Alvin Cailan is sitting at his office, which is to say he’s sitting at one of the eleven small tables in Unit 120 — his newest culinary project. He’s scrolling through an ocean of emails, taking calls, and catching up on the past four hours of life he missed whilst in the kitchen. Unit 120 is a “culinary incubator”, or more specifically, a restaurant where chefs can test their menus and business plans in the LA market without the long-term commitments of a proper lease. The idea was born from Cailan’s desire to provide a low-risk space for his friends and colleagues to test their craft. “I wish I had something like this five years ago when I was starting up,” he said. “There are certain mistakes I could’ve prevented doing if I had a space like this.”
He’s in the kitchen today because “Amboy”, one of his many restaurant concepts, has taken residence in Unit 120’s space for the weekday lunch slot. The fresh-grilled Filipino cuisine’s flavors are simple, healthy, and delicious; and thriving in the Chinatown market. Cailan is more proud of what Unit 120 is doing for other chefs who are coming in for residencies than his own projects though. “We’re really trying to help people become restaurateurs and chefs of their own business without giving up too much,” he says.
The chefs and menus change on a nightly, weekly, even monthly basis depending how the public react to their food. Last month, “Lasa” was serving dinner on weekends. In March, Cailan is hosting a Filipino chef series. While it wasn’t his initial intention to create a Filipino food hub, his ties with the community have naturally developed the space that way, “I don’t want to be cornered as the Filipino spot though,” he says. “I have roots all through the industry, from star chefs to up-and-comers, who are all my friends and will be here at some point.”
The space is on par with expectations: Minimal. Functional. Intentional. Calian is creating community, not competition. “I’m gonna make a difference,” he says. “I don’t need luxury. I just want to be able to have children and take them to restaurants that I helped incubate. That would be dope!”
Really, he’s just a guy who loves food and people. “I’m literally just a big fat foodie,” he laughs. “If you look at my Instagram, I throw the word gormandizer round a lot — I’m one of those people who just love food. Almost gluttonously.” He’s not in the incubation industry for the business partnerships either though. “You can come in here and be the next Chipotle, man,” he says. “I don’t want to take a dime from you. I just want to be able to be like, hey you can use my space…I can help you with anything you need and let’s see where it goes.”
Written by Steve Day
Photographed by Oriana Koren