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Crossings Restaurant in South Pasadena, Calif.

An adaptive reuse of a classic building, this restaurant blends historic and contemporary decor, placing the guests' focus on a compact yet efficient open kitchen.

Crossings Dining-to-Wine-CellarPhotographs courtesy of GeorgeArchitecture.com; photography by Kim ZielWhen Patrick Kirchen set out to find a site for his first restaurant, he wanted a space that would provide a memorable ambiance and become a showcase for classic American cuisine and a broad wine selection. He found a 2-story, 4,000-square-foot brick building built in 1908, later named the Edwards and Faw building, in a historic section of South Pasadena. Adjacent to the Gold Line light-rail train station, the restaurant is part of an entire neighborhood of retail businesses and residential buildings under revision.

Teaming up with architect Anthony George, principal of GeorgeArchitecture, interior designer Tamara Kaye-Honey of House of Honey, and private investors, Kirchen transformed the historic space into a striking establishment featuring a compact but notably efficient kitchen where the culinary team, led by executive chef Lalo Sanchez, executes the menu. The restaurant also features a wine cellar on the mezzanine level.

"We selected the restaurant's name, Crossings, because this is a place where people's life's journeys cross and where flavors come together," Kirchen says. "And there are also railroad tracks just outside the restaurant."

"I wanted guests walking in to feel a lot of energy coming from the kitchen," Kirchen says. "The front of the restaurant is almost all glass so they can see in from the outside, and when they enter, their attention is drawn to the kitchen, which is in the center of the room. When guests look around, they begin to appreciate what's been done."

Building a space for guests to appreciate took longer than Kirchen anticipated. The renovation began in November 2012, and though Kirchen thought it would be complete in late August 2013, the actual finish date was in December 2013. The restaurant opened shortly after.

"The challenge was to make the restaurant uniquely South Pasadena in its design and character, while still maintaining a distinctive fine-dining experience," George says. "The solution was to visually open the restaurant to two of the city's most recognizable features, historic Mission Street and the Metro Gold Line adjacent to the outdoor patio. Removing storefront-hiding awnings and making the downstairs one continuous space made the urban charm of Mission Street into a dynamic and glowing backdrop for diners. The back patio, sheltered beneath a 100-year-old oak tree, derives its rhythm and energy from the passing trains stopping at the Gold Line station a few hundred feet away.

"Another challenge was opening up the spaces while increasing the structural integrity of the building," George continues. "This was a feat achieved through the use of a lateral-bracing mezzanine and reinforced floor and roof diaphragms supported with exposed steel beams and exposed, clear-span, glue-laminated beams. Nearly 80 percent of the original masonry walls are exposed to the interior and define the interior design."

The decision to place all food prep and storage in a ground-level kitchen necessitated "an extraordinarily efficient and compact design, and a talented staff to work in it," George says. The kitchen and wine cellar placement, which is part of the main stair redesign, however, solved the two-story challenge and essentially created six environments, each with its own unique qualities. On the first floor are the main dining area, a bar and an outdoor patio, and upstairs includes back and front dining areas and a second bar. A small, efficient, and open kitchen was always part of the program.

Interior Design Highlights

"We had a very clear design vision from the moment we were brought onto the project, so that made things easy," Kaye-Honey says. "However, sometimes working on commercial projects can be limiting and require a bit of creativity and quick thinking. We tried to take any limitation and work it to our advantage, as opposed to thinking of it as a restriction. 'Embrace the rules but think outside the box' became our motto! Ultimately, Crossings has been a fairy-tale project."

The all-new interior construction features materials and techniques more akin to classic 1940s design than a contemporary restaurant. To achieve an artful mix of the old and the new, the restaurant features a layered interior with a warm palette, distinctive lighting and special furnishings meant to delight and surprise. "For example, the host's stand where staff greet guests is fashioned from an antique sewing machine," Kaye-Honey says. "A more subtle element is custom, geometric black tilework on the stair risers, juxtaposed with the worn gray of the salvaged wood treads. The movement and sheen of the mix creates a sort of energy that is both unexpected and welcoming. It's like a big wink." The restaurant also contains playfully displayed antique books and oversized chess pieces.

On the second floor, Kaye-Honey balanced the sophisticated, soulful backdrop of original brick walls and well-worn reclaimed wood floors with small flourishes of whimsy. "These are small gestures that speak volumes, like the vintage typewriter with a rotating chef's recipe typed and on display," Kaye-Honey says. "Everyone needs to smile and enjoy themselves when they are out for a nice evening with amazing food and wine."

Each of the restaurant's spaces offers its own experience and environment. The downstairs bar connects with the open kitchen where guests watch food preparation and can chat with Sanchez and the culinary staff. This bar's proximity to the back patio and the front dining room encourages guest interaction.

Adjacent to the dining room, the upstairs bar sits against exposed masonry walls and offers guests a view of Mission Street below. The inclusion of an ice machine and high-temp dishwasher allows this bar to function autonomously. "Without the need of a bar-back, the glass machine provides high-temperature cleaned stemware for the entire second floor," George says.

The first floor contains 14-foot-high ceilings, while the second floor has 10-foot-high ceilings. A new floor-joist system and exposed-beam ceiling replace a continuous load-bearing wall that divided both floors in half. "The challenge of spaces with tall ceilings requires creative lighting," Kaye-Honey says. "The solution was to use custom iron and glass globes as a unique feature."

Above the downstairs dining room float 15 custom-made faceted spheres of varying sizes and heights, which "create a dynamic rhythm, while also offering glowing, ambient lighting," Kaye-Honey says. "Above each bar are smaller globes that tie the design together. Vintage accessory fixtures, such as lamps, faucets and sinks, and furnishings such as leather booths, custom leather chairs and wood-plank bar tops, complete the design."

The design team also had to contend with low water pressure provided by the city. "We had to coordinate with the city and put in our own six-inch main for our sprinkler system that runs across a four-lane street," Kirchen says. What's more, the original foundation was only three inches thick, so a finished concrete slab was used on the first floor instead of hardwood floors.

Main Floor and Open Kitchen

The open kitchen sits in the center of the ground floor, open to the front dining area. Spaces dedicated to preparation, storage, cleanup and utilities reside behind the open kitchen. "Two circulation patterns were developed: one for guest circulation and the other for service circulation, accessing both floors and the back patio separately," George says.

Food for the open kitchen arrives at a service door at the street entrance. Deliveries must come to the front because the restaurant borders railroad tracks in the back. Staff bring food into a small walk-in cooler, a small upright freezer that holds ice cream and a small dry storage area. "Because of the restaurant's small size, we receive deliveries every weekday and must prepare fresh food frequently and produce little waste," says chef Sanchez. Staff take some food directly to the refrigerator and ambient space at the prep stations.

Sanchez believes the compact size helps make the four-person cook staff even more efficient. "You have to be on top of everything," he says. "We don't waste anything."

Also contributing to the staff's ability to work in small quarters is what Sanchez calls the coming together of "familia." "Everyone is like family, so if you're happy with the energy in the kitchen, it doesn't matter how big the kitchen is." Because of the compact kitchen size and its position in the middle of the restaurant, Sanchez insists on a quiet kitchen with very little conversation and no yelling.

In the morning a cook works in the prep station to make dressings using a whisk, slice meats with an automatic slicer and cut vegetables. This area contains a one-compartment sink, worktable and stacked convection oven that staff use to prepare the day's produce and pastries.

At the grill and under the exhaust hood, staff use a charbroiler and flattop to prepare filet mignon, New York strip steak, pork chops, swordfish, black cod, Colorado lamb chops, pepper steak and other proteins. "The broiler uses both direct flame and indirect ceramic heat sources, providing the control and temperature essential for the menu," Kirchen says. "With the addition of the flattop, we can also handle large parties and high volume." This station also contains a fryer for making french fries and crispy onions.

At the sauté and apps station, a cook uses two eight-burner ranges to prepare chicken, fish and menu items such as risotto, couscous and white beans.

Beneath one range, ovens roast chicken for dishes such as Gold Line chicken with Moroccan spice-braised vegetables and saffron couscous. An undercounter refrigerator beneath the other range holds ingredients. An overhead broiler sits above for melting cheese and keeping entrees warm until service. Staff make mashed potatoes daily and hold this side dish in a bain-marie.

Sanchez usually stands at the sauté station, where he can expedite and make sure plates are finished to his expectations.

Across a narrow aisle, staff use an undercounter refrigerator, a food warmer and an induction unit to hold the sauce bases that are finished to order. Adjacent to these pieces of equipment stands a drawered, refrigerated pizza prep table, which holds ingredients. Next to the table, a horizontal dipping cabinet holds ice cream.

"The kitchen layout maximizes the staff's use of the equipment," Kirchen says. "They are within a very short reach of all the ingredients. Everyone can turn around and function in a circular motion."

Wine Cellar, Mezzanine and Stair Systems

The original plan called for a display cellar that would use the tall first-floor ceilings. "However, the ceilings weren't tall enough to accommodate a full story," George says. The solution was to push the wine cellar ceiling into the second floor, and use the raised ceiling as the platform for the raised-booth seating upstairs. This design allowed the wine cellar to completely wrap around and above the kitchen and downstairs bar, while at the same time providing much-needed mechanical access and additional storage above the kitchen. This partial-height mezzanine sits above the prep area, accessible from the stair landing and the dish area, and has full mechanical, HVAC, ventilation and plumbing access and additional dry storage.

Two stair systems serve the second floor. The main stair, with steel stringers and wood treads, is open to the public and features 14-foot-high screens made of steel and reed glass that overlook the front dining area. Its mid-landing forms the entry to the wine cellar and concealed access to the mezzanine and leads to a short stair up the remaining distance to the second floor.

"The requirement of a second egress, a back stair that also serves as emergency egress, posed a space-planning challenge that was solved by making the entire stair system an addition to the existing rear of the building and utilizing it in nonemergency situations as an employee-only service stair," George says. Beneath the intermediate landing is a janitor's closet and full water management area featuring backflow valves, four hot-water heaters, mixing controls, booster pump and bladder tank, water filtration and maintenance/replacement valves. Below the upper flight of stairs is the dry storage area. At the top landing, just short of the reentry to the original building, is a full busser and server station. All of the original building's openings remain in use, including windows and arched door openings.

On the second floor, the main stairs divide the space roughly in half, with front and back dining areas. The quietest section of the restaurant, the back dining area, features the ability to host private parties via a large rolling decorative barn door. The front dining area, combined with the upstairs bar, overlooks Mission Street below. The upstairs bar is self-functioning, with its own ice machine, refrigeration and glass machine.

Conserving Water, Electricity and Materials

"Sustainability is a big deal for us," Kirchen says. "By performing nearly 90 percent of all prep work on the line, waste and overprep is minimized, and with preparation occurring almost continuously, freshness and visual appeal is ensured."

Staff collect kitchen waste, place it in clear containers, and then deposit it into narrow trash containers in the prep area, kitchen and bar. "The efficient kitchen layout minimizes movement, and each piece of equipment is used extensively and to its full potential," Kirchen explains.

Using materials such as reclaimed oak for the floors contributes to the restaurant's sustainability focus. In addition, the electrical design incorporates LED lighting technology extensively throughout the restaurant, and fluorescent lighting is used where diffused lighting is practical or desired.

To conserve water, Crossings utilizes an in-house bottled water system for both still and sparkling water (and will soon do so for tonic and other waters too), tankless high-efficiency water heaters and two high-efficiency, high-temperature dishmachines. "The result is limited water usage, minimal delivery and packaging waste, all with the highest standards of taste and sanitation possible," Kirchen says.

Crossings is almost entirely paper-free in its bar and table service, and restrooms have sensor-activated hand dryers. In those rare instances that require paper, Crossings uses recycled items.

Future Positioning

"A key aspect of the financial formula for the restaurant is outright ownership of the building," Kirchen says. "Life-cycle improvements, including complete structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades, which are normally out of reach of most restaurant tenant improvement projects, were part of the original business model, and amortized against the expected life cycle of the building or improvement, rather than the first lease cycle. A strong investor program was essential in creating a capital environment that was more interested in quality and execution than the pressures normally associated with tenant improvements of this complexity."

Though Crossings is currently open only for dinner, Saturday and Sunday brunch are on the drawing board as well. "We probably won't open for lunch during the week because we don't think there's enough potential," Kirchen adds. "It's better for us to know our niche and serve it very well. We must run a business, but we also want to be sure crunching numbers doesn't take precedence over using very high-quality ingredients and bringing in great wines."

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