USC alumni foster family environment in growing restaurant franchise

Jonathon Xue/Daily Trojan

A Beverly Hills experience with an affordable South L.A. twist: That’s what Danny and Bobby Kronfli, brothers and co-owners of Bacari West Adams, aim to provide at their  classy tapas-centered restaurant and bar near USC. Along with co-owner and executive chef Lior Hillel, the duo has grown their business from one South L.A. restaurant 11 years ago to what is a rapidly growing enterprise today.

They now own five locations throughout Los Angeles, with restaurants in Glendale and Playa del Rey. Recently, their University Park location on South Union Avenue was rebranded from Bacaro LA to Bacari West Adams, a testament to how far the business has come: Bacaro is the singular form of “wine bar” in Italian, while Bacari is the plural form. Along with its new name, Bacari West Adams was recently renovated in order to revitalize the owners’ original goals for bringing a reasonably priced, upscale restaurant to the area and to give it “new energy and a fresh face.”

While they ended up finding success as partners, Danny and Bobby, both USC alumni, took different paths to get there.

When Danny describes his USC experience, he immediately recalls doing many business projects on restaurants and bars. This was something he had always wanted to do, but he chose to follow a career path in advertising upon graduating, only to return to the restaurant business soon after.  

“When I was 24 years old, I took the leap and decided to buy an existing restaurant that was here by campus and renovate it a little bit and open it,” Danny said.

On the other hand, Bobby — who graduated from USC with a degree in music industry — was just a sophomore when his brother opened Bacaro LA. He helped out by working shifts.

“At the time, my roommate was an aspiring chef,” Bobby said. “So long story short, my roommate and I decided to start running a restaurant out of our apartment. It was called Paladar, and we did it once a week for two years all the way until we graduated. So I kind of found my passion for restaurants doing that.”

This passion led Bobby to join Danny at Bacaro after he graduated in 2011.

The Kronfli brothers grew up in the Pasadena area and went to high school just a few blocks away from the location where Bacaro LA would later open.

Their familiarity with the neighborhood  presented them with a way to solve a problem they had seen and experienced firsthand as students in the area.

“We thought that the area was lacking a good restaurant for students to go to, so that also was a main reason why we came into this restaurant,” Danny said. “Because around campus there’s always just fast food and stuff like that.”

Bobby emphasized that although they serve a wide range of customers, Bacari West Adams really is “student-centric.” He aims to serve things that are off the beaten path.

“[We want] to provide fine dining at a really approachable price point at $8 to $9 a dish,” Bobby said.

Their childhood experiences run deeper into their restaurant decisions than merely the choice of location.

“Our family comes from the Middle East, so [our childhood] was very family oriented — big family, big meals, very hospitable,” Danny said. “We grew up that way, and it’s something that we really enjoy doing. We really enjoy serving people and making sure they have a good time and have really great food.”

Walking in, the hospitality that Danny and Bobby built the restaurant around is immediately tangible. The dining room is dimly lit and just small enough to provide customers with a sense of comfort right when they step in from the busy street traffic.

Demonstrating the nature of the restaurant that he created, Danny recounted the story of a couple who first went on a blind date at the restaurant, then got engaged at the same table and finally, had their wedding catered by Bacari.

“We kind of became a part of their relationship,” Danny said. “It was all part of the whole experience that we provided for them. I love just making sure that everybody is having a great time and that we can leave an impression on them.”

Bobby reflected that it was easier for the brothers to maintain this kind of environment when they had only the one restaurant.

“When we were here every day, on the floor every day, serving you, running your food, making your drinks, doing everything … we had complete control over your experience from the minute you walked in to the minute you left,” Bobby said.

Bobby and Danny still try to maintain this environment, but now have to do it remotely from a main office. However, with the help of their restaurant team members, the brothers are able to sustain the winning ambiance they created 11 years ago.

Hillel, the executive chef, is a big contributor to the preservation of Bacari’s close-knit culture. Hillel was born and raised in Israel, where he served as a foot solider in the military.

When he was discharged in 2004, Hillel followed his passion for cooking and attended culinary school in Israel. He moved to the United States in 2005 and studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena before relocating to New York City to work at a Michelin three-star restaurant. He moved back to Los Angeles in 2008 and joined Bacaro LA within the first months of its grand opening.

Hillel seeks to merge the Kronflis’ Lebanese background and culture with his own Israeli background when creating dishes.

“I try to bring a bit of my background which is Israeli, and Robert and Danny’s background is Lebanese … and we have the same palette of flavors,” Hillel said. “For me, it’s important to have a fresh impact on each dish.”

A popular Bacari dish — the grilled chicken breast — epitomizes this ideal. The chicken breast is poached in water and grilled, giving it a soft texture that can be cut cleanly through with a dinner knife. The chicken is set atop a fried risotto cake and then covered with sauce with lemon, butter, caper and jalapeños that adds a tart, fresh flavor to the dish.

When creating such intricate dishes, Hillel has four elements in mind: freshness, texture, color and flavor.

“When I’m designing a dish, I can taste it in my head, and then the process of implementing and trying to create that dish from my head and my flavors to the plate is the fun part,” Hillel said.

For the Kronflis and Hillel,  having fun seems to be an important part of their jobs. In fact, this mindset has been instrumental in their careers, and the Kronflis said they only wish that they had embodied it more while at USC.

When asked about what they would tell their college selves, Bobby replied with a laugh.

“Have more beer,” he said. “That’s the honest answer.”

Danny agreed, adding that he and his brother both worked too much in college.

“I would probably tell myself to be a little more social and make more friends,” Danny said. “I was more focused on other things, school and worrying about what I was going to do once I was done, so I would probably tell myself to loosen up a little.”

But now, they are enjoying the fruits of their labor.

“We find ourselves happy every morning waking up to come to work,” Bobby said. “So as long as that keeps happening, we’ll keep doing it.”