The Legend of Zelda’s
This boardwalk sandwich shop specializes in community — and delectable mini donuts
By Jessica Koslow
“Hi Greg!” shouts Edward Klevens, the new chef/owner of Zelda’s Corner. The sandwich shop at the corner of Westminster Avenue and Speedway is probably best known for its cinnamon-sprinkled mini donuts, but Greg comes in about once a week for a cup of chili and bread.
“Hi Katya,” Klevens greets another customer, who hugs him and declares she’s addicted to his food.
Then there’s Andy, who has a special sandwich named after him, although it’s not on the official menu.
“It’s an East Coast thing,” explains Klevens. “I split the bread. There’s three kinds of cheese, homemade Italian dressing, lettuce, tomatoes, lots of onions, lots of meat on top.”
Klevens bought Zelda’s Corner about one year ago from the original owners, a local couple who set up shop at 9 Westminster Ave. in 1999, after a few years
of selling only mini donuts out of a much smaller space across the street.
Klevens is the type of owner who leaps to help a woman who asks for her sandwich to be wrapped to go, even with staff at the counter ready to serve. In other words, he’s perfect for a boardwalk sandwich shop that caters to the surrounding community.
Though it seems like a natural fit, owning a restaurant is sort of an unexpected turn for Klevens. He started in publishing, selling advertising, and worked for Trader Joe’s. Then he stumbled into a culinary class at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, and he was hooked. He took another class. And then he was hit with the news that his mother — his very first cooking teacher — was diagnosed with cancer.
“She told me, ‘If you’re going to do this, go to real school,’” Klevens remembers.
So he enrolled in a two-year program at Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena.
The next several years were a culinary roller coaster. Klevens worked at The Langham Huntington Pasadena for a couple of years, and then decided to sign up for an intensive two-month sushi program.
“That was a whole different ball game,” Klevens says, eyebrows raised.
He worked at a few sushi bars — as the only white, left-handed sushi chef — then landed at Chaya Beverly Hills and LAX. When his friend who brought him on at Chaya moved up north to work at The Barrel House in Sausalito, he invited Klevens to join him. That job lasted three months, and then he signed on at Morimoto in Napa.
Klevens had only been at Morimoto for a month when he got a call that his mother’s health had taken a turn and he should come home immediately. His boss assured him that if he didn’t come back, it was OK.
Klevens went home and never returned to Napa. He worked at Yellowtail in West Hollywood, and when that restaurant closed he just knew he didn’t want to work for anyone anymore.
Maybe he should open an eatery? Not a sushi bar, he thought. There were too many of those in Los Angeles. He wanted something small. So he started looking around at restaurants for sale. If not for a last-minute snafu, he would have bought a place in Northern California.
Then his broker brought Zelda’s Corner to his attention, and Klevens has been the head chef since Dec. 29, even choosing to keep the name.
“People know Zelda’s,” he says. “People like sandwiches. I put my own twist on it. Most of the sandwiches are the same. I just changed them a little.”
He brought the Cuban back, but now they marinate and roast the pork in-house. He added the Italian, eggplant and chicken club sandwiches to the board. He house-makes all of the sauces, dressings and sides — like the potato and macaroni salads.
Now, in addition to cinnamon sprinkled on the mini donuts, they can also be drizzled with chocolate, vanilla and maple glaze, as well as a new one that’s not yet on the menu: Belgian chocolate hazelnut, sort of like a commercial version of Nutella.
The mini donuts are still a big draw. Since Klevens installed an updated version of the previous donut maker in March, they’ve sold 180,000 of them.
“People might come for the donuts, but they try the food and then come back for it,” he says.
Klevens enjoys getting to know the locals and what they like. He took the records off the wall and hangs local art instead.
“This is exhausting, but it’s my baby,” he says. “I’m here seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In the spring, we might extend the hours till 7 or 8.”
But what’s the biggest surprise about opening his own spot?
“The paperwork,” he sighs, “so much paperwork. I spend more time doing paperwork than I do playing.”
One day that might change, and he’ll get to play more in the kitchen. But for now, Klevens won’t rest until his mission is complete: “I want people to tell me this is the best sandwich they’ve ever had. If I hear that, I know I’m doing my job.”