Sue Ann owns and operates Mesón Café, a beloved neighborhood spot on Western Avenue. I was told about her place by a local who said Mesón was his favorite place in Koreatown. The K-Umami bowl—farro, soy-sauce chicken à la 장조림, with kale, miso butter, shiso cucumbers and scrambled eggs—is a to-die-for healthy dream breakfast. Sue Ann and her husband are also actively engaged with the “Welcome to Western” project, “a year-long public realm enhancement project that is informed by the many users of Western Ave. between Melrose and 3rd Street.” Welcome to Western is a Great Streets project sponsored by Mayor Eric Garcetti and made possible by Councilmember David Ryu and Council President Herb Wesson in partnership with LA-Más and the Koreatown Youth and Community Center (KYCC).
Where is your hometown?
I was born in New York but raised in North Carolina until I was about six. Then, I moved to Anaheim Hills in Orange County, where I spent the majority of my student life. I was there for a good eight years.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
My husband and I started running Mesón Cafe in June 2017. The cafe was our first business together, so it’s definitely been quite fun and interesting. As owners, we have been able to experiment with the menu and observe our customers’ reactions. I would say the most satisfying part of the business is when I serve something that I created, and people give me feedback right away.
We were pretty lucky. When we first started looking for a place to settle down, we were actually looking outside of L.A., but we were open to anywhere. The main factor in our search was to find a place that was affordable. There is a lot more competition in L.A., but the more we looked into locations, we realized that it would be very nice to be in L.A. because of the diverse group of people that live here. Whereas if you go to a more suburban area, the customer pool is much more limited.
Our store gets a good mix of people. We see a lot of young people—more than we expected actually—millennials in their early 20s to 40s come by a lot. But our patrons are from all backgrounds, honestly—mostly Caucasians, Asians, Latinos, Southeast Asians, and Filipinos.
What does Mesón mean?
When we took over the café business, we had decided to keep the original name from the previous owner. Although we kept the name of the previous business, I would say we changed about 80 percent of the menu. My husband and I definitely liked the direction that the previous owners were taking the café in, so we kept that same spirit. The word “meson” is a Spanish word that means “local café” or “local eatery.” The spirit of the café is to create that local feel—nothing too extravagant, but at the same time, still evokes that “awe” factor through the quality of food that we serve. We hope that when people come to our café to eat or try out our drinks, they’re having an enjoyable experience. Our food is Korean-inspired, but still Californian.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
During my childhood, if we needed to see a Korean doctor, we would come to Koreatown. My first impression of the community was that everything had an older feel. The original Koreatown was oriented towards benefitting older businesses, with the older generation being the business owners.
But now Koreatown has definitely changed. There’s so much going on in K-Town. There’s a lot of younger people starting businesses here—that’s my idea of Koreatown now. There are so many places to eat. All different cuisines. Everybody comes to Koreatown to eat—the food and night scene here is huge.
What are some of the challenges and benefits of owning a business on Western Avenue?
It helps us that Western is a major street. It’s a street we always take and if you mention Western Avenue to anyone, they will probably know where it is.
But you don’t get as much exposure to the neighborhood as you would expect. There are a lot more people driving by rather than walking by or hanging out in the street. There’s not a lot of places to stop in this area, so that’s a big challenge, to get more exposure.
Word of mouth is probably the best way that people have found out about us; it’s a very organic process. “My friend told me about this place and that’s how I found out” or “I never knew there was even a café here until somebody told me about it.” We installed new signage after we took over the business, so that has helped a lot too.
What changes would you like to see?
I’d like there to be more local businesses thriving in the neighborhood. I wish there were also more community events—I think the nearest Farmers Market is the one in Larchmont.
Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?
We have a lot of places we like to go to, but there’s a place called Yuk Dae Jang on Sixth Street, past Vermont. It’s a newer place—they’ve only been there a couple of years—but they have really good Korean food. A lot of good soups. The 칼국수 and 보쌈 are both really good. They have an outdoor patio where my sister brings her dog. You can have bond better with whomever you’re with, family or friends, because the food is really good and everyone is having a happy moment.