Rob and Leslie Levy were regular customers of The Raymond Restaurant for years, but never in their wildest dreams did they ever imagine that they would one day own the place. “15 years ago, we were going to lunch there every day because we were working on a project a couple of doors down,” said Leslie. “We got to know the owner quite well because my husband had financed her house at one point. When we inquired about buying the apartment building she owned behind the restaurant, she said the only way she would sell it to us was if we bought the restaurant, too.”
The couple decided to go for it and reached out to a friend of theirs who was a pastry chef. They had experience flipping properties for many years, and they knew the restaurant needed a major update. They added several patios, an outdoor fireplace, redid the kitchen and installed speakers so that guests could enjoy music and spend happy hour by the fireplace. “We’ve redone the building, but we haven’t changed the building,” said Rob. “The kitchen is new and there have been many upgrades, but in terms of the structure itself, it’s still the same.”
Despite the remodel and addition of modern updates, the cottage’s craftsman architecture was carefully preserved to maintain its beautiful heritage. “In 1886, a man named Walter Raymond built The Raymond Hotel in Pasadena,” explained Rob. “The Raymond Restaurant served as the caretaker’s cottage. The hotel later burned down, then was rebuilt in the Depression and the property was sold. It sat vacant for years, then it was a flower shop before eventually becoming a restaurant in the mid-seventies. It was renamed The Raymond and then we took it over 15 years ago.”
Eight years ago, the Levys established the cocktail program which took the restaurant to new levels of success. The building didn’t have a proper bar when they purchased it, so they researched the bar scene in Downtown Los Angeles before building 1886 Bar with a focus on craft cocktails. All the ingredients are made in-house, including the ice that they manufacture on site, and the bar’s staff consists of experienced bartenders that have successfully passed their rigorous training program.
“In the summer our drinks are spicy, whereas winter drinks are more comforting,” Rob said. “Our bartenders create everything on the seasonal menu. Every person in the bar contributes something and they collectively choose what makes the menu. We have yet to find a drink that we don’t like.”
The food menu features a variety of seasonal fare that the Levys describe as “New American.” Executive Chef Tim Guiltinan, who was formally trained at Cordon Bleu and has worked at The Raymond 1886 for nine years, keeps the menu interesting by incorporating ingredients and dishes from around the world. While there isn’t one signature dish, there are many items worth trying. Their weekend brunches are always packed, serving tasty creations like the grapefruit brulee, huevos montulenos featuring scrambled eggs on crispy tortillas with black bean and corn salsa, and the open-face croissant with crispy fried chicken, cucumber, carrot, and radish drizzled with Thai maple syrup and fried eggs.
“Our menu is designed for sharing, people are encouraged to experiment and try different things—it’s how we eat when we go out and how a lot of people generally eat these days,” Leslie said. “There’s lots of different things on the menu. Our chef has intentionally not gone in a particular direction. We try to keep it interesting and let people experience new things.”
With a staff of 46 and a general manager, who assists the couple with overseeing the restaurant, it certainly takes a village—but is well worth the effort. The restaurant, which frequently hosts private events like weddings, birthdays and baby showers, is also involved with giving back to the local community. For several years, they’ve raised money through the Masters of Taste fundraiser held at the Rose Bowl for Pasadena-based Union Station Homeless Services. The popular event features multiple restaurants, spirit brands and bars with 100 percent of proceeds going toward the organization. Rob has chaired Masters of Taste for the past three years and is also a Union Station Homeless Services board member. This past May, a record-setting amount of over $500,000 was raised for the organization.
“I think for me the best part has been connecting with the community,” said Leslie. “It’s great seeing all we’ve been able to accomplish and do for others by owning a restaurant, which we had never imagined. And it’s fun because everybody that comes to our restaurant is celebrating something—a first date, an engagement, becoming a citizen—and we get to be a part of all these celebrations.”
“It’s like having a party at our house every day,” added Rob. “It is a house and it feels like a home. We’ve made a lot of great friends through the restaurant and it’s been a great experience. Every day is a special occasion.”
The Raymond 1886 is located at 1250 South Fair Oaks Ave. on the border of South Pasadena and Pasadena. It is open for lunch Tues. – Fri. 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues. – Sun. 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; and brunch on Sat. and Sun. 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For more information call (626) 441-3136 or visit theraymond.com
The Raymond Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 7.20.18.