Miracle on Pasadena Avenue: Cos & Pi

Photos courtesy Sally Kilby
Casey Wiele (left) and Xochilt Perez pose outside their three-year-old neighborhood eatery, Cos & Pi, which is named after their children (Cosmo and Pirate).

Three years ago, a husband-and-wife team took a chance by opening Cos & Pi, a small neighborhood eatery in South Pasadena. They chose a nondescript building in an out-of-the-way part of the city on Pasadena Avenue to house their first restaurant.
Opening a restaurant in any locale is risky. Xochilt (pronounced So-chee) Perez and Casey Wiele (pronounced Wee-lee), however, had a vision. From the beginning, their focus has been on the food. They invested in quality and their steadfast commitment to it has paid off.
Cos & Pi, which is named for the owners’ children Cosmo and Pirate, is open for breakfast, lunch and brunch. They serve bacon, eggs, sausage, hamburgers and other basic fare.
“We make each one of those items as best as it can be,” Wiele said in an interview recently. “In cooking eggs, we use butter, not oil.” Many restaurants don’t do this because of the expense, he said.
The potatoes au gratin menu item offers an example of how much care goes into their food preparation. The potatoes are peeled and shredded and then added to a freshly prepared cheese sauce, Perez said.
“This is mixed into a sheet pan and then baked,” she continued.
“It’s a two-day process,” Wiele added.
“The final serving is cut and then deep fried to order,” Perez said.
“This is how we came up with this cheesy, yummy goodness,” Wiele said.
Another example is the turkey they use in sandwiches. “We don’t buy deli meat,” Perez said. “We buy the breast.”
The staff then seasons it, she said, cooks it slowly in a pouch at a low temperature, and then deep fries it.
“It’s then thinly sliced fresh,” she said.
Wiele and Perez believe the food should speak for itself.
Presentation is also important to the owners.

Turkey sandwich

“We always view food as art,” said Wiele, “so we try to make each dish visually appealing.”
A number of dishes elicit expressions of “Wow” when they arrive at a customer’s table. One is a tall stack of French fries topped with mounds of crushed avocado. Another is the sizeable turkey club sandwich. “You can see each layer and it’s very colorful,” Perez said. Vegan toast presents another visual treat, she said.
An example of another flavor-rich menu choice is their Applewood bacon and egg croissant. Their “Get to the Chopper” burger is comprised of a house-blend Angus beef patty with flavorful gruyere and cheddar cheese, smoked bacon and jam, avocado, caramelized onion, wild baby arugula and garlic aioli on a brioche bun.
All of their bread is baked in-house in a space next door. “We make the loaves for toast, the buns for burgers, and croissants and brioche,” Perez said.
The couple has more than 30 years of experience in the food industry. Both have worked for the Patina Restaurant Group, an international restaurant and hospitality business. Wiele held positions as executive chef at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Descanso Gardens and Walt Disney Concert Hall/the Music Center.
When the couple opened Cos & Pi in March 2017, they had just one employee. They were concerned about the Pasadena Avenue site. The building is adjacent to several roads that intersect at the western edge of South Pasadena. This is where Monterey Road meets the Gold Line light rail crossing, Arroyo Drive and Pasadena Avenue.
Not only that, the restaurant can be difficult to find for those unfamiliar with the area. The eatery is in a primarily residential area with a few commercial businesses and no restaurants. Hawthorne Street, which is lined with sound walls to block train noise, borders the cafe. The Gold Line passes within yards of the restaurant. There is little pedestrian traffic. Commuters and others speed through the neighborhood to and from the 110 freeway, Los Angeles and other destinations.
Given that location, Perez and Wiele hoped that customers would find their way to the
place and that their patron base would build gradually.
However, within two weeks eager customers discovered them.

Vegan toast

“They came fast, and it was all by word of mouth,” said Perez. “If 20 people came one day, 40 came the next day.” Today, the line of waiting customers can easily stretch out into the street, she said.
Yelp gives Cos & Pi a 4.5 rating out of 5, based on 726 reviews as of Jan. 25. TripAdvisor, with 10 reviews, also ranks it 4.5 out of 5.
Judging by the customers frequenting the restaurant, part of its appeal is its family-friendly and child-friendly ambience. The atmosphere is casual, the furnishings serviceable. There is outside dining with a view of the train.
Restaurant reviewers have discovered Cos & Pi. Two Pasadena publications featured it in January.
On Jan. 6, Merrill Schindler, a veteran restaurant reviewer, published a three-star (out of four) review in the Pasadena Star-News. The headline read, “Cos & Pi will start your morning or midday right.”
Three days later, on Jan. 9, the Pasadena Weekly’s Evelyn Garcia wrote a review titled “Flavor Meets Beauty.” The title refers to aesthetically pleasing menu items.
Cos & Pi will celebrate its third anniversary on March 29.
“We invested everything,” Perez said. “We sold our house to open this restaurant. We had zero investors. It was just my husband and me.”
They have also invested an enormous amount of time. The restaurant is open every day of the week, and they are almost always on site.
“We want to grow,” Perez said of their future plans. She said they might offer dinner several nights a week. They already have a beer and wine license. Postmates and DoorDash deliver.
The couple’s background is in catering, so they said they would like to expand this business. Wiele said his wife is a talented cake maker, and they would like to develop that service, as well.
Wiele said, “We also want to open up shop No. 2 and shop No. 3. We’d like to see fresh, good, quality food in every neighborhood.” At this point, he said, they are open to suggestions for locations.

Cos & Pi is located at the corner of Pasadena Avenue and Hawthorne Street in South Pasadena.
Directional signage at the Monterey Road intersection is seen in the window’s reflection.
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Sally Kilby, a South Pasadena resident, was City Clerk 2000-2013. Prior to that, she worked in health care as a nurse, medical librarian, advertising copywriter, writer and journal editor. She is involved in various community organizations. Her two grown children attended South Pasadena schools and work at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena.