For nearly six years, Met Her At A Bar has been a beloved local brunch spot dominating the very neighborhood it helped create along La Brea Avenue south of Wilshire. Vinny and Mindy Kinne, the husband-and-wife team who, yes, met at a bar, have been growing their empire ever since. Two years after the daytime-only Met Her opened, the Kinnes took over the opposite corner with a new Italian concept called, naturally, Met Him At A Bar. Then, in May of this year, Her Thai debuted in a third location next door. It’s been a stellar journey, but not one without its struggles, from the pandemic to starting a family to simply maintaining quality across multiple restaurants.
Resy: I know the line is that you two first met at a bar, but I assume it’s a little more complicated than that. Could you tell me the story of how you two first met?
Vinny: So it was one starry night in Hollywood [laughs]. No, it was a nice night out in Hollywood. And Mindy had just gotten back from Thailand, like, a day before. Literally just got in. And I had just moved to L.A. from Bangkok. I was actually bartending, and she came in with a bunch of friends, not really wanting to be there because she was so jetlagged. But, as fate has it, she was convinced to go out, and that’s when we met.
But she was with all of her friends and I was working, and I didn’t want to be that guy. So even though we started talking, I didn’t get her number at the end of the night. But then I asked around and found her name on Facebook. So when I got home at like 3 a.m. after work, I sent her a message. On Facebook, 10 years ago, you’d get a dot, dot, dot when people start to type, so I thought … alright [laughs].
It’s one thing to start a relationship that way. It’s a whole other thing to decide to open up a restaurant together. How did you arrive at that decision?
Mindy: In Thailand, my mom’s side of the family, my uncle, my whole grandma’s side, they’ve all sold street food since I was a kid. So I’ve been involved with food, selling food at a stand, you know, for a long time. When I came to America, I majored in Food Science and Technology. I was a food scientist, and I did research and development with a flavor company for nine years. In the meantime, from the time I was in college, I’ve always worked in a restaurant as a server or a bartender. Even when I got a food science job I would keep one or two days at a restaurant. I love hospitality. So, basically I’ve been in the restaurant business ever since I got to America, and my dream always was to have a restaurant for my friends to hang out at because I love it so much.
V: I grew up in restaurants — my family’s business is 103 years old — but I always told myself I would never get into this crazy business. Whoops. I’ve always been around hospitality. We love hospitality. We know how to make sure people are having a good time.
So how did Met Her At A Bar itself come to be?
M: The location, when we first got it, there was nothing around, south of Wilshire.
V: You have République and no one ever went south of there.
M: The restaurant we took over was a vegan cafe. It was really nothing but there was something about it. I’d see it all the time, and I’d think, this is it. A lot of my friends said this is a kind of an iffy area because there was nothing around, but right now it’s crazy. It’s a happening corner.
You’ve become a sort of staple in the area, the go-to place.
M: Yeah, we’re really neighborhood-forward. We live in the area. We know all the neighbors and we appreciate all the regulars who have come in from day one. We still treat them like our guests and we know a lot of them because we’re in there all the time.
V: You know when you’re in New York City and you have your café? We want to be that café for Los Angeles. We want to be that cornerstone neighborhood spot that you feel is warm, cozy, vibrant, and has delicious food. We want to cultivate that. I don’t care if we have 20 locations — in every location I want to encompass that culture and feeling.
The tip is if it’s too busy, just go to Met Him At A Bar, because we serve the exact same items, but with a full liquor license.— Mindy Kinn
How do you think you guys have achieved that with Met Her specifically in its original location? How did you make it really feel like that for the neighborhood?
V: I think it all has to do with the energy you put out, really. When you marry great food and great hospitality, it’s going to work. I don’t care where you are, people are going to go. So, I feel like it just kind of slowly built up. We built the regulars. Then people started coming from Orange County. Then all these celebrities started coming all the time, asking for a table. It’s crazy.
M: We’re both foodies. We love restaurants. So wherever we go, we always talk about what brings us back. When we go out, everything that we love we take back to our business. And we explain the exact same thing to our staff: treat [the diners] like people that come to your house, like your guests, and make sure they have a great time.
V: I want to add one quick thing. Even with our experience, Met Her At A Bar was super challenging the first year. It was so hard on our relationship and finances, everything, I don’t even know how we did it. It was crazy, but we just pushed through and did it, and stuck to those core values. And we always value our team members. We feel that in the restaurant, the staff is the most important element. They have to be happy. That energy will spread like wildfire and they’ll be enthusiastic about the food, the place, the story, the owners. I want them to act like it’s their café.
Let me pivot a little bit — I know you recently reopened Met Him, so I wanted to ask what sort of changes and upgrades you’ve made?
V: We’re sticking to our Amalfi Coast theme, but we’re introducing Neapolitan-style pizza on the other side [of the restaurant], and we’re basically doubling that side. We really elevated the interiors. Designer Sormeh Rienne helped us bridge the gap. We still want to retain that culture we were talking about before, keeping this your casual spot, but take it up a bit. Now we have this beautiful quartzite bar and this pizza oven, stone walls, and a grotto on the other side. We’re leveling up the food as well.
M: The pizza dough is made fresh every day, just like the pasta.
When you opened your second location, you did so across the street from your first and you went for a dinner menu. Why open up a whole second location to do that, instead of expanding your first?
M: Because it’s a different vibe. At Met Her, it’s my vibe, it’s more about the Thai twist for brunch. I use my own recipes — the Thai omelet, tom yum seasoning on the fried chicken. But once we took over the space across the street, we made it more of his vibe. He’s Italian. And he’s bringing over his mom’s recipe for the red sauce, the meatballs, all of that.
V: And I was like, we have to do this because it’s His and Her corners. It’s the best branding opportunity ever.
How do you keep the two concepts from cannibalizing each other? Is there a risk of that?
V: There really isn’t, because they’re totally different cuisines. And I’m of the camp where, honestly, I want this whole area to have as many options as possible. I really believe that when the tide rises, we all rise.
Has there been talk then of expanding after this to other neighborhoods? Or you’re going to stay pretty much where you’re at now?
V: We’ve been looking. Right now, we plan to open Met Her At A Bar on Main Street in Santa Monica.
You kind of touched on this before, but how do you balance both the personal life and the relationship together running several businesses? How does that work?
V: It was super hard in the beginning.
M: It’s still hard. We talk about work all the time. We try to have a date night like once a week, but we talk about work.
V: But we enjoy that. We’re entrepreneurs. So, now we’re asking: how do we scale a business? Yeah, we talk about work, but we love talking about things like, “This Champagne tastes nice, I wonder what the price point is?” Or, you’ll see me flipping over a plate because I want to know who made it. Or, how far does the light come down to the table? But that’s who we are. We enjoy it.
What are your favorite dishes each at Met Her and Met Him? Do you think there are any sleeper hits?
M: The fried chicken waffle at Met Her. It’s out of this world, but everyone knows that because everyone talks about that. That’s my favorite, but I always get the power bowl, though.
V: I think that’s the sleeper hit.
M: It’s light, healthy, but pretty filling with a lot of grains.
What about at Met Him?
M: At Met Him? The cacio e pepe. Hands down for me.
V: With the truffle. For me, too. Yeah.
M: Our new lobster pasta is so good.
V: So good.
M: Our lemon doughnuts are to die for.
V: People used to come in — they still come in — after 9 p.m. and say, “Hey Vinny, what’s going?” I’d ask them if they’re getting some pasta and drinks. And they’d say, “Actually, I was going to do the lemon donuts and two cocktails.” It’s perfect.
I know Met Her has pretty healthy wait times, especially for brunch on the weekends. Do you have any tips for people on when to show up, or how to get a table quicker?
M: The tip is if it’s too busy, just go to Met Him At A Bar, because we serve the exact same items, but with a full liquor license.
V: We always tell them that if you really, really want to dine at Met Her At A Bar, please go get a cocktail at Met Him and wait. Honestly, if you come in from 10 to 1:30, there’s going to be a wait.
M: That’s peak time.
V: We do need a bigger Met Her At A Bar. It’s just too small for what we have. It’s crazy. We have, like, 40 seats in there.
Can you talk to me a little bit more about your newest place, Her Thai?
M: I helped my mom sell Thai street food from the time I was 10 years old. I just wanted to bring that authentic Thai food to the neighborhood. Fast, but fresh. And the same designer designed the Thai to-go location for us. This one is something that we aim to do many locations of. That’s why we don’t have a crazy long menu. We want to make sure the quality is there.
V: I think it’s a beautiful full-circle moment for [Mindy] to honor her mother, who passed away when Mindy was 17. That’s when Mindy came to America to live with her aunt and pursue a better life. But now, it’s pretty awesome — she did this food with her mother on the streets in Bangkok, and now we have our own little spot for her.
M: Our idea is to do a franchise [with Her Thai]. Not fast food, but easy to replicate. Everything will be made fresh and in-house.
You touched a little bit on opening up Met Her in Santa Monica. What else is next? Any other new concepts in the works?
V: We have some things cooking. We can’t really say right now because we’re negotiating, but we definitely have some innovative concepts that tie into the story as well. So be on the lookout for the little group that we’re forming.
Oren Peleg is a journalist and screenwriter. He currently contributes to Eater LA, Los Angeles, The Infatuation, and hosts the Not Billable podcast. You can follow him here. While you’re at it, follow Resy, too.