Embracing L.A.'s Surprising Duality"People move here to follow their dream. In L.A., you get to discover and create the life you want."
After 25 years of soul searching in the City of Angels, restaurateur-cum-casting director John Papsidera has enjoyed a duality in his professional and personal lives. "When I talk to other restaurateurs about the collection of souls that you bring to a restaurant, they think I'm crazy," he laughs. "But I think it's not just about forks and knives. It's about the energy you create, the staff you compile — which is very much the same when casting."
After a rash of restaurant gigs in New York, Papsidera headed west to open L.A.'s famed Border Grill. "When I first moved to L.A., everyone said people there were phony, but I've found the opposite," he contends. "People move here to follow their dream. In L.A., you get to discover and create the life you want." Papsidera created two.
His passion for discovery is what led him to dual careers. While he expected to own a restaurant one day, he really wanted to work in entertainment. "So I changed careers," he recalls, "and went from managing 140 employees to starting over as an intern at the Mark Taper Forum because I felt I'd be happier doing that." He worked Monday through Friday casting, and managed restaurants on the weekends. Papsidera now spends most of his time as casting director for his company, Automatic Sweat. But he's also realized his original dream as co-owner of the Waffle, a stylish Hollywood diner with a down-home vibe.
Papsidera believes New York restaurants are steeped in loyalty and tradition, something many L.A. establishments lack, and something he works hard to create at the Waffle. "The restaurants I go to give me a sense of community," he says. "So many people in L.A. get a different impression because they're standing in line outside the Skybar.
"I like places like Dan Tana's or La Dolce Vita that have waiters who have worked there for 30 years. That's what gives a place heart." He continues, "When you walk into Chez Jay's in Santa Monica, you know that place has soul."
Papsidera also finds soul in unexpected places — like his own urban backyard. "I live mid-city. Most of the people on my cul-de-sac have lived there for 30 years," he says. "In whatever mystical way, I found myself on a block where neighbors actually know one another."
Living in the most densely populated area in Los Angeles County, Papsidera heads to the hills when he wants to escape city life.
"It's not something people know exists," says Papsidera of the hidden canyons that flank the Los Angeles basin. "It's a phenomenal gift of this city." Very few cities have the proximity to pockets of wilderness that Los Angeles has. "You can be in the heart of Beverly Hills and in seven minutes, you're in the wilderness of Franklin Canyon." He continues, "We spend a lot of time walking our dogs in Mandeville Canyon. Climb the Nike Tower, and you can't see civilization. … You are so far up in the hills, you don't even see homes around you."
And living, working and playing amid the dualities that make up Los Angeles feeds John Papsidera's soul and keeps him coming back for more.
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