By Frier McCollister
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
For most of us, the reality of life in the “yellow tier” has begun to vaguely resemble life “BC” — before COVID-19.
Many of are fully vaccinated. There’s a sense of relief and an assurance that a quick run out for a burger or taco isn’t a threat.
The city of Pasadena has protected its local restaurateurs and its food culture admirably. That said, bar owners, particularly those without kitchens or the capacity to seat patrons at tables, remain in the same quarantined limbo that has persisted for more than a year.
Prior to March 2020, for those in the know, Everson Royce, the cozy wine and spirits shop next to the Armory Center for the Arts, regularly hosted popular public tastings at its sleekly minimalist standing bar, running the length of the store’s southern wall.
Most notably, Tuesdays featured $15 wine tasting flights of three curated selections. Boards of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie were placed along the bar for palate-cleansing and voracious snacking. The bartenders were all reliably friendly, knowledgeable and articulate in describing the provenance, terroir and flavor notes of the wines they served. Sometimes, the actual winemaker might even be pouring. The Tuesday night crowd at Everson Royce was always a diverse and convivial gang of oenophiles, gourmands and neighborhood slackers. Even when elbowing into the cheeseboard to fight for the last slice of comte or camembert, smiles abounded, glasses were clinked and friends were made.
Besides being a well-loved neighborhood fixture in Pasadena since opening in April 2012, it’s not widely known that Everson Royce is also a primary pulsing node in a vibrant network of gastronomic activity that spans the eastside of Los Angeles and Downtown. Silverlake Wine? It gave birth (literally) to Everson Royce. Everson Royce Bar and Arts District Wine, downtown? Same group. The complex in Highland Park on Figueroa comprising Highland Park Wine, Triple Beam Pizza and the critically acclaimed restaurant Hippo? Yeah, Everson Royce is behind that, too.
Joe Capella is one of the three principal partners of Everson Royce along with April Langford and Randy Clement, the couple who also own the mothership: Silverlake Wine. Everson and Royce are the names of their identical twin sons, who recently turned 11. Capella is usually found in the Pasadena shop. He’s the tall, genial guy with the purple beard.
“I was friends with Randy and April, who are two of the three owners of Silverlake Wine,” Capella said.
“They are also the parents of the eponymous Everson and Royce, twin boys. I was interested in doing something in the world of hospitality and I asked them if they could give me some advice. The answers were in this succession: Yes, but what’s there to talk about? Let’s just start doing things together and I said, ‘OK,’” Capella explained.
During the next few months, the plan to expand came together. Formerly the site of Heritage Wines, the Raymond Avenue spot was discovered and secured. Specializing in organic, biodynamic and naturally cultivated wines from small producers around the world, the store typically stocks more than 600 labels, including a wide selection of artisanal spirits.
The local response was enthusiastic, and the success of the Pasadena venture led to the opening of Everson Royce Bar in LA’s Downtown Arts District in September 2015. Also known as ERB, the bar quickly became known for its food menu of small plates and snacks engineered by Nancy Silverton protégé, Matt Molina, who had previously helmed Silverton’s Osteria Mozza, when it garnered a Michelin star.
At Everson Royce, there’s always a deeper connection.
“Randy, the father of Everson and Royce, started at (Silverton’s) Campanile the same week that Matt started at Campanile, many, many years ago now,” Capella said. “Randy was a server at Campanile. Matt was a line cook and they worked at Campanile together for a number of years and then always kept in touch.
“When Matt was looking for some new challenges and new opportunities, we had opportunities and challenges. It was fortunate. It was fortuitous in the technical sense of that word, but it was also quite fortunate.”
Molina’s culinary turns were lauded widely, and ERB became a popular buzzing hub in the Arts District.
ERB has largely been shuttered during the pandemic, but Capella was hoping to reopen as soon as May 26.
“We have some plumbing issues that are on city property,” Capella said.
“That’s always a little bit of an adventure, but we’re getting those fixed right now. We could have technically opened before now, but we weren’t prepared for it. So, we decided better to be safe and do it right than rush it.”
The menu is still the Molina’s baby, as he’s the executive chef. That said, Molina is also the chef at his own restaurant, the upscale Hippo in Highland Park. Hippo is the cornerstone operation in the small complex that also houses Highland Park Wine (also owned and operated by the Everson Royce partners) and Nancy Silverton’s popular walk-up Roman-style pizzeria, Triple Beam Pizza.
“We were putting that package together for a while,” Capella said.
The Triple Beam Pizza saga is also worth noting.
“It just worked out in relatively casual conversations with Nancy,” Capella said. “She said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea for a Roman-style pizzeria that I’ve just been mulling over for a bit. Would you guys like to do it with me?’ We said, ‘Yes!’ She says, ‘Before you answer, you’ve got to go to Rome and go to this pizzeria I’m thinking about.’”
For eight days, Capella and Molina traveled around Rome, consumed the pizza and agreed to a pizzeria. It’s well worth a jaunt to Avenue 59 and Figueroa for a scissor-cut rectangular slice or two of the authentic, pan-baked pie.
Everson Royce has remained open through the pandemic, though customers can’t browse the aisles like the old days. Call ahead for a specific order or come up to the gated open door for personal consultation with Capella or his affable colleague, Eric Olney.
While the public has been waiting for the wine bar action to resume, Capella has been supporting the community during the pandemic. Partnering with the nonprofit No Us Without You, Capella helped raise $23,000 in a raffle of 16 bottles of single barrel whiskeys he selected. Again, the connections run remarkably deep.
No Us Without You’s mission is to provide food and support to undocumented hospitality workers and their families. Formed the day after the lockdown ensued in March, No Us Without You distributes more than 160,000 pounds of food every week to over 1,600 families.
The founders of No Us Without You are Othon Nolasco and Damian Diaz. Nolasco is the former bar director at Everson Royce Bar and Diaz was a lead bartender there.
The latest community effort at Everson Royce is the sale of select single-barrel, numbered bottles of El Tesoro Reposada tequila. Again, the promotion directly benefits No Us Without You. The limited edition bottles are sold at $33.
“We donate $33 for every bottle sold,” Capella said.
“So, every bottle of tequila that gets sold feeds a family of four for a week. We’re just happy to be in Pasadena and happy to be in a position to help people.”