Interview: Stephen Hauptfur of Mooi – Echo Park
Testing Inspiration – Pop-Tarts from the DIY Underground
How many vegan pop-tarts have you eaten without thinking about how that vegan pop-tart came to be?
My interview with Stephen Hauptfur of Mooi (1700 W. Sunset Blvd.) in Echo Park, revealed a fascinating story about the DIY ethos at work behind the counters and enticing glass displays of the charming cafe. Early childhood immune system failure, house music, and event promotions. . .Who would’ve guessed all three would parlay into Stephen Hauptfur’s creation of delightful raw and vegan confections for all of Los Angeles?
When you were a kid, did you cook?
Yeah I did, because of health issues. It started with an incident where I was 20 months old and I got accidentally poisoned. I actually died and got resuscitated in the ambulance, but after that my immune system was wrecked.
At 3 1/2, they diagnosed me with infectious mono. . .the kissing disease? I was three, I hadn’t kissed anyone, but my immunity was so low, I was sick all of the time. When I was four, the doctors told me I had leukemia. I had no social life until sixth grade, because I got picked up from school every day at 3pm to go to the doctor’s.
I started making food for myself when I was around eleven years of age, because my parents were gone a lot and it was up to me to figure out how to take care of myself. Over the years I gradually figured out my intolerances. When I was fifteen, I cut red meat out of my diet. Two years later, I eliminated diary and gluten. I think due to figuring things out for myself from a very young age, I’m very DIY. Getting myself down the path I chose, getting to raw food has been amazing.
What did you do before this?
Promotions, weddings, parties, events. I didn’t have any formal education for what I ended up doing. Usually people work for someone who is doing events and learn the business that way. I actually went to art school where in my infinite wisdom of being (at seventeen) I decided that I didn’t want to compromise my artwork in order to sell it for rent–in that lame, when you’re seventeen, idealistic sort-of- way.
That’s not lame, that’s understandable. But what then?
I decided to go into music –my second thing–to make a living, which lead me to DJing and putting on events.
How did it all happen?
We were holding underground parties at the beginning of the rave scene in LA. Some of my friends and I were getting into house music, the acid house music coming out of Chicago, even house music from London, which was very alternative at the time. No one was playing it and no one wanted to hire us when we wanted to play that music. By default we started doing our parties. . .But then it caught on. It went from house parties, to putting on clubs at bars, and from there, to doing corporate events.
Corporate? How corporate?
Corporate. Hugo Boss, GQ, Jaguar –like that– where we were inviting 500 -2500 people at a time. Building out the tops of buildings, crazy stuff like that. It all happened within a year in a half.
High production value, big budgets?
Yeah. Some of the stuff we did was crazy. . .It’s just a testament that you should do what you want to do.
Why did you stop?
During that time I changed. Or was changing. I stopped drinking, not that I drank that much anyway. Maybe for a total of two years out of my entire life. I just got tired of inviting my friends somewhere in order to have them drink. Just that entire world. . .tired me.
The catering company evolved out of monthly dinner parties I would host at my loft Downtown at the Brewery. Friends started asking me, “Can you make me a cake or pie?” Eventually friends of friends started asking. And then friends of friends of friends. At that point, I realized it might be a door out of doing what I was doing into another thing.
What was the name of your catering company?
Mooi. Same as this place.
How did it go?
It was very successful, actually. We did very well, we started to sell packaged food, etc. — but we needed larger, licensed kitchen to sell to Whole Foods, so that’s when we found the kitchen here, and thought, if we’re going to pay for a kitchen, we might as well have another outlet for revenue, so we decided to open up here (gestures around him).
In the process of making all these things happen, have there ever been times when you felt daunted or afraid to take the next step?
I feel like that all the time whenever I start anything new, but if you don’t feel that way–then it’s probably not something you really want to do. Every time there should be an element of impossibility, unsureness. . .If you already know the outcome what’s the fun and interest?
Do it and figure it out.
Yeah. Two years ago when I said I wanted to start this and people would ask: “What do you know about restaurants?” My answer: “Nothing.” I was still going to do it, though. I knew I could figure it out along the way.
I was reading this book about career paths and it said something interesting about how artists are actually problem-solvers. That they recognize something that’s needed or missing or bothering them and then seek to provide a creative solution. . .
(nodding) Well, I spend most of the my time recreating junk food that I liked to eat as a kid. Because I couldn’t find version of it that I could eat.
Pop-tarts! I saw those on display in the counter! What else?
Orange chicken, Chinese food. I loved it as a kid. We have a vegan orange chicken – orange jackfruit chicken. . .I also love mexican food. So I’ve been creating things that I couldn’t find for myself, things I wanted–that didn’t exist.
How strict are you about your diet?
I’m not 100% raw/vegan. I think anyone who is about being 100% anything, is setting themselves up for failure, because anything less than a 100% becomes the equivalent of failure. The stress induced by that kind of self-expectation is horrible for you. You want a bag of chips and burger at 1am? Do it and don’t worry about it. Maybe juice the next day. But don’t worry. Worry is much worse for you than the chips or burger.
My feeling is a balance of everything is better than 100% of anything.
Why do you wear blue rubber gloves?
Not for looks. Not to be cool (laughs). I have a liver condition that makes my hands react when my skin comes into contact with sugar or agave. I’m going to be doing a kidney / liver cleanse soon, hopefully that will get things working again.
You know how on Myspace there use to be a tag-line, i.e., your philosophy in a few words. . .What is yours right now?
I don’t want to sound cheesy or something. But. . .(pause). . .Ultimately, really think that you can. Imagine it and know that you can do anything you want. You can make it happen, ’cause I have.
Do you ever regret getting sick as a little kid?
I’m kinda glad I did, because everything that happened led me to what I do now. Sometimes people tell me they’re sorry for me because of everything I have to deal with. I’m not sorry, it is who I am. I’m probably way healthier than the person telling me how sorry they are. And I have done a lot of things people wouldn’t be able to do in 4 lifetimes, so I’m really happy. :)
COMING UP AT MOOI IN AUGUST
August 10th, 2010 – Skinny Bitch Diet authors, Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, will be doing a book signing and feeding all you skinny bitches, er, ladies. The book is seemingly titled to make you think it’s promoting rude anorexia, but in fact it’s about animal rights and vegan dietary choices.
Mooi’s Restaurant and Dessert Parlour is located at 1700 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026. Check website for hours and times. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org with event and / or catering inquiries.