Two of the early VIPs of the modern Los Angeles food scene, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, said in a letter Monday that they will let their lease run out on Border Grill. The Mexican grill began on Melrose Avenue in 1985 and moved to 4th Street in downtown Santa Monica in 1990, before the beach city became such a red-hot shopping, eating and tourist destination. From this location, Border Grill grew into a brand — with food trucks and locations downtown, at LAX and in Las Vegas — and Millken and Feniger became national food celebrities.
They opened City Cafe in a tiny space next to L.A. Eyeworks on Melrose as young but experienced chefs in 1981. City Cafe became popular way beyond its capacity to handle diners.They moved City over to a larger space on La Brea Avenue at 2nd Street and opened Border Grill in the Melrose space. They were the originators of KCRW's "Good Food" show, had a show on KCET and also starred in many seasons of "Too Hot Tamales" on the Food Network.
The plan is to open another unspecified restaurant in Santa Monica and keep the other Border Grill locations going. The Santa Monica location is set to close in mid-October with a final party.
Earlier this year, Los Angeles Magazine revisited the early years.
The first iteration of City was a little 39-seater next to L.A. Eyeworks on Melrose Avenue. Having trained in traditional French kitchens—Feniger at Ma Maison and then L’Oasis on the French Riviera, and Milliken at Restaurant D’Olympe in Paris—their original menus were peppered with classic fare like duck confit, cassoulet, brandade, and pot au feu. But things slowly got more global after the two chefs traveled around the world....
In the 1980’s, food in L.A. was mostly French and Italian. Think: L’Orangerie, Campanile, St. Estephe, Valentino, and La Toque. Chasens was still open, and Michael Roberts’ trendy Trumps restaurant on Melrose was about as avant-garde as it got. City was new, fresh, and extremely gutsy. By utilizing new ingredients and techniques they picked up around the world, coupled with things plucked from a few local farms, Feniger and Milliken were unknowingly contributing to the way we’d all ultimately be eating today.
Here's their letter from earlier today.
Letter from Chefs Susan Feniger & Mary Sue Milliken
August 29, 2016
It’s time for a new adventure! After 26+ years, our lease at Border Grill Santa Monica on 4th Street is up and we are beginning a new chapter in the neighborhood. With a sentimental and nostalgic nod, we are deeply grateful to all of our employees – without whom we never could have operated for so long, the many guests we have had the pleasure of serving through the years and of course, the forward-thinking city of Santa Monica.
We have a million wonderful memories, from our opening party in 1990, when a spontaneous, margarita-fueled conga line snaked through the restaurant, to filming Food Network cooking shows with a live audience- packed to the rafters, to pitching KCRW’s GM on our idea for a food focused radio show (and Good Food was born). By our most recent calculation, we’ve handmade more than 9 million tortillas on the comal in the window, mashed over 500 tons of avocados for guacamole and poured over 325,000 bottles of tequila – and counting. We are looking forward to making more memories with fans and customers at Border Grill Santa Monica in the coming weeks as we plan to operate through mid-October.
This is less of a "goodbye/adios” and more of a “see you soon/hasta luego!” as we prepare to unveil our next exciting concept in Santa Monica. We would love to see all of our guests and supporters from over the years and encourage one and all to come in, reminisce and enjoy their favorite Border Grill Santa Monica cocktails and dishes. Stay tuned for throwback menu items and pricing, resurrecting fan favorite dishes and a big final fiesta to relive that memorable conga line.
Of course, we continue to make great food and great memories at our other Border Grill locations in Downtown Los Angeles, The Forum Shops and Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, LAX Airport, and the Border Grill Trucks.
– Susan & Mary Sue