Words come up short when we try and explain our love for Pine & Crane, Vivian Ku's Taiwanese eatery in Silver Lake. We were fans the moment doors opened and have been eating in/picking up/ordering for delivery ever since. Needless to say inviting Vivian into the Larkspur Woman fold was a personal dream of ours. We respect her drive and ambition. We admire her energy and enthusiasm for what she does—it feels limitless. But most of all, we connect to her integrity as a chef, as an entrepreneur, and as a woman. It's so tangible, you can taste it.
Walk us through the first five minutes of your day.
Right before I’m fully awake, I start a to-do list. I have to ask myself, “Are these actually real or are you still dreaming?” I take a few deep breaths and have a few moments before I wake up. Most of the time they’re legit, but sometimes I think I have to place a rice order and I really don’t!
Have you always wanted to open a restaurant of your own?
Yes. I’ve always really liked the energy of a restaurant. I like the idea of creating something—a real space where people can come in and experience something. I’ve always enjoyed working in a restaurant. I like being on my feet all day. I liked the idea of having control over the project and being able to make decisions that would impact it very directly. I like all of it! I went to culinary school, worked front-of-house—I wanted to try all aspects of the business.
What influenced you to start a Taiwanese restaurant?
My family is Taiwanese and because I wanted to use my parent’s produce (they have a farm), Taiwanese food made sense. Not that many people know about Taiwanese food and I wanted to make it accessible for more people to try.
Tell us about the farm!
My family’s farm is about 50 acres. All the greens we sauté by the plate are from my dad’s farm or my cousin’s farm. There are certain things we use in the restaurant that we don’t grow—cilantro, scallions, and mushrooms. But I would say about 70% of the vegetables we use are from our farms.
How was it growing up on a farm?
It was nice growing up on a farm. I’m used to a lot of space. I think it’s a nice way to spend your childhood. You learn early on how the greens you see in the market are nothing like the greens you see in the field. You learn what it takes to grow something. I feel like there’s a return to showing kids where their food comes from in school, but for a long time in America people had no idea where their food came from.
How did you decide on Silver Lake?
I was living in Santa Monica and West L.A. when I started looking for locations. I checked out spaces in West Hollywood, Culver City. Any location that I came remotely close to choosing, I would spend a week just being there, walking around over and over, talking to people who lived in the area, trying to find out more about the neighborhood. I came to the farmer’s market that they hold right here in front of the store on Tuesdays and talked to people about the concept and everyone was just genuinely really excited. I feel like in a lot of areas of LA, it’s really hard to reach out to people. But people here in Silver Lake really respond when you reach out to them. It’s a quirky, fun community.
Your schedule sounds exhausting. How do you keep your energy up?
I think I was drawn to this industry because you need to be very high energy. I am pretty high energy naturally. I like being on my feet and moving around. I drink a lot of coffee. But the energy of a restaurant really feeds itself and me. There’s always so much happening and going on.
Who has been your greatest culinary inspiration?
My grandma was my culinary influence for sure. My mom’s side of the family moved from China to Taiwan back in the day. In Taiwan, the diet is rice-based. But in China there’s a lot of noodles, buns, and dumplings which my grandmother learned to make and love. She’d cook for us almost every single weekend.
What is it like being the leader of your team?
I consider myself part of the crew. It’s easy for me to work as part of a team. I don’t really consider myself a boss. I’m here working alongside everyone so it’s been an easy thing for me. A lot of the crew we have, we opened with. They were here from the beginning checking out the space, hiring new people. We brainstormed together a lot so it feels very much like a team effort.
How do you keep your sanity?
I have to constantly tell myself to focus on the things that actually matter. It’s all a learning process. I guess resilience is a big thing in owning your own business. You learn to bounce back and keep going. Once you start, you realize you can keep going no matter what.
What lessons have you learned from the people you love?
My grandfather had all granddaughters, which is very hard for Asian people of his generation. But he totally embraced it. He’s very much about gender equality and always encouraged us to do whatever we set out to accomplish. My mom always told me that I needed to have my own thing to be proud of. You can meet someone and have children, and you don’t have to work if you don’t want to, but having that choice is super powerful.