Central and East LA have always been home to Shawna Dawson, an LA native who founded Sauce LA, the Artisanal LA fair and the LA Street Food Fest. Headquartered in Old Pasadena, Sauce LA oversees marketing for many of the city’s best restaurants, including Bestia, Republique and Petty Cash Taqueria. The firm also plans two major culinary events throughout the year: Artisanal LA in spring and fall (April 26-27 and October 11-12) and the Street Food Fest on June 28.
Since Artisanal LA first started in 2010, attendance has grown from 1,000 people to more than 6,000 in a single weekend, doubling each time. The first LA Street Food Fest in 2009 drew a crowd of 20,000, but now attendance is capped off at a more manageable 5,000 people.
We caught up with Dawson to chat about local artisans, food trucks and what she thinks is LA’s most underrated neighborhood: Koreatown.
What do you do for work?
It varies day to day. Last weekend we went to Coachella because we curated a number of food vendors and chef talent for their programming and handled marketing and PR.
What do you love most about working and living in the San Gabriel Valley?
As an LA Native, I like each of the city’s areas for the qualities they bring. That’s what I love about LA: the different communities. In Altadena, I love our neighbors and the burgeoning food community. Because Altadena is an unincorporated area, you can get away with doing things you can’t do in the city. My neighbors have goats and run the Mariposa Creamery. The town is far enough up the mountain that it smells like summer camp. There’s a lot of wildlife and free-roaming peacocks. I look out my windows and just see trees.
Where did the inspiration for Artisanal LA and LA Street Food Fest come from?
I’ve always done events, but on a somewhat smaller scale. I was working with Yelp and met Roy Choi on his first night out with the Kogi truck. Street food to me was very much a part of LA. When I saw the Kogi truck take off, the food truck movement was just beginning. I didn’t understand why we didn’t have events celebrating food trucks and taco trucks.
The LA Street Food Fest came first. And at that time, no one else was doing anything specific to food crafters in the city. It was incredibly challenging before the cottage food laws to introduce these small food crafters to a wider audience. In the beginning, we had to keep the Artisanal LA fair underground.
When did your love of food and community originate?
While I was working toward my degree in bioethics from USC, I also really loved studying anthropology. This made me interested in what creates culture and community and how those elements are communicated through food. My favorite way to immerse myself in a new culture is through the food. When I was able to find a way to intersect what I enjoyed doing in my personal life with my professional life, it was perfect.
Where’s your favorite place to grab a drink?
Which local artisans are you most excited about at the moment?
We have 14 new vendors at Artisanal LA right now. My favorites are Coco Bakes’ gluten-free goods, Outpost cold brew coffee, Arts District Printing, Laguna Salt Company, Choctal organic Mexican chocolate ice cream and Almond Kulture’s almond milk.
What’s your favorite food truck and what do you like to order from it?
Two things I’m excited about when it comes to food trucks: Japadog and New York’s Van Leeuwen ice cream truck will be coming to Street Food Fest. I also really like the bao from the new food truck, Carb and Nation.
Where is a cool place to take an out-of-towner?
Koreatown. I love taking people to K-town because they don’t spend a lot of time there. Korean BBQ, late night Nora Bong (karaoke) and Korean spas are my favorite things to do. All night coffee houses let you have a 24-hour K-town experience.
Describe your perfect Sunday in LA:
I visit the Pasadena farmers market, make food and eat outside. It involves at least one bottle of wine, maybe two. The farmers market I like to hit up during the week is the one in Altadena, but the one in Pasadena has a great flower vendor, the Lula Mae boutique that curates gifts and stationary, food craft vendors and amazing coffee.
Name one thing that everyone in LA should experience at least once:
On the same note of Koreatown, I’d say explore parts of the city you’ve never been to. Our city is so diverse and spread out, you can have an adventure anywhere you go. The list of things you must do can be a million, but ultimately it’s about getting out of your comfort zone and checking out a new area. There are so many museums and libraries that we need to take advantage of when we live here.
Finish this sentence: Los Angeles is… the best city in the world, the place to be. It’s especially the best place to be if you give a shit about food.