Wondering what a 7-Eleven merged with a Whole Foods would be like? Melissa and Greg Horos had that same query 12 years ago. To find out, they opened Locali, the California staple known for vegan comfort food, like breakfast sandwiches, tacos, burgers, and smoothies, and more. The food at Locali embodies the sweet spot between the philosophy of ‘food as medicine’ and “a soul-satisfying party in your mouth,” as Melissa says. To get to know one of the minds behind Locali a bit better, we chatted with Melissa at home.
NBRHD: Tell us your story, elevator-pitch style:
MR: “Locali was started 12 years ago when health and convenience were still an oxymoron. We envisioned it as the love child of 7-Eleven and Whole Foods. Locali evolved beyond our original vision. With three locations in Los Angeles, we are now known, first and foremost, for the vegan dishes from our deli. Our menu has a warranted cult following. We serve some of the damn tastiest smoothies, salads, and sandwiches in the country.”
NBRHD: What was your introduction to the food?
MR: “My mom’s side is Serbian-American and my earliest food memories were of my Baba baking traditional pastries. I can still taste her nut roll and her version of Zerbo Kocke which is a delicate and divine layer cake with apricot filling. The memories of my grandmother listening to music on AM radio while chain-smoking cigarettes and baking are some of my most fond childhood memories. Ahhhh, simpler times.”
NBRHD: What are your foundational sources of inspiration?
MR: “Chicago and Philly. Greg Horos, my business partner and BEH (best ex-husband), is from Philadephia originally and I was born and raised in downtown Chicago. We both grew up eating a ton of very flavorful…and very heavy food. When we created Locali, we wanted our dishes to be healthy while also having a hearty feel. We wanted the similar level of satisfaction you get from an incredible slice of pizza to be the sensory experience you have with one of our sandwiches. It should be a soul-satisfying party in your mouth if we’re doing it right.”
NBRHD: What’s your general philosophy around food?
MR: “Food is medicine…on all levels. Physically, mentally and spiritually…what we consume makes us who we are.”
NBRHD: Tell us the birth story of Locali:
MR: “I was working as a health counselor in a “food desert” and the dietary prescriptions the physician I worked for prescribed to patients were nearly impossible for them to follow at that time due to issues of access. That problem spurred our idea around the need for healthy convenience stores. There was an Armenian deli set to close in our neighborhood of Franklin Village and we took over the lease. From idea to operating our first location, it was roughly six months and that was back in 2009.”
NBRHD: How would you describe Locali in 3 words?
MR: “Made With Love.”
NBRHD: What was the last meal you had? Was it good?
MR: “My mom made dinner for Serbian Christmas on January 7th, and it was cozy, comfort food to the max. She also made Česnica which is a traditional bread you serve on the day and hide a coin in. The person who finds the coin in their piece has good luck for the year. This year, I found the dime!”
NBRHD: Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling burnt out?
MR: “My daughter. She is two and a half and she helps me to never take myself or the ups and downs of the restaurant business too seriously.”
NBRHD: How have you been decompressing lately?
MR: “Playing, walking, and doing art with my daughter. I’m also a big fan of yoga fitness apps, so I try to squeeze in sessions when I have some free time. A book and a bath is an absolute luxury that I relish when I have the rare chance.”
NBRHD: Where in your home are you spending the most time?
MR: “The kitchen. I cook while my daughter paints. She has an easel in there. It starts out innocent enough, but 10 minutes in, she’s usually painting her whole body and face. ‘Don’t you love my lovely mustache, Mommy?’ And I do, she’s very artful with her application.”
NBRHD: What’s the last great thing you read, watched, or listened to?
MR: “I rewatched La Strada. I’m a huge Fellini lover. I love pretty much all Italian films of that era and what they say about the absurdity of life. Listened to MF DOOM’s Born Like This and thought a lot about his immense talent and the late news of his passing. Read Alice Walker’s We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For – an insightful collection of her essays/speeches that are helping me to clarify the vision of my personal occupation in the collective responsibility at this moment in history.”
NBRHD: What’s your favorite vegan comfort food?
MR: “Locali’s Badass Breakfast Sandwich. Like the Porsche slogan, “There is no substitute.” No comfort food compares. Except maybe our Sir Nasty Breakfast Sandwich. It’s the OG plus sriracha and grilled red onion.”7
NBRHD: What’s an unexpected vegetarian sandwich combo?
MR: “All our sandwiches come vegan by default and then the customer can choose to sub real meat or cheese on some of them. Our Peaceful Warrior sandwich when it’s made with vegan deli meat and Swiss Cheese is a really special vegetarian item. It has arugula, red pepper, mango chutney, and Locali-made curry spread. We serve it on six-grain bread and it’s the perfect combo of sweet and savory.”
NBRHD: What is your favorite purchase in this lockdown period that is a non-necessity?
MR: “Toss-up between my new wooden knife block and the indulgent framing of a poster of Liberace in the bathtub from my dearest friend, Anisha.”
NBRHD: What is something you’re looking forward to when it’s safe to gather again?
MR: “1) My best friend, Jade, has a daughter as well that is a year younger than mine and they live in NYC. We can’t wait to be reunited and have the chance to just sit and watch our little ones play together. Facetime isn’t cutting it. 2) Hug people. The world needs more hugs.”
NBRHD: What are your favorite pantry items and why? Any tips on how to use them?
MR: “Nutritional yeast. I love it for everything, from topping on my greens to using it in a vegan cheese spread to having it tossed in my popcorn with paprika and sea salt. Gives food that cheesy zing. I love filé powder for thickening stews. Coconut oil for baking and body oil.”