Dave and Jintana Licht are selling their popular restaurant, Kayndaves, which has been a fixture on Sunset since July 22, 1992.
“We’re turning over our space to a good local operator who will continue offering Mexican food,” Dave told Circling the News today. “The deal is in escrow.”
The couple, who lived in the Palisades for much of that time, bought the building in 2006.
“It’s time” Jintana said.
Local realtor Michael Edlen stopped by Kayndaves on Saturday after he heard the news. He and his wife Wendy are long-time customers, and he gave Jintana a hug.
“It is a loss that will be felt by many in our community,” Michael said.
Jintana said that she and Dave were talking to many of their longtime regular customers to tell them personally about the sale, before they heard about it in the newspaper, on Nextdoor “or through the rumor mill.”
Dave wants residents to know that he and Jintana are not really going anywhere. While they spend most of their time at their homes in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and northeastern Thailand, they have no plans to sell their building, which they acquired in 2006. (Other tenants include Designer Rugs and Kitson Palisades.)
“We adore this town, we want to remain connected, and we have some ideas how we’ll do so in the years to come,” Dave said.
The couple had planned to turn over the restaurant to their long-time employee, Sylvia Lopez, who began working with them in 2000. Her grandfather Alfredo started working at Kayndaves the day they opened at the Palisades location. His portrait, which was painted by a Palisades local, hangs in the restaurant.
“Sylvia has been the glue that held everything together for the past several years,” Dave said, noting that last year, Lopez encountered some personal issues and needed to take a break. Her unplanned departure brought the Lichts back to town fulltime to take care of the restaurant’s day-to-day needs.
“Jintana and I asked some of our other long-time employees if they’d be interested in taking over the business, but understandably no one wanted the responsibility,” Dave said.
Dave and his first wife, Kay, opened their first restaurant, the Topanga Beach Cantina, on Pacific Coast Highway in 1991. Next came the Palisades restaurant and then a third location, on 26th Street in Brentwood, in 1995.
A few years later, Dave sold the PCH location. The new owner closed it a year later, and Dave reopened it as Cholada, a Thai restaurant. It was popular from the start (and is still a favorite with many Palisades residents).
Not long after Cholada’s launch, Dave turned it over to the Thai husband and wife who ran the kitchen. Initially, they told him they didn’t have the money to buy it, but he said, “Don’t worry, if you want the restaurant and continue to work hard, money will be the least of your concerns.”
Recalling the early days of Kayndaves, Dave noted that he and Kay worked tirelessly to make their customers happy.
“Were it not for Kay, I would have been out of business in short order,” said Dave a lawyer, who admits he had no aptitude for cooking or managing staff. “We were hands on all day, every day in the beginning.
“When we opened in the Palisades, we did not have the rights to call it Topanga Beach Cantina, so we called it The Other Cantina.” Palisades regulars soon figured it out and simply began calling the restaurant Kayndaves.” In 2000, Kay sold her share in the restaurant.
Dave and Jintana married in 2001, the same year they opened a restaurant on Sunset Strip. The timing wasn’t great. Three days after they opened, they woke up to the news that two planes crashed into the twin towers at the World Trade Center. Their restaurant was in a small shopping center that quickly turned into a ghost town. Three months later, they closed it.
In 2005, Dave and Jintana opened another Kayndaves on Pico Boulevard in West L.A. Four years later, they relocated it to Culver City where it became a popular destination.
Their Palisades location has had its moments. In October 2016, it caught fire in the middle of the night. As luck would have it, a local security guard spotted the smoke and called the fire department. Jintana got the call from the fire department as Dave was in Mammoth hiking with his best friend. When she arrived at the scene, the fire chief told her that had they gotten the call 10 minutes later, the whole block would have burned to the ground.
Then Covid impacted the world and businesses, starting in March 2020.
“The night that it was reported that Tom Hanks contracted it and the NBA was shutting down” Dave said, “we shut down and didn’t reopen until we felt confident that we could operate in a way that kept our staff, our customers and our community safe.”
Over the next year, the restaurant “closed many times when we thought there was any chance that one of our staff members were exposed,” Dave said. “We didn’t reopen until we were 100% certain it was safe to do so.”
As the closures continued and indoor dining was banned by government officials, Dave and Jintana converted the restaurant into a boutique retail market selling everything from their own brand of Mezcal they call “abacaal” to homemade tamales to fresh margaritas. They also began a curbside service program – and found themselves busier than ever.
The Culver City location was different because many of those customers worked in the surrounding studios and offices. Sales declined 80%. “We didn’t give up on the place despite the challenges,” Dave said, noting they received a lifeline with the government’s restaurant stimulus programs.
The Culver location was 12 years old and showing its age, “So we took the opportunity to do some upgrades, give the place a new clean look, and reopen as the workforce began to return,” Dave said.
But what started as a two-month simple upgrade turned into a year-long expensive ordeal. Building permits required unanticipated upgrades. Contractors were in demand, hard to come by and costing much more than pre-pandemic norms.
The most surprising aspect of reopening was labor shortages. “Before the pandemic we’d post an ad in the morning for open interviews and 50-100 people would show up that afternoon and wait up to three hours to be interviewed,” Dave said. “Now we’re lucky if five people respond, and that’s on a good day.
“We gave Culver City our best shot,” he said. “But like Sisyphus, we came to feel like we were trying in vain to push a gigantic boulder to the top of a distant hill.”
The Lichts said that the Palisades location also had its struggles with staffing. “For the past several months, we’ve been closed more than open because of lack of staff,” Dave said. “That makes it harder for us to deliver the food and service we think our customers have grown to expect.”
Dave and Jintana are clear that selling Kayndaves is not about “retirement.”
“We think in terms of living instead of retiring,” the couple said. “For the past 30 years, we’ve put our hearts and soul into making our place a neighborhood friendly spot serving fresh quality food at a reasonable price. But that’s not all we do.”
The Lichts have studios in their Santa Fe home, where Jintana designs jewelry and Dave paints.
“We also love studying other things, like how millions of years of geologic history formed the southwest landscape we now live in,” Dave said. “And my latest endeavor is the violin which luckily amuses more than annoys Jintana.”
The Lichts feel like they are leaving the restaurant in good hands, and they told CTN, “We give our thanks to the many locals who have touched our hearts and supported us for the past three decades. THANK YOU! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!!”