If you work at one of the leading visual effects houses in greater Los Angeles like Rhythm & Hues, Digital Domain or Sony Pictures Imageworks, you probably think the empanadas from Johnny Pacific are mana from heaven.
Conversely, for the hard working men and women at this Canoga Park-based restaurant, the visual effects industry based in greater Los Angeles is a true gift from above.
“Without the visual effects and entertainment industry, we would not be here,” said Johnny Pacific owner and founder John Walquist. The popular eatery owes its success to Hollywood’s appetite for good eats.
Although you would never suspect it after a few bites of one of Walquist’s empanadas, the chef has never had a day of formal training in a culinary academy. “I grew up working and living in kitchens,” said Walquist, “and mentored under many great chefs.” After finishing high school, Walquist spent time living and working in the US Virgin Islands, which is where the inspiration for much of the cuisine at Johnny Pacific came from. “In the Virgin Islands, I lived on empanandas for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Walquist recently told Film Works. The experience paid off — but enough about the food.
Just over ten years ago, Walquist opened Johnny Pacific as a catering kitchen. Like any new business, Johnny Pacific struggled to stay afloat. But, in grand Hollywood fashion, Johnny Pacific had a date with destiny. One of Walquist’s employees, who was selling lunches from a cooler box in Santa Monica, happened to sell a sandwich to an employee of Digital Domain.
The Digital Domain employee must have liked what they tasted, because within months over 90% of Johnny Pacific’s business was coming from catering services for local visual effects houses. Because of the boost Johnny Pacific got from catering to the VFX industry, Walquist was able to grow his tiny catering kitchen into a full-fledged restaurant in Canoga Park. Currently, Johnny Pacific employs four full-time employees and 2-3 part-time employees. Even though the restaurant is now the core of his business, earning him hundreds of positive reviews on Yelp!, Walquist knows who to thank for his big break. “Without the visual effects industry, I would not have succeeded,” he admits. “It’s just that simple.”
Walquist said the early years of Johnny Pacific very much resembled the feast or famine nature of the entertainment industry. “Some months, when things looked bleak, the phone would ring and a voice would say ‘hey it’s Melissa from Disney’,” said Walquist. “And I would say to myself, ‘Thank God!’ We lived off those phone calls for the first 5-7 years.”
When economists and scholars talk about the economic impact of the entertainment industry, they are often unable to account for businesses like Johnny Pacific, which doesn’t make films but still owes its existence to the entertainment industry based in Southern California. Walquist has firsthand experience with so-called “economic multipliers”, which are used to calculate the indirect and induced impact from entertainment industry spending:
“The money I make from catering a week at Disney means I get to pay the handyman who fixes the door to the restaurant, the window washer who cleans my windows and the refrigerator serviceman who keeps my coolers working. For me, that is the multiplier effect. It’s not an abstract theory. It’s reality.”
Thanks, Johnny Pacific, for sharing your success story with us. Film Works for Los Angeles. Let’s keep it here.
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