Comfort Food Italian Restaurant’s Sunday Sauce is a mainstay of Inglewood
Every Monday, Sunday Gravy’s owner and chef Sol Bashirian determines which lasagna to prepare for the weekend. This is not an easy question to answer, given how much he has had to increase the production of his popular lasagna in recent months. Scale and details are as much about him as the ingredients themselves at this point. Yet at 4:30 p.m. every Friday, the phone rings with regulars asking what type of lasagna is on the menu, whether it’s prawns Alfredo, garlic chicken or hearty bolognese. It never matters; the specialty lasagna will sell out completely by Sunday.
During the week, patrons order Sunday Gravy’s Italian-American menu, with its deeply rich stew and rigatoni, and standard spaghetti and meatballs. The entire menu features old-school fare prepared in the kitchen of Sunday Gravy’s Inglewood on Centinela, slightly west of South La Brea. The block looks like a time capsule from the 1980s, with an adjacent barber shop called Close Up Kuts, all backed by residential homes and apartments surrounding the bustling strip. Directly across the street is the long-standing African-American Chapel. These are all well-established spots in Inglewood, but the newer Sunday Gravy still fits in perfectly.
In fact, the restaurant, which opened in September 2019, feels like it has always been part of the neighborhood. That’s because Sol and his sister Ghazi Bashirian have been in the area themselves for years, reclaiming the Sunday Gravy space from their father, who ran Jino’s Pizza & Deli restaurant on the same site for 42 years. Elder Ahmad Bashirian has retired and passed the restaurant over to his children, who updated the decor and menu but still find themselves cooking for the same generations of Inglewood residents who ate at Jino over the decades.
“Jino’s was our father’s first restaurant,” says Sol. “He was 25 when he opened it in 1970 under the name Ahmadi. Eight years ago, he became more independent and hired it to his manager. When dad wanted to retire [in 2018], we had the choice to get started. We decided to continue, but in our own way.
The Bashirian siblings grew up all over South Bay. They lived in Westchester, then in Playa del Rey, and went to school at Escuela de Montessori on La Tijera near the age of several decades. Coffee business. The school was full of well-known African-American families from Los Angeles, including the son of restaurateur Greg Dulan. Most of Sol’s friends at the time lived near Jino, and Dulan Soul Food and Jino has regularly fed students after school and at local school programs.
Opening Sunday Gravy six months before COVID-19 initially posed remarkable challenges for the family, but ultimately the pandemic helped Bashiran siblings figure out how to become a true neighborhood restaurant. An elderly local once complained that he was not a fan of the Sunday Gravy menu, so now Sol makes unique dishes especially for him. The Bashirians are on a first name basis with many of their customers this way, even though there is no formal sit-down service or some of the other traditional attributes of restaurants. The sound system offers a mix of R&B from the ’70s, with plenty of old-school hip-hop and comforting hot food right at your fingertips. With a current shortage of employees, this style of operation best represents the restaurant and fits the region, so now they’re going to keep it that way.
Portions of Sunday Gravy’s menu are also sourced from the neighborhood, including neighborhood spaghetti, linguini, and rigatoni pasta. Florentyna Fresh Pasta Factory. Organic Ciabatta Garlic Bread is from Cadoro Bakery; both are less than a mile from the restaurant.
Not all small businesses thrive in Inglewood these days, but the Sunday Gravy team runs their little restaurant. Sol and Ghazi Bashirian recently started to sample what Sol describes as the SoFi effect. Sunday Gravy is five minutes from SoFi Stadium, the massive gym that hosts two NFL teams, the Rams and Chargers. Development travelers now frequently take the Centinela entry / exit and walk right past the front door, meaning more business on match days ahead. “Out of nowhere, 20 people showed up [before] a rugby match at SoFi, ”says Sol. “They were all in the same party and came at the perfect time. They ordered their food, their beers and continued on their way.
The name Sunday Gravy often throws at customers who may not be familiar with Italian East Coast usage, in reference to the red sauce available on the menu. But for the Bashirian siblings, they hope to give the phrase a meaning that is only theirs and Inglewood’s. “The whole idea of Sunday Gravy isn’t about the sauce,” Sol says. “This is your own family enjoying this meal which was made with love. Everyone is cold, happy and laid back. We are Persian, we have that too, it’s the same idea. Each culture has its own Sunday sauce. Come in and hang out with people you love, have a good time and laugh. “