The Generational Gift

Christy Vega and her father, Rafael, have kept one of Los Angeles most revered restaurants in the family.
Christy Vega and her father, Rafael, have kept one of Los Angeles most revered restaurants in the family. Casa Vega

Since 1956, Casa Vega has stood as one of Los Angeles’ hotspots, catering to Hollywood's elite and locals alike. In those six decades, Christy Vega and her father, Rafael, have been just as recognizable as the restaurant itself.

On the day Christy Vega was born, her father sat down at the bar of his restaurant and shared a bottle of 1800 Tequila with Marlon Brando. The following morning, elegant dresses arrived at the door. While this might sound like a story fit for Don Vito Corleone himself, the reality shares only one common thread: the importance of family.

Rafael Vega was just 22 years old in 1956 when he opened Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks, California, a Los Angeles neighborhood founded only 29 years prior. His parents emigrated from Tijuana in the late 1930s and ran the downtown LA nightclub Café Caliente for close to two decades. Rafael’s Mexican restaurant quickly became a hangout for Hollywood’s nobility. Carey Grant and Jane Fonda were regulars, as was The Godfather, Marlon Brando.

For the past decade, Christy has helmed the now-legendary California institution. She’s balanced family, tradition, and constant innovation with a deft touch—an effort she calls the “biggest challenge” of running such a time-honored restaurant.

The clientele, which is still plenty glamorous, has an unforgiving memory when it concerns the details. For instance, Christy recently removed a picture to fix a broken frame. The phone started ringing almost instantly. “People were saying, ‘Oh, we got engaged under that painting. We love that painting. Every time we come we sit under that painting. Where’s the painting?’” Christy says with a laugh. “So we had to reassure everybody that it’s there. It will be back. In a way the restaurant is ours and is our family’s, but it also belongs to everybody in the community.”

“I always feel like it’s good plastic surgery,” she continues, in very LA fashion. “You want to adjust it a little bit, but nobody notices.”

This business was always a birthright for Christy. When it came time for college, she originally wanted to attend culinary school. “No, no, no,” Christy says. “My father told me, ‘You can learn everything here. We have a full kitchen. We have a full staff. You can work in the kitchen all you want. But you have to make sure you can balance the books.’ So many restaurateurs and chefs go into business, and if you can’t do the back of the house, you’re going to close.”


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