Amara Kitchen


Food Culture: Sustenance + {Re}supply

Paola with vegan cookie. Photo by Fabiola Lopez.

Feeding Customers in Pandemic Times

Paola Guasp, founder and chef at Amara Kitchen, the beloved neighborhood restaurant, shares her pandemic adaptations and plans for expansion.

What changes to your business were brought about by COVID? How have you continued to serve your community in pandemic times?

Paola: We were lucky enough to be able to shift our business to a 100% to-go service model before we were even required to. It felt important to keep people employed during such an uncertain time, as well as being able to help keep the micro-economies afloat by staying open. Our biggest change has definitely been our limited customer interaction. Even so, it seemed (especially during the pandemic’s first couple of months) that our food provided a lot of comfort and a sense of “normalcy” to our customers.

Zine: Has anything changed for you personally, with California now easing out of lockdown?

Paola: Since I kept the restaurant open throughout, my life stayed the same – so on a personal level, not much changed.

Zine: Can you share a little about your cultural background and how that may have influenced the way you run your business?

Paola: I was raised highly untraditionally, but still had a lot of love and was shown how to care for others. That is also how I run my business, with love and care for others.

Zine: How did you come across the retail location you currently have in Highland Park?

Paola: I opened Amara with a friend and business partner (whose stake I bought in 2018). She was lived down the street from the current location when a friend of hers saw the business for sale and told her about it. My partner asked me if I would want to rent the space with her and that week we met with the owners, who had a few other offers but rooted for us, when they accepted our deposit first and we successfully acquired the space.

Zine: Do you have any plans for expansion?

Paola: Yes – I am opening a new location in Altadena on Mariposa Street at the end of the year. I started the process of opening the Altadena location in May of last year. We were originally set to open July 2020 but with COVID, the city took much longer than expected approving the building permits. Obviously, it’s not the ideal time to open a new location but we will make the most of it. Luckily, our food translates to pick-up if customers cannot dine-in by then.

Zine: How did you plan for this new location to be different from your current one and what kind of experience do you want people to have there?

Paola: The new location will have the same menu as Highland Park but with a few exclusive items. I love diners and wanted to infuse a bit of the classic diner vibe when I came up with the concept, but in an Amara way. We are building this location from the ground up – very different from the Highland Park location which was pieced together in a very genuine grassroots way. So I definitely don’t want to lose that charm with the Altadena location.

Paola with fresh produce. Photo by Jocelyn Ramirez.

Zine: What are some affordable menu items you would recommend? On the flip side, if someone wanted to eat at Amara as a celebration – what are some “splurge” items you feel would be worth the experience of sharing with a large party?

Paola: Any of our grain bowls are under $12 and are very filling and flavorful. A personal favorite of mine that won’t empty your bank account is the sweet potato quesadilla which is also around $12. Our cookies and any drink with our homemade almond cashew milk is a solid choice if you can spend extra. For a pricier meal, the bison ragù is actually my favorite food on the planet – like the last meal I’d request before I die!

If you’re looking to share Amara with friends or add to a celebration or gathering (when those are allowed again), bringing our vegan and gluten free chocolate chip cookies or brownies will surely make you at least a few new friends!

We also have a full-service catering department that doesn’t often serve what we sell at the café. We mostly create unique, custom menus depending on the occasion and needs of the client.

Zine: What kinds of events do you cater and what makes them special?

Paola: Mostly production photo shoots, but also everything from Halloween parties to weddings. The best part of catering is being able to create unique menus with each client so they can leverage our kitchen creatively to express themselves through food!

Workshops and the zine are organized by Slow + Sustain through the volunteer efforts of our contributors. Funding comes from both the contributors and the public.

Become a Subscriber and Get Exclusive Offers!

Members get access to exclusive exhibits and sales. Our memberships come in 3 tiers and are billed only once a year.