It’s Friday afternoon around 2:30 p.m. and the lunch rush is starting to wind down. Waitress Susie Chaney is taking the order of a young couple that has just come into Gogo’s Bistro. Two other customers are also in the restaurant. Music is playing and the wide-screen television is on.
In the kitchen, chef Dessie Sweetwine, aka Gogo, is waiting for orders to come back. On this day I am working alongside Gogo, helping her out in the kitchen, as I sometimes do, as I am a friend of the family.
Chaney gives her the order: four burger specials. The burger patties are taken from the refrigerator, seasoned and put on the grill. Handfuls of fries are dropped into the deep fryer. Everything is moving in perfect sync. The kitchen is doing what it does best: turning out fresh and quality food.
Gogo’s Bistro, located on Cesar Chavez Boulevard, had its grand opening this spring. This family-owned restaurant offers home-cooked American and international cuisine for locals, business professionals and students.
There is something for everyone on the menu: traditional dishes like garlic pot roast, liver with bacon and onions, golden fried chicken wings and Ms. Austin’s famous meatloaf. The menu also includes deli-style sandwiches, specialty burgers made with Angus beef and appetizers made from scratch.
The most popular appetizers are fried zucchini, fried onion stack, garlic-pesto Parmesan potato wedges and honey barbecue chicken strips. Also on the menu are salads, homemade soups and desserts that include cheesecake, cookies, brownies, sweet potato pie and muffins.
Everything is made on the premises. A sign hanging on the wall asks for patience from customers because nothing is made until the order has been placed. The restaurant has no microwaves for reheating. The French fries are hand-cut, not frozen. Unlike fast food restaurants, there are no frozen hamburger patties. The vegetables are fresh, not frozen or canned.
Gogo’s Bistro is a continuation of a family tradition, started by Gogo’s father-in-law, Thomas Robert Sweetwine. He opened his first restaurant and bakery, Flora’s, in South L.A.
Gogo has been cooking most of her life. The “love affair” began when she was 9 years old and made her first batch of peanut butter cookies. As an adult she worked as a prep cook for her father-in-law and made school lunches for the Catholic Archdiocese before becoming the food service manager for Union Station Homeless Services.
Always dreaming of opening her own restaurant, Gogo left her manger position last December to start her own business.
After looking at locations around the L.A. area, the family settled on this Boyle Heights site, which previously housed a fish taco restaurant. Now, six months later, the restaurant and the family are becoming a fixture in the neighborhood.
Gogo’s Bistro is the place where a customer is welcomed with a smile as soon as they come inside. The restaurant has built up quite a clientele of regulars from the neighborhood who like the food, and some who stop by to say hello.
Regular Sal Gambino comes in about twice a week to try different items on the menu.
“I like the food. It’s good to have different food,” he said. He likes the variety and the fact that he no longer has to travel as far to find it.
The restaurant is a family effort, and relatives and friends make up most of the staff in the bistro. Gogo’s son Roderick Jr., or R.J., is chief financial officer and sales manager. Daughters Selena and Barbara are servers. Husband Rod Sr. bakes cheesecakes, cookies and brownies from recipes that have been in the family for 50 years.
Family friends also help at the restaurant. There’s Chris “Meatloaf” Curiel, prep and line cook; Chaney, hostess and cashier; and myself. I work twice a week in the kitchen doing short order and prep, as well as baking.
Friday afternoon when there was some downtime in the kitchen, Gogo talked about the meals she prepares. She said she is more of a cook than a chef.
“Food is my life,” she said. “If I am not cooking, then I don’t feel right. Food is life, love.”
Saturdays are always busy because Gogo’s opens early for breakfast, and it is barbecue day. For $5 customers have their choice of ribs, chicken or hot links, with two sides and either potato salad or coleslaw.
This is why Byron Martinez and Pancho Hernandez come on Saturdays, for the barbecue. While the two were enjoying the ribs, their friend Oscar Cibrian decided on the Philly cheesesteak. All agreed the food was good.
R.J. said he hopes more people from the community will come and enjoy the home-cooked food and friendly ambiance.
“It feels like you are in (your) home and she is cooking for you,” he said. “We offer comfort food with love that you can taste.”
Gogo’s Bistro is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The restaurant is located at 2415 Cesar Chavez Blvd.
Celeste Candida is a college English and literature professor at Rio Hondo College and Whittier College. She is a former copy editor of the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Heritage newspapers.