In 2002, the man Adele Yellin met while still in high school, followed to California and accompanied through a remarkable life, died. Ira Yellin’s legacy was as a real estate developer who championed downtown Los Angeles when no one else gave it a second thought.
But at that point, the Yellin Company’s pride piece, The Grand Central Market, was in need of financial restructuring, looking for vendors and stumbling along in a downtown that still hadn’t caught up with Ira’s vision. Ira had left it for Adele to continue, but she faced skepticism.
“Most people didn’t think I was able to do anything. I’m a woman, I’m a West LA gal into her charities and decorating,” she says. “But I’m practical. You have to know what you can do. And I just felt I could do it. I put one foot in front of the other. And that’s what it takes.”
In 2014, Bon Appetit magazine included Grand Central Market – a collection of 36 vendors with cuisines spanning the globe—on its best new restaurants list. A cookbook including recipes from and the history of the market, penned by Yellin and her longtime writer and collaborator Kevin West has sold successfully.
Most importantly, the market – with its blend of young and impossibly hip egg sandwich and deli spots and legacy pupuseria’s and Chinese restaurants – has become a go-to destination for everyone from downtown bankers, to West Side cool kids, and families from Glendale. It’s a destination that fully realizes the promise of LA’s diversity.
For Yellin, the market signifies something more personal: the place where she took her husband’s legacy and made it her own.
The problem with downtown
New York beckoned to a young Adele after growing up in upstate New York, but meeting Ira, who was finishing college and headed to Harvard Law as she wrapped up high school, changed a lot of things. They clicked. She was wild, he was organized and she just knew. It was 1968 and they got married after she had moved out to California where he got a job.
As Ira’s career grew with his interest in real estate, they became active in politics. Both of them campaigned for Bobby Kennedy, and Adele was very active in women’s politics and issues, nationally and in their adopted hometown of Los Angeles. Ira fervently believed that when cities died, they died from the inside. He was going to keep that from happening in LA. But when he bought Grand Central Market in LA, Adele thought he was crazy: “I always thought of it as a myth of Sisyphus kind of thing.”
Located a couple of blocks from the civic center, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the LA Times, the market featured a lot of international vendors and was performing decently even if the area around it was still faltering. It would be at least a decade before Frank Gehry would build the landmark Walt Disney Concert Hall nearby, and decades more before loft apartments began appearing in the area.
Betting on youth
But when Ira died, Adele didn’t feel like she had inherited an albatross. The market was doing fine until the recession of 2008 hit hard. They lost a lot of vendors and found themselves in serious debt. At the same time, Adele felt an energy coursing through the city.
She had tried getting big name restaurants and chefs to open up an outpost at the market. But they all turned her down. So instead she bet on young, talented cooks and owners who thought like the entrepreneurs and creatives who were beginning to call the neighborhood home.
Alvin Cailin’s tasty egg sandwiches had already built a reputation as a must-follow food truck. When Eggslut announced it was joining the grand central market as a vendor, Adele knew every negotiation after would be a bit easier. In the weeks between them shutting down the food truck business to open in the market, Adele’s offices fielded calls from distraught customers demanding they do a better job of keeping them in the loop on its re-opening.
“It really turned the page on the market,” she says.
The end of an era
Wexler’s Deli, G&B Coffee, Sticky Rice … the list of successful businesses that found traction at Grand Central Market is long. To Ira’s vision of revitalization, Adele added an incubator for culinary talent.
“He gave me the space to do my own thing,” she says. “It was a gift.”
Last year, she sold the market. It wasn’t a decision that came lightly, but one that she felt gave it the best chance going forward. Already successful, it nevertheless needed new energy. This August she shut down the office she and the Yellin Company had in the famed Bradbury Building (once owned by her husband) and finds herself mulling the future.
“It’s a work in progress, for sure,” she says. At the moment, her focus is on politics. A few days after we spoke Adele flew out to the east coast to canvas in New Jersey for congressional nominee Mikie Sherrill and drive people to the polls on election day.
“I’m still trying to decide where do I go next. I think you have to experiment,” she says. “What kinds of people do you want to interact with, what kinds of causes are you interested in. All of those things play a factor.”