Sweet Butter’s New Chapter with Andrew Smith at the Helm and a New Dinner Menu

Oh, and wine, too.

The late Leslie Danelian with husband, Rick Berge, in 2011.

For years, the Valley’s “restaurant row” was firmly entrenched in Studio City, but Sweet Butter’s opening in 2011 in Sherman Oaks changed the scene. The cheery yellow and white farmhouse-style café with pillowed banquettes and tables spilling out on the sidewalk turned a nondescript corner almost overnight into a vibrant gathering spot. Diners could be seen from early morning to late afternoon, sipping coffee and enjoying leisurely breakfasts and lunches.

Other restaurateurs took note, and soon eateries, as well as retail shops, started opening at a rapid pace. Cut to 10 years later and some might argue the dining scene in Sherman Oaks now rivals that of Studio City.

Sweet Butter was the brainchild of longtime local caterer Leslie Danelian. The petite brunette greeted customers with a radiant smile, treating them like old friends. She was surprised and delighted at Sweet Butter’s success, and after a few years was contemplating opening a second outpost on the westside. But Leslie was diagnosed with brain cancer and, after a two-and-a-half-year battle, passed away in 2015.

Leslie left the eatery to her children, Andrew Smith and Emily Smith. Emily took over, while Andrew continued working in the music business. But after a year, Emily decided to attend law school.

Andrew Smith

“My mom always supported the passions of others, whether family members or those in the community. We knew she would want Emily to follow hers,” explains Andrew, 32. “I decided to step in so I could make decisions in an educated way and then I just sort of fell deeper and deeper into it.”

Andrew credits longtime employees—from the bookkeeper to the cooks—as well as his mom’s friends who assisted in the business, to helping him navigate the “uncharted waters.” And Emily, now in her third year of law school, who he says is always available to talk through big decisions. “I couldn’t do this without her.”

Andrew has put his own stamp on Sweet Butter, enhancing the rustic, plant-filled courtyard with a stand-alone European-style wine bar. French bistro chairs now accompany custom-made Italian stone tables in the courtyard, and the street-side patio was recently encircled by black railing.

And, as was his mother’s dream, he has expanded into full dinner service with beer and wine Wednesday through Sunday evenings. The menu integrates recipes from Leslie’s heritage, including lahmajun—an Armenian thin-crust, pizza-like dish topped with minced meat and tomatoes.

The dinner menu also features Barcelona potatoes, coconut ceviche and harissa lamb gnocchi. Louisa’s Caesar is named for Leslie’s mother, who once owned a salad dressing company. And Leslie’s spicy rosemary mixed nuts bring memories of her entertaining finesse.

Wine varietals include some from lesser-known regions, such as Txakolina from Basque country in Spain, and a classic premier cru Burgundy from Gevrey-Chambertin.

Dimmed hanging Edison bulbs, candlelit tables featuring flower arrangements from nearby Mark’s Garden, food served on English china alongside cloth napkins, and classic American and French jazz all add to the evening vibe.

“Sweet Butter is evolving and feels very special at night,” states Andrew, easily evoking his mom’s enthusiasm. “I am excited for people to be able to experience that with us.”