Friday, June 5, 2015

Attack of the Killer Potatoes: Restaurateur Eric Ong's Humble Journey


Attack of the Killer Potatoes

Restaurateur Eric Ong sees community involvement and philanthropy as an extension of his Humble mission

by Michael Aushenker

May 8, 2015. The Humble Potato owner Eric Ong greets guests to his new Culver City restaurant one week after its grand opening. Photos: Michael Aushenker
 
A funny thing happened to Eric Ong en route to creating the patio garden at his new Humble Potato restaurant.
A few months ago, Ong was driving around Westchester, looking for inspiration, when he reached the end of a road. At the cul de sac, he gazed upon the perfect lawn of succulents he was after.
The owner of the house came out, almost antagonistically interrogating what Ong was doing parked outside her home. After Ong explained, she invited him inside and they talked.
Cut to a few months later, and Ong, with the consultation of the homeowner, attorney Jesse Croxton, was able to create the garden he was after.
“This was all concrete,” Ong said, proudly overlooking the drought-tolerant garden. “I’ve never done landscaping in my life.”
Drawing upon the talents of members of the community around him is typical for Ong, not to mention in the spirit of his endeavor down to the restaurant’s name.
With the original Humble Potato on Lincoln Boulevard in Westchester since Halloween 2012 and now a brand new location on Culver City’s popping Washington West district, the resourceful Ong has not only imported some much needed quirkiness to the Westside on a visual and epicurean level, he has drawn on the respective communities to execute his vision and further the Humble Potato philosophy of modesty and gratitude (as spelled out on the wall of Humble Potato’s original restaurant: ‘Simple food. Happy people. Humble lasts, hunger shouldn’t. Where there’s good will, there’s good eats. Eat well. Feel good. Live humbly”).
All the while, his capacity for these traits was put to the test in the past year as a series of obstacles led to the opening of his Culver City outlet seven months later than scheduled.
The shotgun-style interior of Humble Potato Culver City leads straight back to a rear patio with drought-tolerant garden.
 
A Humble Beginning
 
If Ong, 35, is not your typical local restaurateur, well, his Humble Potato outlets are not your typical eateries.
The colorful, cartoony J-Pop vibe at the original Westchester eatery brings a dash of Sawtelle’s Giant Robot store (or even San Diego Comic-Con) while its purposely finite menu strong-headedly attempts to deliver with perfection comfort food (hamburgers, hot dogs, steak and chicken sandwiches) with a twist that is equal parts Indonesian and Japanese.
The steak sandwich and new chicken wings appetizer at Humble Potato Culver City.
A veritable celebration of localism, Humble Potato enlisted Otis College students to paint the 1970s-style anime-laden decor, where imagery and figurines from “Gatchaman” and “Speed Racer” stare down from the shelves alongside Marvel superheroes, Superman, Super-Mario, Garfield and Darth Vader.
“I’m a hybrid,” Ong told The Argonaut in 2013. “I love design. Simple words, light colors, making it fun.”
Born and raised in Jakarta by a Taiwanese mother and Indonesian father, Ong spent four years living in Japan, where he was exposed to its cartoon pop culture.
“My dad launched a Japanese fast food concept in Jakarta,” he said.
His father grew Hoka Hoka Bento into one of Indonesia’s biggest franchises.
Ong originally arrived to L.A. to attend Santa Monica College, later receiving his degree in business administration in technology at Cal State-Northridge.For 12 years, Ong managed the data center infrastructure at Beach Body as the Santa Monica fitness enterprise grew into a billion-dollar company.
However, the corporate life proved too confining. In 2012, Ong converted a failed Quiznos on Lincoln Boulevard into the first Humble Potato. And so began Ong’s daily odyssey of people asking if his place specializes in potato products (no, although several varieties of French fries, including Shichimi and garlic-parmesan, are offered).
Humble features Angus burgers bearing wacky names (the Hambàga, the 9 to 5) and fusion-y items such as Yuzu jalapeño slaw. Ong insists on Indonesian-style tempehover soy or garden patties for vegetarian customers. The only shake offered is a practically unsweetened confection—an ice-blended avocado confection perked up with a drizzle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup — that nonetheless makes for a compelling signature drink.
“There’s no strawberry or chocolate shake,” Ong said. “That’s not who we are.”
The year 2012 holds meaning for Ong for other reasons, too. Ong and wife Keiya becames parents to daughter Kendra, now 3. It also brought his mother’s battle with breast cancer (she has since recovered).
 
Charity as a Boulevard to Success
 
Ong feels as humble as his restaurant’s cartoony potato mascot Ma-San for “being able to connect with people and being part of a community (through his restaurant). I get so much warmth and people from different cultures. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Although the longtime Palms resident currently lives near Beverlywood, Ong has exercised an emphatic outreach to the communities where his Humble Potatoes stand.
He has already become a prominent mover and shaker in Culver City, where he is working with Elaine Warner of Culver City Business Development to further consolidate what is being dubbed as the Washington West Business District.
 “Elaine and I are working closely together in hopes to create awareness and creating marketing campaign around the neighborhood for the new business district,” said Ong, with a goal to turn the Washington Boulevard strip into a formidable restaurant row. (Roy Choi’s A-Frame already stands across the street from Ong’s new joint.)
"I have been a huge fan since Humble Potato Westchester,” said Michael Flannagan, co-owner of neighboring Culver City restaurant Fin, who enjoys the new store’s “great vibe with hip decor. I love the Hambaga and Humble Dog. Best comfort food ever!"
In the past three years, Humble has joined forces with Pastor Doug Lee and his Catalyst Church in Westchester on American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, held at Venice High School, where Ong donated Hambagas— as well as during Thanksgiving time to feed the homeless.
Philanthropically, Humble also supports Westchester Science Magnet School via many fundraisers.
“He exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Ronald S. Mito, professor of Clinical Dentistry and associate dean of Academic Programs and Personnel at UCLA School of Dentistry. “Eric’s goal was to create a restaurant with a unique menu and become a staple of the community. Even though the restaurant was only open for a few weeks, he enthusiastically jumped at my request for him to support some of our community activities including the Westchester Science Magnets and the Race 4 Success,”
“He has a good balance of knowing what he wants versus letting artists do their thing,” said Emmet Ashford, whose Street Craft L.A. team—a pool of troubled but talented kids mentored in the fine arts—worked closely with Ong to execute Humble Culver City’s interior design. “Eric has a very clear vision but he is also open to innovation and variation.”
With Joey Furutani, Ong recently organized a fundraiser at his Culver City location to benefit Bresee Youth Center, an after-school programs for underprivileged youth nonprofit.
Longtime Westchester resident Mito knows an Eric Ong who is selfless and giving, no matter the circumstances.
“I remember the financial and operational stresses he was incurring during those early days, but that did not deter him from donating back to the community,” Mito said. “Now that several years have passed, Humble Potato Westchester is an integral part of our community and Eric continues to support community fundraising.”
 
Bumps Along the Road to Culver City
 
Last month, Ong —seated in his newly opened Culver City on a gray, wet day a few weeks shy of obtaining his beer and wine permit — recalled, with even emotion, its botched completion.
The original plan was to open the second Humble Potato (shorthanded “HP2” by Ong) in Culver City by Halloween 2014, rhyming with the Westchester original’s Halloween 2012 grand opening.
Destiny had other plans.

For a stretch, things seemed to go according to plan with this larger, more expensive Humble, Ong says, as the contractor he had hired embarked on building this new one from scratch.
By January, “he ran out on us. They just walked away from the job,” leaving the edifice in “a rough stage. There were a lot of mistakes with the plumbing and framing.”  
At the time, the young restaurateur turned to his wife for emotional support: “Usually, you have partners you can lean on, but I’m a one-man show. It’s a new experience opening it up by yourself.”
By January, Ong brought in Karl Kelm, who had done some woodwork for the original store, to help complete HP2. Kelm found Martin Alvarez to handle plumbing.
“They saved the day,” Ong said.
On May 1st, Humble Potato Culver City finally opened its doors offering a similarity in spirit with the Westchester original, albeit with an array of different details.
Every menu item offered at the Westchester store can be found at HP2, plus new additions such as spicy chicken wings and the Blondie Bar, a bed of granola topped with a scoop of black sesame ice cream.
The goal with HP2’s menu is “to see how we can elevate it,” Ong said. “We’ve grown up a little bit. There’s always room for improvement.”And, of course, there is the ambiance. Arriving at HP2, one finds a shotgun-style restaurant receding all the way back to a patio replete with warming lamps and picnic benches. Adorning the interior of each bathroom are cartoony, freewheeling black-and-white murals (the woman’s restroom sports a female Godzilla with lipstick).Whereas the original boasts figurines and Ma-San on the wall, HP2 depicts a Cartoon Network-worthy samurai mural over the front entrance while walls are plastered with posters of Japan-flavored kitsch, including the Japan-set James Bond film “You Only Live Twice” and a Japanese “Batman ‘66” ad, plus images of Japan’s veritable ambassadors to America: Godzilla and Ultraman.

And then there is the curious dated-looking, staid black-and-white photo in the eye of this J-Pop tsunami.
“That’s Keio University,” Ong said. “It’s the school where my parents met.”
            
                     *******************
The Humble Potato Team. 
Ladies: Sydney, Liony. Gents: Luis, Minh, Johnny, Jaycee with owner Eric Ong (far right). Photo Credit: Andrew Humphries Photography.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

NEW BOOK ALERT! Michael Aushenker to debut full-color TROLLS at LONG BEACH COMIC-CON in SEPT. 2015

Hey, Flophousers! There's an all-new full-color CARTOON FLOPHOUSE comic book on the horizon, and you're not going to believe this one....

Michael Aushenker's TROLLS debuts at LONG BEACH COMIC-CON 2015 this September!

"Trolls" is slang for "Air Traffic Controllers," the fine men & women working in airport control towers who help launch and land millions of commercial airliners each and every day around the world.


For months now, I've been using my journalistic skills to infiltrate local air traffic control towers incognito, trading Playboy magazines and packs of cigarettes for the straight dope on what really goes on behind the prohibited doors inside our nation's airports' control towers. This is their story.


So meet Edward and Wayward, a couple of sitting ducks (literally!) who work in said profession. Then one Friday, because of some crazy outside circumstances, Ed and Way can not go back home to their apartments. So they decided to pull a double-shift at work within Sky Harbor International in Phoenix, Arizona, and, since their boss won't be back till Monday morning anyway, why not throw a little workplace party and invite over the girls from Security? And yeah, um, some complications ensue and things spiral out of control.

Let's be candid here: I originally intended this comic book to become the next installment of my occasional series THOSE UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES (even hinted at the plot in the last ROGUES comic I did called "McDONALD MISSION," which took place in Quartzite, Ariz.)

However, I was flooded with some new inspiration that led me to make this comic book it's own thing, featuring two brand new characters: Edward and Wayward.

I will though include some UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES material and references within TROLLS as 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the original THOSE UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES comic book (which featured a foreword by one of my favorites, Gumby & Pokey creator ART CLOKEY).



No airs here: I'm super honored to have been invited by THE DEVASTATOR, L.A.'s premiere satirical comic book magazine, to be a part of their curated humor comics section at LBCC.

So I've decided to step up the pace on production and ready my newest, most colorful funny animal book yet for September's LBCC show.

See you there, Flophousers!

~ Michael Aushenker




Friday, February 13, 2015

"SLAYER," COMIC BOOK CREATOR #7 HIT YOUR LOCAL COMICS SHOP WEDS., MARCH 25th!

Weds., March 25th is shaping up to be a big release day for cartoonist Michael Aushenker of CartoonFlophouseComics.com fame.


First off, there's the debut of Acme Ink's new line of biographical heavy metal comics written by Aushenker (with various artists) and it launches Mar. 25 with SLAYER, about the kings of thrash and Aushenker's all-time favorite metal band (thanks to the Rick Rubin-produced SEASONS IN THE ABYSS, SOUTH OF HEAVEN and REIGN IN BLOOD - not to mention Kerry King's guitar solos on Beastie Boys cuts FIGHT FOR OUR RIGHT (TO PARTY) and NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN.

A preview version of SLAYER, edited by Acme Ink king Mel Smith, has been selling out at every convention sold in 2014, including San Diego Comic-Con and APE in San Francisco.

After Mar. 25th's SLAYER, Aushenker's work on JUDAS PRIEST, TESTAMENT, EXODUS and NOFX will hit the shops in the months to follow.


Also dropping Mar. 25 - Aushenker's COMIC BOOK CREATOR article on married creators Corinna Beckho and Gabriel Hardman (CATACLYSM ON THE PLANET OF THE APES). Aushenker is the associate editor of COMIC BOOK CREATOR, edited by Jon B. Cooke (COMIC BOOK ARTIST).

Ok, you've been warned! SLAYER is almost here! "Lightning, you motherfuckers!"

Friday, January 16, 2015

ARTICLE: Hilary Swank's Nov. 12 HOLLYWOOD MASTERS convo at LMU


Million dollar appearance

Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank closes out The Hollywood Masters series for 2014 at LMU

by Michael Aushenker


Of meeting her “Million Dollar Baby” director for the first time at his Warner Bros. office, Hilary Swank described the filmmaker this way: “He was a tall glass of water. He was refreshing and so handsome. He is Clint Eastwood.”
The actress could have used a tall glass of water on Nov. 12, when the Hollywood Reporter’s Special Features editor Stephen Galloway interviewed Swank in a conversation closing the exclusive The Hollywood Masters series for 2014 at Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television. Swank’s voice was hoarse from promoting “The Homesman,” which co-stars director Tommy Lee Jones and came out last Friday. She asked for some cough drops and received them from a screenwriting student in the audience.
This, on top of running late because she was trapped within her own home.
“The power went out and my gates are electric,” said Swank, who nevertheless scaled said walls. “My next job is Spider-Woman!”

Prone to positivity, effusively espousing lines such as “There’s no biggest obstacle than ourselves,” Swank handily won over her teen audience of aspiring entertainment professionals with her upbeat nature as she recalled the classicism she experienced growing up in a Lincoln, Nebraska trailer park and how she and her mom lived in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme for three weeks upon arriving in Hollywood.
But it was worthwhile. Swank landed a plum part on “Beverly Hills 90210.”
Too bad the Aaron Spelling soap had jumped the shark by this—its eighth season— and was quickly canceled. Swank was depressed.  
Then, two months later, she landed the role of real-life tragic transgender figure Brandon Teena for which she won her first Academy Award.
“There are no negatives,” Swank said. “I think it is how we choose to look at it. It would not have happened if I were still on ’90210.’”
What Swank deemed “the little movie that could,” “Boys Don’t Cry” became the breakthrough film making it possible for her to work with “Interstellar” director Christopher Nolan on 2002’s “Insomnia” (“I feel like he’s not just a director, he’s a visionary”) and Eastwood on 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby,” which landed her a second Oscar.
“I felt like I was shot out of a cannon with that movie,” she said of the unlikely success of micro-budgeted indie “Boys,” for which she only received $3,000 (not even qualifying her for SAG health coverage, then a minimum $5,000).
Swank has since portrayed uber-teacher Erin Gruwell (“Freedom Writers”) and doomed aviator Amelia Earhart (“Amelia”).
“I’ve pretty much made a living out of playing real-life characters,” she said, laughing.
Proud of her “Boys,” acting opposite then-rising actors Chloë Sevigny and Peter Sarsgaard, “I didn’t know it was going to be a catalyst for a bigger talk about gay, lesbian and transgender people,” Swank said.
In fact, following her talk, she could not stick around long to chat with students because that very evening, Swank was receiving an award at Outfest, thanks to this little movie she made 15 years ago.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Holidays 2014-15 from Michael Aushenker & Cartoon Flophouse Humor Comics!

Yeah, so I hijacked the Halloween Kidder himself, my pal Rhode Montijo, to help wish all you dedicated Flophousers a funtesticle Chanukah, Christmas & New Year's Eve 2015!

Listen, it's been a good year for Cartoon Flophouse, with two new releases -- GO, GENIUS, GO! # 1 & 2--and a side project --HELL'S KITTY: LOST IN LOS ANGELES, written by Nicholas Tana--available through my website CartoonFlophouseComics.com and via Amazon.

However, 2015 is gonna be a GREAT year because Aushenker's at it again with the SLAYER comic debuting at Wonder Con in April, a top secret new funny book debuting at San Diego Comic-Con 2015 (think in the spirit of THOSE UNSTOPPABLE ROGUES) and another project aimed for third quarter 2015.

Plus: visit and join RadioSilenceComic.blogspot.com to keep updated on a special charity project in development for late 2016 based on the life of blues rock guitar virtuoso Mike Bloomfield.

Happy holidays, Flophousers! Warm wishes for a facetious, fun-filled '15!


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Please join CARTOON FLOPHOUSE humor comics online!

Join up, you Flophousers!

The new website URL is cartoonflophousecomics.com

I'm also now on Twitter @CartoonFlophous

....and, of course, my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/CartoonFlophouse

Plus this blog for updates on upcoming conventions where through year's end I'll be promoting the following brand new books:






Thursday, August 14, 2014

THANK YOUUUU, STOCKTONNNN!

GO, GENIUS, GO! writer and cover artist MICHAEL AUSHENKER and artist Marcus Collar flank Awkward Mayhem as Mario.
I'd like to thank everyone -- new friends and old comrades -- who swung by my table at Stocktoncon to pick up the new books, GO, GENIUS, GO issues #1 and #2 as well as the SLAYER comic preview. We met some amazing new people this year including many new readers.

For those of you who missed out (cue violins...), like Axl sang, "Don't you cryyyy-yyy-yyy toniiiight!" You can order GO, GENIUS, GO! via my website CartoonFlophouseComics.com

STOCKTONCON 2014 was even better than last year's by a long shot, thanks to terrific organization by Mike Millerick and the hospitality of Tina DeZuniga, her family, and her Filipino restaurant RED ORCHIDS, in the heart of downtown Stockton.

Bet your last dollar that I intend to come back to Stockton, Calif. for STOCKTONCON 2015 on Aug. 8 and 9, 2015. I love the people of Stockton and to be honest, I had more fun this year at Stocktoncon than even San Diego Comic-con.

So Stocktoncon, it's ON!!