Shane Won Murphy

The Little Prince restauranteur Shane Won Murphy talks about health, resilience, and the importance of community.

Tell us about yourself.

I help people open up restaurants; that’s my niche. From handling the real estate to conceptualizing a vision to navigating the logistics of getting it open from start to finish. I’ve taken equity in certain places, and sometimes I’ve just been a gun for hire, but I had always wanted a restaurant where I could have creative influence in the operation itself.

There’s a restaurant group called Zinque with locations on Abbot Kinney in Venice and on Melrose in West Hollywood. I’ve been with them since the very beginning. Together we opened up West Hollywood, Newport Beach, Little Italy in San Diego, Scottsdale, downtown Los Angeles, and a new concept in Santa Monica called Massilia, which I have ownership in. We have seven locations with another Zinque opening soon in Century City and four new concepts under development set to open over the next two years. I’ve been responsible for scaling our growth into new markets.

In addition, I have done quite a bit of work for Sprout LA. My brokerage work with them includes Bestia and Vespertine, amongst others. Vespertine was just awarded two Michelin stars last year. I’ve worked with hospitality groups from New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo, Hong Kong, all over, in handling everything that needs to be done to see their restaurant visions come to fruition in Southern California and abroad.

How did you come to open your restaurant, Little Prince?

It started as a pop-up with three highly talented friends in February of 2018. Same location as our current brick-and-mortar. It was a restaurant called Fork in the Road owned by a guy named Spoon and his partner Thomas Elliot. Together they also own Venice Alehouse. I have been friends with them for a long time and have helped them with restaurant real estate consulting for many years.

The first time I looked at the Fork in the Road space was about six years ago while helping Bobby Kennedy III find a location for a restaurant and bar concept he had at the time. Bobby later shifted focus to a new film he just directed called Freak Power about Hunter S. Thompson’s political run for the sheriff of Pitkin County. I, however, continued to think about that location and dreamt of one day opening up my own spot there. Back in the mid-aughts, it was a restaurant called Shane, ironically, and it operated more like a night club. I used to hang out there with a great crew of locals, including Shane, who the restaurant was named after. They would have these amazing dance party nights where percussionists from the Venice drum circle would play along with the DJ. 

After years of helping other people open up their restaurants, this opportunity came up [to open Little Prince]. We first did the pop-up, and it was very successful. We were jam-packed, averaging 250 covers a service in a 55 seat dining room. It was a brunch pop-up, weekends only, and the place would start to fill up at 9:00 am, and people would be there till 7:00 p.m., eating brunch food and sucking down kimchi bloody Mary’s and farmers market mimosas. We got a lot of publicity out the gates.

Shane Murphy Inhaling Cilantro Scent

My opening partners included Ari Taymor, Andy Noel, and Tegan Butler, all core friends. Ari is a beautifully talented chef, incredibly artistic in the kitchen, and forward-thinking. He presents his food like poetry and promotes his core values in sustainability. I helped him open up his first restaurant Alma, named the best new restaurant in the country by Bon Appetite in 2013. Andy and Tegan are a couple, and together, they make this awesome visionary duo, handling everything from photography to videography, creative direction, and production. They’ve done work for Soho House, Spotify, the Huxley Hotel, just to name a few. I didn’t find them to open up the restaurant; we found each other first as friends.

After the pop-up, I brought in Alex Silber, who works for a well known contracting firm that handles large projects like the Freehand Hotel and the Wayfarer Hotel. Originally, I had brought him on board to help with the build-out of Little Prince, but he ended being highly valuable in many ways beyond that. 

We shut down, remodeled in ten days, then opened back up as a brick-and-mortar. We were confident that we would get reviewed by the L.A. Times within the first several months because Jonathan Gold, then the head food critic for the L.A. Times and the only food writer to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, absolutely adored chef Ari. In the past, Gold had written two career-making reviews for Ari at Alma, and so we anticipated the same for Little Prince, figuring the Times would publish first and then other publications would follow suit. Six weeks after we opened, Jonathan Gold suddenly died, and the L.A. Times went into hiatus from restaurant reviews for a little over half a year.

Without the initial support from Gold that I was banking on, we opened up and had to weather the storm of not having a significant press push to drive business and meet the aggressive financial obligations on the space that I had committed to. We had to become successful from a grassroots level, which meant anchoring ourselves in the community and forming that relationship with our community to support us, which takes a lot more time to cultivate. The first year was really tough, and I ended up investing a lot more into the business than I had ever imagined to keep afloat in hopes that the neighborhood would eventually catch on through great experiences and word-of-mouth referrals.

We didn’t start making a profit until about six months prior to [the lockdown], and then the county shut down all restaurant dining, only allowing take-out. People didn’t just come to Little Prince for the food. [They came for] the entire experience– from the design, vibey music, inventive dishes, and cocktails, to the friendly service and familiar faces. The energy in the space was cozy, charming, and like a fantasy of a tropical safari.

How did you handle that difficult situation?

I’m generally a very optimistic person, but I went through a heavy series of unfortunate events all at the same time that pushed me into a dark place. My grandfather, who was more like a father to me, had a heart attack on Friday the 13th. On the 14th, he passed away, and then on the 15th, ominously The Ides of March, all of Los Angeles went into lockdown. I had to write my staff a very difficult message explaining how I had to furlough them without pay. My grandfather had died less than 24 hours the day before. 

I had all of these responsibilities that didn’t give me time to process the pain of his death. I went into full-on survival mode, and the only way I know to survive is by staying positive. When you look into history, and you see people that have overcome great challenges, none of them succeeded by saying, ‘We’re never going to make it, this sucks.’ It’s more like, ‘Hey, this sucks, but we’re strong. We’re going to pull through.’ Just stay hopeful and positive.

Love your community, love your neighbor, look for opportunities to help one another where others need help.

From that, we will all succeed, prevail, and be happier.”

What are you doing to adapt to the new reality for restaurants?

My primary focus has been finding pragmatic solutions that address new complications arising from the pandemic, one of which has been catering meals to front-line hospital workers. We’ve done about 3,000 meals and counting, with the help of World Central Kitchen and Frontline Foods, and it’s something that our cooks love to be a part of. We receive a ton of intangible value from knowing that we are providing a positive moment for our heroes on the front line during a hellish shift.

In addition, we have been providing a way for people to get delicious, healthful food into their homes that we source through the local farmers that we have forged relationships with for over a decade, via our market box program from the Little Prince Providore. The Providore became a new way to use the dining room as a neighborhood specialty market and natural wine shop, promoting the same ethos as Little Prince the restaurant and providing an alternative to large corporate grocery stores. 

There’s a number of older seniors I’ve delivered to from the beginning, and we always give them a special discount. It has been a welcomed opportunity to feed that community good quality food from sustainable sources at an affordable price without them having to leave the safety of their homes.

What’s next for Little Prince?

The next big thing for Little Prince is our new takeaway food program. We just hired a new head chef from Michelin-starred Lord Stanley in San Francisco; his name is Noe Jimenez, and he’s very talented. Before Lord Stanley, he apprenticed under Ari Taymor at Alma.

The food style will not be like a typical take-out menu and will require a higher level of participation from the customer. We’ll do about 95% of the process, and the customer will receive instructions on how to warm/assemble the meal. This will allow us to provide our customers with a Little Prince quality dining experience that travels well and can be enjoyed in the comfort of their own home.

Your Providore market boxes contain organic produce and free-pasture meats direct from small, local farms. Why is it important to know the source of your food?

I’m a strong advocate through, and through for avoiding consuming anything where you don’t know the source, you don’t know where it’s coming from. Organic non-processed foods as close to the source; that’s the way to a healthier life. Natural and minimal intervention wine is the only wine people should be drinking. To eat organic foods, but then drink wine with artificial preservatives and pesticides, it’s [counterintuitive]. I know a lot of people that stopped drinking wine because they’d get headaches. Once they switched to natural wine, the headaches went away. 

So whether it’s natural wine or natural food, across the board, I strongly believe in it because I am somebody who likes to frequently indulge in delicious food and alcohol and not feel terrible afterward. I mean, this is why we’re alive, to taste these tastes, to feel these feelings, to find novelty in the daily routine of eating and drinking. I see beautiful energy in people that adhere to this type of lifestyle. I feel it within myself. My friends who don’t, those who eat and drink junk without caring about the source and what the process is, they’re the ones who feel sick on a regular basis, and it’s not necessary.

Do you have any health tips to share?

Three years ago, I made the jump from coffee to matcha after a three-week trip to Japan, where I traveled around the countryside and cities of Honshu. With matcha, I noticed my caffeine buzz was more balanced and I didn’t crash in the afternoon as I often do with coffee. As I entered my 30’s coffee would upset my stomach, especially if I hadn’t yet eaten that day. I noticed that matcha didn’t have this same effect on my gut.

Upon researching matcha deeper, I found matcha has polyphenols, which are responsible for health effects conferred by a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. These polyphenols get broken down by our gut bacteria into bioactive, polyphenol-derived metabolites, making it a probiotic powerhouse. 

Not far from Little Prince, there is an awesome place called Cha Cha Matcha that serves a turmeric-ginger matcha latté. I found the earthy flavor of matcha was perfectly complimented by turmeric and ginger, not to mention all of the great restorative qualities of these ingredients. At home, I add manuka honey and oat milk. Here is the recipe:

 

TURMERIC-GINGER MATCHA LATTE

1 teaspoon Matcha powder (I like roasted matcha for its earthier flavor)

1/2 teaspoon ginger powder 

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder 

1/2 cup hot water 

1 cup oat milk 

1 tablespoon manuka honey 

 

DIRECTIONS: 

Add the ground spices and matcha into a mug with half of the hot water and whisk vigorously. Top with the rest of the hot water and heated oat milk and honey. Stir again and sip in the joy!

Who’s inspiring you right now?

Emmanuel Dossetti, the founder and CEO of the Zinque hospitality group. He’s the reason I had the confidence to open up my restaurant. I loved how every new spot he opened became a neighborhood hub where friends would gather on a daily basis. That’s what I wanted for Little Prince, a place for regulars.

The other major part of his business practice that influences me is how he takes care of his staff and the community. We relate a lot in terms of this desire not only to make the business model work but also to help make the community a better place. The success of the restaurant should always be beneficial for the community and the employees.

Our work families are such an important part of our lives in the restaurant industry. People that work in restaurants form a bond with each other that I don’t see in other industries—good people, loving people, supporting each other, working because they love what they’re doing, they love making others happy.

Is there any message you have for us all going forward?

Love your community, love your neighbor, look for opportunities to help one another where others need help. From that, we will all succeed, prevail, and be happier. That’s the world that I want to live in, and that’s the world I will continue to build.

Learn more about The Little Prince Providore at www.littleprince.la

Follow Little Prince on Instagram at @littleprince.la

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