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After more than 20 years of waiting tables in high-end restaurants and raising three kids, Frank and Beth Becker needed a change.
Satisfied with their lives but not feeling creatively fulfilled, the husband-and-wife team set out to open a restaurant of their own. The goal was to develop an artist's haven, much like the literary salons of 1920s Paris, a place for creative types to meet and talk.
That was nearly three years ago, and it would seem the Beckers' dream has become a reality with ChillBar, located at the back of Hollywood's Yellow Green Market.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Beth, a former opera and jazz singer, was spinning around the dining room chatting to patrons at each table with bubbly enthusiasm. The warm blond wore a flowing black dress, a white beaded shawl, a henna tattoo on one hand, and a vibrant smile.
"It's like a giant house party," said Beth. "Most of our customers come often; everyone knows everyone. I make sure I know my people and what they do. The value of our guest is not how much you spend when you're in this seat; it's who you are as a person."
Where Beth finds a creative outlet in hosting, Frank plies his artistry in the kitchen.
The Philly native comes from a restaurant family. With a trimmed beard, black-rimmed glasses, pressed black chef's coat, and smiling eyes, he would have been perfectly suited for Alice Waters' sustainable kitchen in the early '70s.
At 15, he trained in macrobiotic cooking and philosophy, which encourages local whole foods combined in balance according to the Japanese philosophy of yin and yang, under master chef Hiroshi Hayashi in Boston.
"I was so into food, I wanted to be the best chef in the world," says Frank. "By the time I was 18, I knew what that meant; I became a transcendental meditation teacher for many years instead."
When Frank left Boston in 1983, after a personal evolution, he decided to jump back into the restaurant industry with both feet. He opened five restaurants: two in Philadelphia, one in New York, one in Atlantic City, and one in Martha's Vineyard. Each was geared toward designing a concept that could be franchised.
The culmination came with a concept titled Vital Spirits, an all-natural apothecary-type restaurant that used original tinctures and apothecary medicinal ingredients in cocktails. Everything was made in-house from scratch.
"I was working 18 hours a day, seven days a week," says Frank. "I did it for a year and a half, went on vacation for six weeks to Jamaica, and said 'Close it!' I couldn't do it anymore; it was emotionally taxing and draining."
From there, Frank moved into the front of the house, working at upscale restaurants such as Ruth's Chris Steak House and, currently, Hollywood Prime.
Together, Frank and Beth are trying to bring that level of service to ChillBar, which is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday during the Yellow Green Market.
"We're trying to give people a dining experience they can't afford to have," says Frank.
Many of the dishes have been created specifically by guest request, such as Suzan's Salad ($6), a combination of fresh organic arugula, cranberries, candied pecans, strawberries, and chevre topped with blueberry compote, dressed with a dijon vinaigrette; and Dahlberg Blackened Salmon Sandwich ($14) — named after male model Lee Dahlberg — served on challah with lemon zest, mango chutney, basil, and white cheddar.
Hunter's Baked Stuffed Salmon ($14), filled with dates, candied pecans, chives, green onions, artichokes, and three cheeses served over basmati rice, was created by the Beckers' teenaged son Hunter, who helps out in the kitchen.
The team of culinary artists, as Frank refers to his chefs, uses local and organic ingredients as much as possible, and presentation is a major focus.
"Everything that comes out has to be beautiful," says Frank. "We garnish with flowers; we want to express the abundance of nature. I like big overflowing greens. I want people to be like, 'Wow! I want to eat this.' "
A selection of interesting cocktails tops off the creative offerings. In addition to a mimosa bar that serves flavors ranging from classic orange and pomegranate to lemon basil and lavender, the bar features a wide range of specially fermented spirits that can be served under a wine and beer license. Options include the Empress Chill (elderflower liqueur, lychee nut, and vodka with a lemon sugar rim and topped with Thai basil) and the Dahlrita (fresh lime juice, triple sec, fermented gold tequila, orange juice, and cilantro with a rim of pink Himalayan sea salt and sugar.)
In the near future, the Beckers are working on adding to the list of elixirs made in conjunction with a local herbalist to increase wellness.
"We don't put out a product," says Frank. "We offer a culinary artistic experience; hopefully, we're enhancing our guests' lives mentally, physically, and spiritually."