For the past three years, adventurous gourmands, wealthy eccentrics and Hollywood A-listers have clamored for seats in what just might be L.A.’s most exclusive restaurant. Bestia? The Edmon? Providence? Nah—those power scenes are merely for the rich and famous. The truly adventurous have been competing for a reservation at the Pan Am Experience.
From the outside, it certainly doesn’t look very exclusive. The restaurant is located in a beige brick warehouse behind razor wire in the industrial wastelands of the city’s Pacoima neighborhood. Yet once a week, a fortunate few assemble there to travel back in time. The complex at 13240 Weidner St. is home to Air Hollywood (more on that in a minute), and inside its warehouse sits a fully reconstructed forward section of a Pan American 747 wide-body jet.
The first-class interior section (roughly Row 9 and forward) functions most days as a movie backdrop. But on Saturdays, Air Hollywood’s management turns into a restaurant that recreates the experience of flying Pan Am 50 years ago—the six-course meals, the caviar and vodka, the statuesque flight attendants in short skirts, everything.
The price is $300 a head, and there’s a waiting list to get in.
“We haven’t advertised once, and now we’re sold out until July,” says Air Hollywood founder Talaat Captan. “It’s just a unique experience.”
So unique, in fact, that Captan is convinced he’s onto something more than a fluke. After opening in 2014 as something of an experiment, the Pan Am Experience has proven so popular—John Travolta’s had his birthday there twice—that Captan is searching for financial backers and plans to build another Pan Am Experience. … Guess where?
“I want to open in Las Vegas,” Captan says. “Vegas is the ultimate place for us.”
A young man’s unusual obsession
The Pan Am Experience started, as so many colorful ideas do, with a chance encounter. Several years ago, Captan followed a tip and ventured down to L.A.’s City of Industry. Walking in a 4,000-square-foot warehouse, he found himself inside the reassembled forward section of a 747—“put together,” as he recalls, “with duct tape and Band-Aids.”
What Captan had found was the creation of Anthony Toth, a serious aviation enthusiast who’d been scavenging and collecting bits and pieces of the old Pan American World Airways—not just ephemera like tickets and silverware and uniforms, but pieces of actual planes—for most of his life. “I have a passion for aviation in general,” Toth says, “[and] I’ve been a frequent shopper in the desert since I was a teenager in the mid 1980s.”
Toth is referring to the notoriously guarded aviation boneyards scattered throughout Arizona and Southern California, where carriers send their decommissioned jets to be “parted out” and eventually scrapped. Toth began seriously indulging his obsession in his 20s, when he put some old Pan Am seats and interior panels together against the wall of his Chicago apartment and was highly pleased with the result.
From that point, he began working on his dream of eventually putting together an entire first-class 747 interior—preferably from Pan Am, which Toth (and many others) regard as the grande dame of international carriers. After moving to California, Toth found a good deal in warehouse space in Industry City and realized his vision.
“It was the first time I could put together a 747 like a puzzle,” he says. “I hired a guy to help me build a frame and an upper deck and put the staircase in. I had this massive space to do what I wanted to do. It was just a giant funhouse for me.”
It was a funhouse that existed wholly at Toth’s personal expense—at least until 2011, when the producer of the ABC show Pan Am got wind of Toth’s funhouse, paid a visit and freaked out (in a good way). After that, Toth said, “I rented them a significant amount of things for the shoot.”
It was the ABC connection that eventually had Captan knocking on the door, and he freaked out in a good way, too. “He came over to my warehouse and said, ‘I don’t understand—who is this for?’” Toth recalls. It was then that Captan invited Toth to move his 747 interior to his own facility. Since 1998, Air Hollywood has been the go-to place for productions that need aviation-related sets and props, from TV shows (Lost, CSI) to movies (Supergirl, The Wolf of Wall Street), and even commercials for the airlines themselves, which can’t spare their revenue-service planes just for shooting a spot. After set professionals reassembled Toth’s 747, Captan rented it out to studios and, eventually, convinced Toth they should open it as a restaurant venture.
“I convinced him to come to Air Hollywood and build [his] 747 from the bottom up and make it really nice,” Captan says. “And I contacted Pan Am to see if we [could] get a license to create the Pan Am Experience,” which after some hesitation, Pan Am Brands granted Captan his license.