the name came easy, opening the restaurant didn't. "It was definitely a headache," Ballen admitted. "We wanted to open in 2007, but everything just took a lot longer to evolve, then the credit crunch happened and money I was counting on never came in," he said. "But I'm no quitter," he continued. "I really believe in this neighborhood and in the space, so there was no way I was giving up."
All that extra time also gave Ballen time to think...and think...and think about what kind of restaurant he would eventually open. "I want this to be a place that's social, you know -- just a quintessential, eclectic neighborhood joint" ... with an emphasis, sort of, on women.
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"The menu is designed for women because women make all the decisions," quipped Ballen, right before giving me a side-by-side comparison of the bathrooms, which are, ironically, co-ed and walled with prints of the same guy -- the jumping bean -- holding a can of Original Coors because, as Ballen pointed out, "This is a Colorado joint, and what's more Colorado than Coors?"
I don't know. Man Beer. And pig roasts. Exactly right, said Ballen. "We're pouring Man Beer from the Bull and Bush, and since we have a fabulous patio, we're going to have an outdoor kitchen with a smoker so we can roast a 60, 70-pound pig each week. I think we'll call it pork-and-bean."
But the pig roasts probably won't begin until summer is in full scorch mode. When Squeaky Bean opens Monday, it'll only serve breakfast, weekend brunch and lunch, with Rachel Wolcott, Ballen's good friend and ex-owner and chef of Aix, now Olivea, running the kitchen -- but just until Max Mackissock wraps up his former short-lived gig at Primebar, which you can read all about here.
Dinner, said Ballen, will start in a month or so with Mackissock at the helm, and when it does, it'll give residents in the 'hood even more opportunities to explore their inner bean.