This post was updated Jan. 13 at 1:57 a.m.
A new Northern Cafe restaurant will open in Westwood Village this year, making it the third within walking distance of UCLA in the Village.
The Northern Cafe franchise includes a dumpling house on Gayley Avenue, a noodle station on Weyburn Avenue and soon a new hot pot joint opening on Broxton Avenue. At a time when the Village is experiencing a high vacancy rate, the success of Northern Cafe stands out.
Lifelong Westwood resident Sam Powell had difficulty tracking down authentic Chinese food locally before the first Northern Cafe opened in 2016. His search included trips all the way to San Gabriel Valley.
“The stuff you would see in Westwood Village the past decade (was always) the kind of build-your-own, fast-casual-type restaurants,” Powell said.
The restaurants capitalize on foot traffic from UCLA students. Tony Wong, the manager of Northern Cafe on Weyburn Avenue, runs a tight ship from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
“Normally, it will be very busy,” Wong said. “All of the meals are very popular.”
Just 30 minutes before it closed on Thursday night, Northern Cafe served seven customers. One of them was Peng Teng, a postdoctoral student at UCLA who visits the restaurant twice a week.
“Around campus and on campus, (Northern Cafe) is the best Chinese restaurant,” Teng said. “There are not many choices here.”
The third installment of the Northern Cafe franchise seeks to provide a new variety of Chinese delicacies in the area, Teng said.
Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, said he is excited to see the new location open.
“I can add that I’m always pleased when I see what I would personally call an upgrade in tenanting that fills a vacancy,” Thomas said. “Considering the success and quality that Northern Cafe brings, I would call their addition to our district an upgrade.”
Westwood’s vacancy rate is a persistent issue that has seen restaurants such as Ike’s Love & Sandwiches, SpireWorks and Nushii close in 2019. Although Westwood has a vacancy rate of over 20%, Thomas said he hopes new additions will enhance local businesses and promote future ventures.
“Businesses want to know they have an opportunity to be successful in communities where they open,” Thomas said.
In its November meeting, the WVIA addressed the vacancy issue and proposed solutions such as sustaining business traffic, remodeling the Broxton parking garage and updating zoning codes to better allocate properties in the Village to businesses and affordable housing units.
Despite Westwood soon having three Northern Cafes within walking distance of each other, Thomas said that as long as the businesses enhance one another, all tenants are welcome.
“Occupancy means activity, energy, pedestrians on our sidewalks,” Thomas said. “I don’t believe microregulating businesses has helped our district. I know it’s contributed to our vacancy (rate).”
Regulars at Northern Cafe are also excited to dine at the new location.
“We grew up in Westwood and (have) seen a lot of places come and go,” Powell said. “Mostly, it’s just because the rent versus the foot traffic is always skewed toward the expensive side. It’s kind of a weird thing to see (Northern Cafe’s success).”
The hot pot restaurant will open sometime in 2020, Wong said. Betty Ren, the owner of Northern Cafe, declined to comment.