Located between Taiwanese breakfast spot Today Starts Here and two-in-one java and stationery shop Paper Please and Thank You Coffee, Sesame L.A. is rooted in Sivrican's Vietnamese heritage and carries mostly Asian-owned brands. Alongside Asian pantry staples (think Sriracha, TPF sauces, Yuzu Mayo, and more), the space stocks Vietnamese grab-and-go foods and other homemade dishes with pan-Asian influences, flowers by the stem, and đồ ăn nhậu (which translates to "drinking food" in Vietnamese) such as sweet treats and salty snacks like tamarind candies and crab chips.
About half of the homemade meals are vegetarian offerings made by Buddhist monks. The grab-and-go options vary and depend on what the chefs feel like making, so the menu is always different.
Of the Buddhist temple foods, " there's a lot of positive energy that goes into the food, [just like] with other chefs," Sivrican tells UncoverLA. "They put a lot of love into their work, it's just a different type of spirituality. [Proceeds] are donated to the temple, and that money gets donated to poor villages in Vietnam." Sesame L.A. also gives back to Chinatown to support community programming.
Also on offer are locally-grown produce from urban farms including Montecito Heights' RoseHill Farm and Lincoln Heights' Avenue 33 Farm, sparkling water from Filipino-American-founded brand Sanzo, gourmet chocolates from San Francisco-based Deux Cranes, decadent desserts by Oprah-beloved Le Bon Garçon, and pesticide-free oolong teas from Three Gems Tea, Omsom meal kits, to name a few. There's also a frozen foods case with concentrated Vietnamese coffee (one bottle creates four servings), vegetarian stew with jackfruit and lemongrass, and more.
Sivrican says that Sesame L.A.will also roll out a video series featuring cool culinary stars, including Top Chef winner Mei Lin.
The space was originally planned as a two-week pop-up for Capsule Parfumerie (which also has shelf space at the store). "When I was offered the chance to stay longer, I said, 'You know what, we're going to do a market concept for the community because all the markets in this area have closed.' That's going to be well-received, and we have experience from my family's background already to do something like this," says Sivrican. Eventually, Sesame L.A. will move to a larger space next door.
Sivrican's mother, Judy Nguyen, is a veteran of the food restaurant industry and previously worked as a menu consultant. (Clearly, an instinct for appeasing the senses runs in the fragrance maker's blood.) Sesame L.A. also employs elders through Nguyen's kitchen.
"I'm lucky because I have so much to pull from family and friends, and because of my family's background, we can make all of the food," she adds. "That's exciting because it's home cooking. It's from elders, so they're passing on recipes from [older] generations."
Sivrican is also curating the pop-up kiosks in the outdoor lot next door. They'll be filled with goods from local brands and makers as a way to support the small businesses.
Sivrican acknowledges that the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes has inspired her to uplift her community. "We want to stand and rise together; we want to celebrate your culture. We want to make this concept a collaborative effort so that we're all standing together and offering something really unique and different, and celebrating where we come from," she says."
Take a peek inside the cool mini-mart and scroll through the gallery above, and see below for the address and hours.
Sesame L.A., 936 North Hill St., L.A., 90012; Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.