Eric Ong spreads his ‘Humble’ mission from Westchester to Culver City
By Michael Aushenker
A funny thing happened to Westchester restaurateur Eric Ong on the way to creating a patio garden at his new Humble Potato restaurant in Culver City.
A few months ago, Ong was driving around Westchester, looking for inspiration, when he found his ideal succulent garden waiting at the end of a cul de sac. Soon the owner of the house came out to see what this stranger parked outside her home was up to. After Ong explained, attorney Jesse Croxton invited him inside. A few months later, she and Ong collaborated on a drought-tolerant garden for the patio of his brand new location in the popping Washington West district.
“This was all concrete,” Ong said, proudly overlooking the new restaurant’s garden. “I’ve never done landscaping in my life.”
Drawing upon the talents of those around him is typical for Ong, who strives to live up to the words spelled out on the wall of his original location on Lincoln Boulevard in Westchester: “Simple food. Happy people. Humble lasts, hunger shouldn’t. Where there’s good will, there’s good eats. Eat well. Feel good. Live humbly.”
If 35-year-old Ong is not your typical restaurateur, Humble Potato No. 1 and No. 2 are not your typical eateries. The colorful, cartoony J-Pop vibe at the original Westchester eatery offers a dash of Sawtelle Boulevard’s Giant Robot store with a purposely finite comfort-food menu food (hamburgers, hot dogs, steak and chicken sandwiches, fries) with a twist that is equal parts Indonesian and Japanese.
Ong enlisted Otis College students to paint the 1970s-style anime-laden decor, where imagery and figurines from “Gatchaman” and “Speed Racer” stare down from the shelves alongside Marvel superheroes, Super Mario and Darth Vader.
“I love design. Simple words, light colors, making it fun,” he says.
Ong originally arrived to L.A. to attend Santa Monica College, later receiving his degree in business administration technology at Cal State Northridge. For 12 years, Ong managed the data center infrastructure at Beach Body as the Santa Monica fitness enterprise grew into a billion-dollar company.
Corporate regularity proved too confining, however, and in 2012, Ong converted a failed Quiznos on Lincoln Boulevard into the first Humble Potato.
Ong says he feels as humble as his restaurant’s cartoony potato mascot Ma-San for “being able to connect with people and being part of a community [through the restaurant]. I get so much warmth and people from different cultures. It’s an amazing feeling.”
For the past three years, The Humble Potato has joined forces with Pastor Doug Lee and his Catalyst Church in Westchester on American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, held at Venice High School. Ong donates his trademark Hambagas for the event and to feed those in need during Thanksgiving. He also supports local education.
“He exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit,” said longtime Westchester resident Ronald S. Mito, associate dean of academic programs and personnel at the UCLA School of Dentistry. “Even though the restaurant was only open for a few weeks, he enthusiastically jumped at my request for him to support some of our community activities, including the Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets and the Race 4 Success.”
“He has a good balance of knowing what he wants versus letting artists do their thing,” said Emmet Ashford, whose Street Craft L.A. team — a pool of at-risk but talented kids being mentored in the fine arts — worked closely with Ong to execute the interior design of the new Humble Potato in Culver City. “Eric has a very clear vision, but he is also open to innovation and variation.”
Ong’s second Humble Potato, which opened May 1, offers the original restaurant’s complete menu and some new additions.
And, of course, there is the ambiance. Arriving at HP2, one finds a shotgun-style restaurant receding all the way back to a patio replete with warming lamps and picnic benches. The interior dining area features a samurai mural and posters featuring Japan-flavored kitsch; in the ladies restroom, there’s a black-and-white female Godzilla with lipstick.
Visit humblepotato.com for more information.