Food Well Done

For Restaurateurs Hannah Ziskin and Aaron Lindell of Quarter Sheets, All Is Fair in Love and Pizza

Aaron Lindell and Hannah Ziskin. Photography by Maggie Shannon. All images courtesy of Lindell and Ziskin.

When it comes to meet-cute locations, Hannah Ziskin and Aaron Lindell have most people beat: they met in a walk-in fridge. Since their early days working together in San Francisco, the Quarter Sheets cofounders have been attached at the hip, with Ziskin focusing on pastry and Lindell honing the savory side. Their self-described yin-yang dynamic, plus a decade-long relationship, led them to create a restaurant during the pandemic. Its first iteration was a pop-up on the porch of their Glendale home. Now, Quarter Sheets is a thriving Echo Park eatery, with Lindell’s pizzas and Ziskin’s desserts earning them a spot on the New York Times “Top 50 Restaurants” list last year. 

Still as in sync as ever, Ziskin and Lindell make seasonally inspired dishes—ones that ruffle feathers about what makes good pizza. Right or wrong, they are onto something: Quarter Sheets will introduce limited reservations soon and bring their pan-style pizzas and cakes to New York for a pop-up this spring. Before they fully take over the country, the couple told CULTURED about their communication styles, their dream dinner party set-up, and their unconventional Valentine’s Day tradition. 

CULTURED: Where are you, and what's in your system right now? 

Hannah Ziskin: We are sitting in our closed restaurant. Aaron is in the middle of a prep shift, so this is one of the few days that we're separated in the morning. Usually we spend every waking moment together. It's a little bit psycho. But I just ate leftover crispy rice and chicken skewers from Kismet. I added olive oil, a fried egg, and so much chilli crisp because I have a deep addiction. 

Lindell: I kicked it off with a large black coffee. I took one bite of a three-day-old chocolate chip cookie that was still excellent. Hannah’s cookies hold up after three days, as it turns out. Then I got here and started my dough mix, so I ate raw pizza dough. To close the loop on that, we did a photo shoot with a friend of mine, so I ate cooked pizza dough in the form of pizza. And I’ve had two Mountain Valley Spring Waters. 

CULTURED: Hannah, you staged at Chez Panisse while attending UC Berkeley. How did working with Alice Waters impact the way you see food and the ethos of a restaurant? 

Ziskin: It's funny that you think I worked with Alice. She was too busy for me, and understandably, she had so much to do. We spoke after I was there for about three months. I finally introduced myself. I got nervous, it was so weird. But being in her orbit was enough. I sorted fruit as an intern. Obviously [Chez Panisse] gets first pick—the best peaches, the best oranges… My first job at six in the morning was to go through each piece of fruit. I would sniff each peach, touch it on the stem, and make sure it was ripe. If it was perfectly ripe, it would move it into the walk-in. I developed a very close bond with ripe fruit and have been fighting the same battle in every place I've ever worked where people are trying to put under-ripe fruit in a walk-in, and I'm always taking it out. 

It's interesting, because [Quarter Sheets is] a pizza restaurant, and you wouldn't necessarily think about seasonality being at the forefront of our menus, but it is. I had a dessert the other day—pear cobbler with pear ice cream. It was so Chez Panisse, I put it up, and I was like, “This is a Lindsey Shere dessert.” As seasons are changing, I'll go on to the Chez Panisse website and look at what their menu is because I know that they're going to get the fruit that's about to be really good. 

Lindell: It's the barometer. You know what will eventually come your way based on that menu. 

Photography by Maggie Shannon.

CULTURED: You two met working together at Cotogna in San Francisco. Tell me about that experience.

Ziskin: We started working two weeks apart. I was working in pastry on one side, and Aaron was working in savory on the other. We could catch fleeting glances, but the first time that I saw Aaron, I was going to get something out of the walk-in. I opened the door, and he was standing there with his clipboard. He had longer hair then, and he was wearing the headband that Richie Tenenbaum wears in The Royal Tenenbaums. It was love at first sight. Now, he just wears boring old baseball hats. Petition to bring the headband back. Everyone at Cotogna would, like, watch us interact. Like the whole pastry kitchen. Every time Aaron came in, everyone would whisper and giggle about it, because I would just be so glad to see him. 

Lindell: To be clear, there was literally zero reason for me to be wandering around in the pastry kitchen. 

CULTURED: What is your secret to staying in love while running a business together? 

Lindell: I feel like we probably moved through the stuff that we would have had to deal with while owning a business together before, well, we actually opened a business. We've done hard, difficult relationship stuff. Owning a business is a separate type of stress, but the way in which successful partnering happens a lot of time in a business, we've kind of built that. There's a little bit of reading each other's minds. There's a little bit of not having to worry about what the other person's doing because they're definitely doing what they need to do. It gets messy and hard and stressful, and both of us get tired at the same exact moment. Then we have to remember that we're both in the exact same emotional state, and that's why things are maybe getting tense. 

Ziskin: We kind of have a yin and yang thing going on, and we have different interests. I'm pastry and Aaron’s savory, but I trust him with his palate and he trusts me. Aaron's also more creative than I am in terms of design and music, and I'm more financially minded. 

CULTURED: Quarter Sheets opened as a brick and mortar in 2022. What has been the most surprising thing about the Quarter Sheets story so far?

Ziskin: We knew we were doing something that was good and that people liked, but I never anticipated opening a restaurant that the New York Times named as one of the “top 50 restaurants in America.” Our goal was just to open a neighborhood restaurant that people enjoyed going to.

Lindell: That's not being humble, that's just a practical element. You focus on your neighborhood or whatever your reach is gonna be, and that doesn't necessarily include national recognition. You're focused on, How can I be a part of this community?

Photography by Maggie Shannon.

CULTURED: Is there any advice you'd give someone who's opening their first spot right now? 

Lindell: When you're filling a room full of a bunch of different personalities, it's like filling a six-bedroom apartment with six people…

Ziskin: Or like curating a good dinner party. The guests all have to get along and have different personalities.

Lindell: If there's too much of one thing, even if that one thing can be good on its own, it doesn't really work. So it's about building a team [with] the ability to be in the same room together for eight hours. 

CULTURED: Aaron, what is one thing that people get wrong about pizza? And Hannah, I'm gonna ask you the same thing about cake.

Lindell: Pizza is not a particularly great delivery option. Nothing good happens when hot pizza is placed in a box to hang out for 30 minutes to an hour. Delivery pizza’s shining virtue is that it is very, very available. It’s there for you late at night in a moment of desperation or when you need to feed a crowd on a budget. It’s not bad! But it is also not great. I think we are conflating convenience with quality here.

Ziskin: I made plated desserts in restaurants my whole life. I used to say I hated making cake. So I'm not following any rules of cake. I just make it. 

Photography by Eva Kolenko.

CULTURED:  What changed to make you want to start making cake? 

Ziskin: I think cake traditionally is very, “this is the cake layer, this is the butter cream.” Those are the two flavors, and like, are they even flavors or are they just sweet? When I started making cake, it was sort of out of necessity. I was making a bunch of bread and pies and cookies out of our house. My Instagram feed was trending very brown. I was like, I need some pops of color on here. 

A friend of my sister's asked me to make a cake for her wedding. It was kind of a disaster. She was getting married in Glendale in the middle of the summer, and it was 100 degrees. Then I got there, and I was going to put the cake inside, and she's like, “Actually, it's going outside on this table in the direct sunlight.” So the cake melted. But I started making cakes and posting them. I found myself making the cake that I wanted to eat, which is very little cake and lots of other stuff. More concentration on delicious tart jams and creamy intricate fillings infused with delicate flavors. It’s cake for non-cake people. 

CULTURED: What are your favourite places to eat in LA other than Quarter Sheets right now?

Ziskin: There is this duo of restaurants owned by the same folks called Ototo and Tsubaki. Ototo is Japanese bar food, and Tsubaki is more Izakaya style. We're there, like, once a week. We're obsessed. We also go to San Gabriel Valley to a restaurant called Chong Qing Special Noodles and have them dial the Szechuan all the way to maximum Szechuan. We do that a lot. We love Found Oyster. 

Lindell: When we want to go to the Valley, we'll also go to Anajak Thai.

Photography by Eva Kolenko.

CULTURED: What do you want to see more and less of in the LA food scene right now? 

Lindell: I would love to see more really good diners. Sometimes chefs step in and make it “too chef.” I'm not asking for that. I just want good pancakes. Also, we don't have a killer steakhouse where everything is really good. 

Ziskin: This restaurant opened in Pasadena that I really love called Bar Chelou. They have a pastry chef, and I know that they have a pastry chef because I looked at that menu, and I was like, a pastry chef made this. I almost never order desserts, but I just vibed with it so hard. So I feel like I'm really anxious for less of the savory chef making dessert and more of hiring a pastry chef who’s a specialist because I miss that. Oh, I have another thing: More croissants and viennoiserie!

CULTURED: What is your go-to gas station snack? 

Ziskin: Cheez-Its are the best gas station snack.

Lindell: I'm a bubbly water freak. So I have to do that combo with a kettle chip. Sometimes I'm so desperate that I get gross-tasting club soda because I need it. I'm addicted to carbonated drinks.

CULTURED: If you're hosting your dream dinner party, who do your first three invites go to? 

Ziskin: I feel like Harry Nilsson would be really fun. 

Lindell: Because he's a musician and a joker. He's gonna tell jokes and he's probably encouraging everyone to get very drunk and [do] more illicit things. He's there as kind of the MC. If I was gonna cook for another cook, I would invite Jacques Pépin. 

Ziskin: And Debbie Harry! Honestly, I would love to see Jacques and Debbie Harry. Jacques can get along with anyone. Are you cooking him an omelette, Aaron? 

Lindell: Not for a dinner party. Maybe a roast chicken. I'm the bartender in this scenario. 

CULTURED: What are you drinking?

Ziskin: Very ice cold martinis. We're both gin martini people, but I feel like Harry would be vodka. I think Debbie Harry is also drinking a vodka martini. 

Lindell: Post-dinner, we're just drinking mezcal out of a cup.

Photography by Maggie Shannon.

CULTURED: What are your feelings around Valentine's Day

Ziskin: I hate Valentine’s Day. I think it was years of working in restaurants and the chef coming and being like, "What special thing are you making for Valentine's Day?" And I was like, “Fucking nothing, dude. This isn't even a real holiday.” Now, I feel like it's become a bit.

Lindell: It's a day of me encouraging Hannah to be nasty about it. That’s our tradition. 

Ziskin: I have an old Valentine's Day present from Aaron when we were working at Cotogna. On Valentine's Day, he put it in my employee locker. He got me a Patsy Cline record and a bottle of Jim Beam, and I thought that was very romantic. That was a good Valentine's Day gift. I like it because it's kind of sad. You know what I mean?

For more tips and opinionated takes from food experts, see our interviews with Molly BazSohla El-Waylly, and Andy Baraghani