WeHo’s French Market Evolving into Business Incubator

The French Market Place is being revived, but as a non-profit incubator for socially conscious businesses rather than the collection of small shops and a restaurant that it once was.

For the Social Good,” a non-profit organization founded by Tai Sunnanon, says its mission “is to provide residents of the Greater West Hollywood area with affordable work-space, resources and collaboration to launch and grow their business with support from the government, public and private sector.”

“One major social short-fall that has plagued the City of West Hollywood has been affordable work-space,” Sunnanon said in a press release about the project. “Consequently, residents must work in their own homes or seek office space outside of the city. This leads to a silo effect, whereby no collaboration or engagement is to be had. While coffee shops and the wonderful library offer spaces to work, they are not conducive for real cross-sector collaboration, which leads to social innovation on a broader scale.”

Tai Sunnanon
Tai Sunnanon

Sunnanon said he is looking to attract people who want to be part of a community and are socially conscious. “We define socially conscious as a desire to give back to the community. For a nonprofit, this is embedded in its mission. For a for-profit, this may take the form of staff members volunteering in the community, donating funds to charitable organizations, providing pro-bono consultancy, etc.”

Sunnanon, a West Hollywood resident, has worked in the nonprofit sector as a university instructor, national speaker and author. He has run three nonprofits in the areas of education, child-welfare and health. For five years he was an instructor of social entrepreneurship and leadership at Harvard University and taught courses at American, Vanderbilt and Berkeley.

From 2002 to 2004, Sunnanon served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Pacific island nation of Palau, where he witnessed collaboration across government, private and public sectors to solve social issues. For his social entrepreneurship work, Sunnanon has received several national awards, including recognition as Presidential Scholar. He completed his doctoral coursework at Harvard University and holds MPP and EdM degrees from the same institution and a BA from UCLA.

Sunnanon currently is renovating the second floor of the French Market Place, which once housed small shops and offices that looked down on the French Quarter restaurant. The incubator will include group working spaces, private offices and a lounge. The building will house the FSG incubator for about 20 months, at which point it will be demolished and replaced.

Located at 7985 Santa Monica Blvd. at North Laurel, the French Quarter restaurant has long been a popular weekend brunch place and offers relatively inexpensive breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. Its closing has been lamented by older members of the LGBT community who remember it as a popular gathering place.

The French Quarter was famed in LGBT circles as a gathering place for members of the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA), a political action committee in the 1970s that raised money to support gay-friendly candidates. It also is where Jerry Brown in 1991 met with gay activists to solicit their support for his candidacy for president. The French Quarter also has long been a gathering place for members of the LGBT recovery community.

The French Market was opened by Arthur Simm in 1974, 10 years before West Hollywood’s incorporation as a city. His grandsons Chris and Mike own the Simms Restaurant Group whose restaurants include Simmzy’s and Tin Roof Bistro in Manhattan Beach.

Jason Illoulian’s Faring Capital has nearly completed the process of acquiring the French Marketplace property from Michael Faze, the building’s owner. Faze closed the building in July, telling WEHOville that it was losing money.

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Danny Roth
Danny Roth
4 years ago

This kind of contrived bait-and switch is consistent with this developer’s untrustworthy reputation and now his exposed agent, Tai Sunnanon. To exploit the most vulnerable – non-profits – in order to capitalize on rent-gouging and backroom deal-making is exquisitely appalling. Tai Sunnanon chose not to disclose his status as former campaign manager for sitting WEHO councilman, John D’Amico, whose political alliance now is inextricably intertwined with the multimillionaire developer, Faring Capital. Further, Sunnanon has explicitly enrolled sitting mayor, Lindsay Horvath, by featuring her “For the Social Good”-branded soundbites across his sales videos. Horvath is now also fully implicated and permanently… Read more »

Audrey's Ghost
Audrey's Ghost
4 years ago

All For the Social Good (FTSG) tenants signed leases with the expectation that they would be offered significantly reduced if not subsidized rents. That is the case for the majority of them who signed short-term leases, with an option to extend monthly. So the sudden announcement, a few months later, that rents could increase dramatically is hypocritical. The reputation of FTSG is based on a very public promise, endorsed by the Mayor of West Hollywood and Faring Capital (the building owner), that now appears to be quietly revoked. It is not clear to the tenants what FTSG has to offer… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
4 years ago

So, what happened to this? I’ve heard that the building has been sold and what non-profits are in the space are getting rent hikes DOUBLE what they were when they signed their agreements just 3-4 months ago. What a travesty.

J
J
4 years ago

The over-presence and over-influence of these major developers in our City is dreadful, depressing, and disastrous. I challenge anyone to offer a convincing argument that tearing down an exemplary Art Deco work like the French Market Place building is beneficial to the community. The premise itself is flawed though, since acts that benefit the community no longer matter in the collective conscience. Our worth to society is strictly measured by our contribution to capitalism, and subsequently, society has lost its value. We have reached a point where now the only justification for ANY action or decision, good or bad, is… Read more »

SaveWeho
SaveWeho
4 years ago

Everyone keeps talking how the “village” is destroyed. What village? We really have never had one. If by village you mean small, mom & pop stores in rundown storefronts…sure, we have/had that. If anyone was really interested in building a “village” we’d demand a zoning ordinance and start remodeling/redevelopment (of whatever section) to create a unfied “village”. Much like how Old Town Pasadena did, etc. I do think this low rent space for non-profits is a nice idea. But ultimately storefronts will demand the highest price for their space. Thats why these new apartments/condo’s being built are so expensive. The… Read more »

Rick Watts
Rick Watts
4 years ago

TODD BIANCO: You summed it up well. Taken together the over-all direction of redevelopment as guided by current zoning laws poses an existential threat to West Hollywood as an “urban village” governed of/by/for the CITIZENS of West Hollywood.

curiouslocal
curiouslocal
4 years ago

articles keep saying this place was important in LA/WEHO gay history and shouldn’t be torn down, but nobody says why this was an important LGBT place. Well loved neighborhood spot but what happened here to make it so important/valuable?

Tai Esteban Sunnanon
4 years ago

I really value the time and energy that everyone has taken to comment. I wish I could sit down with each of you, one-on-one, to pick your brains on so many aspects of FOR THE SOCIAL GOOD. Here are some thoughts/responses that come to mind: 1. I’m there with you all on permanent space. It’s one of the top questions I get asked by visitors and potential members. I’m working with the City and members in the community to identify permanent space. I’m giving myself 12-months to secure a place. My goal is to provide a seamless transition for the… Read more »

JJ
JJ
4 years ago

I remember attending a few meetings held by the City many years ago…the City asked the residents what they’d like to see along Santa Monica Blvd. and the overwhelming response was mix-use buildings. If the French Market was doing well, it would have stayed open. Obviously, the numbers dwindled over the years as the place became somewhat run down and outdated (same with the failed night club next door). I hope whatever goes up there that it will revitalize that stretch and bring new life and revenue for the City.

Todd Bianco
4 years ago

I have to agree with Rick Watts. The demolition of this building would be a cultural crime. Anytime a developer buys a building like this, it’s sure to meet the wrecking ball unless there is immediate intervention. It does seem like Jason Illoulian/Faring has a lot of projects in the area. Maybe too many to manage. All the 1 and 2 story (rather humble) commercial buildings along SMB are in jeopardy. There should be a down-zoning of many city blocks so that the temptation isn’t so great. If we want to preserve what’s left of a “village” feel, there needs… Read more »

Rick Watts
Rick Watts
4 years ago

PS: If any place in our city is deserving of protection by our Historic Preservation Commission from erasure by wrecking ball, it is this building. Remodel/revamp it(within reason: fine. Demolish it for another 4-story box? A real cultural crime.

Rick Watts
Rick Watts
4 years ago

Hats off to the quest to provide affordable collaborative space to worthy non-profits… Just a minute [add record-scratch sound effect here]…Hey readers, the REAL “buried lead” in this story is what is NOT in the headline; namely that the venerated French Market is targeted for demolition and redevelopment by the developer-property owner! Surprised? You shouldn’t be! You should have seen it coming. After all, it’s a low-rise commercial building with a large grade-level parking lot next to a troubled night club in increasingly-expensive area with little-to-no protection from overdevelopment by deep-pocked real estate interests that managed several years ago to… Read more »