Sang Yoon Energizes L.A. Dining Scene

For the past decade a Korean American named Sang Yoon has been setting the pace for L.A.‘s dining scene with his Father’s Office gastropubs on Montana Avenue and in the old Helms Bakery building in Culver City.

In 2000 Yoon quit his post as executive chef at Santa Monica’s venerable Michael’s restaurant — the epitome of westside fine dining — to buy a small neighborhood bar called Father’s Office. By bringing in 36 brands of craft beers and creating a menu topped by his super-indulgent $12 Office Burger, Yoon put himself squarely at the forefront of the gastropub trend. Professionals fleeing the stuffy service, tired menus and over-priced red wines found refuge in the bold dishes, reasonable prices and microbrew culture of Yoon’s Father’s Office.

“People thought I was crazy — it didn’t make any sense, and that’s why I decided to do it,” Yoon recalled. “I was tired of the fine restaurant scene. I wanted a cool, comfortable place to hang out and have a beer and good food.”

Father’s Office quickly became enough of a local sensation to draw the likes of Steven Spielberg and Brooke Shields. The big star was his Office Burder which topped off a big patty of dry-aged strip steak with gruyere cheese, carmelized onions, arugular and a blue cheese dressing on French bread. It became known as the country’s best burder when it beat other chefs in a Today show cook-off. It was also emulated in restaurants and pubs across the country.

“I want to do everything better, faster, cleaner, cheaper than any traditional kitchen,” Yoon told a USA Today reporter in 2008. “For me it’s a game of what’s the least I can charge?“

The success of Father’s Office encouraged Yoon to position himself as a brand as well as a fresh gastronomical wind. After Father’s Office 2.0 in Culver City became another acknowledged hit, there was talk of books, investors and even namesake fine-wine labels. In February of 2011 Yoon opened an Asian fusion restaurant called Lukshon just one door down from Father’s Office in the Helms Bakery district. With a pricier menu and a selection of white (but no red) wines, Lukshon is positioned to move Yoon back into the fine dining milieu where he learned his trade — minus the white tablecloths.

Sang Yoon was born in Korea in 1971. His father was one of the founders of The Korea Times. His mother was a fashion model who later became a disc jockey. Yoon worked in Paris with famed master French chef Joel Robuchon and in Santa Monica with Michael McCarty, founder of Michael’s restaurant before becoming a restaurateur with his first Father’s Office. For exercise Yoon likes plays an aggressive and very physical game of ice hockey at a rink in Culver City.