Gina Ragnone of Fala Bar
I’m so excited to share today’s interview with Gina Ragnone of Fala Bar! Fala Bar is one of the newest restaurants to open in LA. It’s situated on the trendy street, Melrose Avenue near Fairfax. Founded by Mike Shab and Andres Izquieta, these two have perfected, with the help of Gina’s vision as a Holistic Health Coach, a health food restaurant for on the go. A common topic I have with friends and acquaintances about when will there be a fast food restaurant that’s all healthy, why has no one done that yet?! I always believed it was in the making and here is the first! I met Gina who helped fuse Andres and Mike’s original concept to what is now today, Fala Bar.
I cannot say enough great things about this restaurant! I loved everything from the menu, décor and the entire concept! I’ll be the first to poke fun at the fact falafels are fried and, as you know the blog is called, “Steamed Not Fried,” but I admire the approach Fala Bar has towards how they fry their falafels, which definitely sets them apart from traditional frying. I was hooked immediately after trying their falafel sandwich and the Gigi’s snack cup, which was an accidental menu item Gina created one afternoon, Andres told her to definitely add that to the menu and I’m so glad they did! Having been open only a month, I’m already anxious for them to start expanding so I can have one in my hood! Check out my interview below with Gina and how the concept behind this great café was born, the challenges of opening a restaurant and sourcing local produce for the restaurant.
What is Fala Bar? What can people expect when they go there?
"Fala Bar is a vegan falafel and salad bar featuring traditional Middle Eastern cuisine with a healthy twist. Our menu is entirely vegan, organic, dairy free, nut free and gluten free with the exception of our pita bread. People can expect a "Fala Experience" as opposed to just ordering food and leaving. We like to educate our customers about what we are doing and why. For example, where we source all of our 100% organic and local produce along with our eco friendly and biodegradable cutlery and containers. Furthermore, why we use grape seed oil to fry our falafels versus other oils that cannot handle a high smoke point, etc."
What is the most popular item ordered? What is your favorite thing on the menu?
"The most popular item is definitely our Fala Sandwich, which comes on our only gluten offered item of pita (not made in house, so safe for gluten intolerant people to eat with us) or for those avoiding bread, wrapped in a cabbage leaf. My favorite items are the Fala Me to Kaleifornia salad for lunch or dinner and the Gigi's Snack Cup for well, a snack." ;)
(Pictured Above: Gigi's Snack Cup)
I absolutely love the concept of Fala Bar! How did the idea of Fala Bar come about? And why did you choose falafels to be the main focus of the restaurant and it’s dishes?
"Mike Shab had the idea to create a traditional Middle Eastern type of falafel restaurant with shawarma (meat) because of his family's amazing recipes. When he approached Andres Izquieta about becoming his business partner on the project, Andres wanted to bring LA what they all seem to love: healthy, fresh, organic food. They then took it a few steps further and made it vegan, dairy free, nut free and gluten free---basically "allergen free" with the help of myself, since I am very in tune with a holistic approach to living. Although there are vegan, healthy restaurants popping up all over LA, the difference with Fala Bar is that it's basically "fast food" with our quick service approach giving even those on the go a healthy alternative to what is offered out there."
Fala Bar’s tagline is “Always vegan. Always fresh. Always organic.” Do you follow a vegan diet?
"I have followed every diet you can imagine in my past and I am here to say that I have learned there is not one diet that fits all. At the age of 6 years old, I started refusing meat and even dairy or anything else I discovered came from an animal... it grossed me out and drove my parents crazy! That lasted for a good 13 years before I ventured into some fish and then later some eggs and poultry. Nowadays, I keep a very plant based diet, but I listen to my body and incorporate fish and eggs occasionally and even red meat once in a blue moon. I will say that whenever someone walks into Fala and realizes we don't serve meat and are about to walk out the door, I encourage them to try having a meatless meal once a week, They never leave disappointed once they try the food." :)
What is your favorite dish to cook at home?
"I love to make huge veggie salads, soups in my Vitamix, roasted veggies, cauliflower mash, grilled salmon--- just to name a few! Oh, and avocados are my best friend!" ;)
Fala Bar is very new! What has been the most challenging part during the beginning stages of opening a restaurant/café/falafel bar? What has the feedback been like?
"One of the most challenging parts is making sure everyone who works with us is all on the same page in order to keep consistency of the Fala Experience and of the dishes. The food seems to speak for itself and has received a lot of positive feedback as well as a lot of "thank you's" for opening. Our neighbors along Melrose are thrilled to have a healthier option during their lunch breaks."
Do you source your produce/ingredients locally? If so, where do you go to pickup these items?
"Yes we have suppliers who are all within 200 miles of our shop. We also have a list of every Farmer's Market taking place daily in the Los Angeles area in case we run out of anything or if our suppliers run out of something we need for the week. We love trips to the market!"
I really hope to see Fala Bar expand! I know having been open only a few weeks, I’m sure it’s hard to think that far ahead but would expanding be something you might do in the future?
"It does seem like it would be difficult to think that far ahead already, but I know it's been on the minds of Mike and Andres since day one! We would most definitely like to see Fala Bar expand and have been brainstorming on future locations."
7751 1/2 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Written, Interviewed and Photographed by: Kristen Tola Hettich