Couple’s Temple Bar Urban Eats in West Covina has a ‘let’s do it our way’ vibe – San Gabriel Valley Tribune
A skeleton with a sugar skull greets patrons as they enter West Covina’s Temple Bar Urban Eats, whose Dia de los Muertos-themed decor with gorgeous original artwork is stunning to behold.
Immediately to the right is a banquet hall that doubles as an art gallery created by Whittier-area artist Manny Cuchilla, whose paintings adorn the walls.
To the left of that is the full bar, something co-owner Ron Beilke never thought many restaurants had before this one.
“The full bar could be a game-changer here, no doubt,” said Beilke, who owns the place with his wife, Lily Martini.
Much like the food, chef Angelica Contreras has concocted tasty combinations of Latin-Asian fusion cuisine, like an absolutely succulent pork tamale smothered in ramen and a bit of savory broth.
It was a labor of love for Beilke and Martini, especially since Martini had a stage 4 cancerous tumor removed behind his right eye on July 20, just three weeks before the August 12 soft open.
The official inauguration of the Grand Avenue spot will take place on Thursday, September 22 at 4 p.m. The mayor of West Covina, Dario Castellanos, and the rest of the city council are expected.
Beilke and Martini got married about 3½ years ago and as whiskey drinkers wanted to travel to Scotland, London and Ireland for their honeymoon. Once in Dublin, they visited the Temple Bar area.
“The only thing I can compare it to is Bourbon Street (in New Orleans), where it’s just a street of bars and parties,” Beilke said.
Thus, the inspiration for Temple Bar Urban Eats.
“We had so much fun there,” said Beilke, who grew up in Montebello. “We knew we couldn’t do an Irish pub; it has been done and tried. We loved the energy and the feel, so she (Martini) just said, ‘Let’s do it our way’, and that’s where the name Temple Bar comes from.
With Latin music playing in the background on Tuesday morning, the husband and wife team hosted a reporter and a photographer, who both sampled some of the delicious culinary offerings.
Although the restaurant was not yet open – it currently opens at 4pm but will soon be moving to lunch and brunch on Saturday and Sunday – the atmosphere was vibrant.
This is what the owners wanted.
“What we tried to do was not have just one thing,” Beilke said. “We spaced out the neon lights, we spaced out the original paintings, the lighting is different in every part of the room. We really just tried to create something that is visually stimulating.
This way people are looking around, enjoying the scenery instead of being on their phones. And if they’re on their phone, maybe it’s because they’re posting pictures of the restaurant.
“We wanted something fun,” said Martini, who grew up in Koreatown, Los Angeles. “We’ve been to other places in LA and there’s a lot of Day of the Dead themes, some here and there.
“But I felt like we didn’t want it to look like graffiti art, I wanted it to be a female and family friendly place. But at the same time fun and something to talk about . It’s compatible with Instagram. Like, it’s, ‘Wow.’ “
Beilke said that worked too.
“Everyone comes in, they all come back and they love the vibe,” he said. “That’s the number one word they use, vibe is everything. So and that’s to his credit.
Martini may have taken the lead on decor, but both said collaboration on everything — food, decor and art — was vital.
There are two chorizo side dishes – one with potatoes, one with mashed potatoes – three types of tamale dishes, bulgogi (Korean beef) tacos, Philly cheesesteak sliders, shrimp sushi rolls and much more. There are drinks with cool names like Superman, Viva Vanessa and Left at Sea.
It cost Beilke and Martini around $380,000 to get this off the ground. They know it’s not easy to have a successful restaurant these days, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc on businesses. This is not lost on city leaders.
“The city is very grateful for their courage and support in opening their trendy restaurant in West Covina at this time,” Councilman Tony Wu said.
“We realize the economy still hasn’t gotten back to where it should be, there’s no doubt about that,” Beilke said.
He said things got off to a bit of a slow start, but there were around 130 people there last Friday night. Beilke said that for two hours there were only four empty tables.
The banquet hall (art gallery) and outdoor seating give the venue a capacity of 200 people, but they were not used that evening.
One thing is certain, this duo is dynamic. Imagine, the day before the cancerous tumor was removed from behind his eye, Martini held an orientation session for three groups of employees, or about 50 people. Each session lasted two hours.
“It was tough,” Martini said.
“Every employee file was done before we got home,” she said. It was 10 p.m. and she had to check in for her operation at 5 a.m. the next day. Currently wearing an eye patch, she will soon be fitted with an ocular prosthesis.
As Beilke spoke, he explained how much fun he and his wife had “creating this place.” They wanted it to be different.
“I hope it’s something that we put our little brand on that makes it unique,” he said. “And if people like it, then it was totally satisfying for us.”