Over the past year, a series of restaurant closures and openings has swept through Highland Park and Eagle Rock. Among the recently closed businesses are Dave’s Chillin & Grillin, which closed in May 2017, and Camilo’s California Bistro, which closed after 18 years of service to the Eagle Rock area.
Dave’s Chillin & Grillin, a sandwich shop on Colorado Boulevard that closed in 2017, is now re-opening on Figueroa Street in Highland Park. Co-owner Ghaz Bazrafshan spoke about the change in the Eagle Rock and Highland Park areas.
“What I think the landlords don’t understand is that even though the real estate in Eagle Rock is rising, the foot traffic for business isn’t. It’s a lot of families, a lot of family homes, and for bars and restaurants I think it’s important to have a big single population in your neighborhood,” Bazrafshan said.
Bazrafshan said she is optimistic for the future and credited her business’s second chance to a partnership between Dave’s Chillin & Grillin and Ruben Perez of Chops Meat and Fish, a deli that will share a location with Dave’s Chillin & Grillin.
“Even though we were open for 12 years — a lot of businesses close and never open back up —we’re reopening with the same name, same concept basically, and I’m really excited to get a second chance to do it bigger and better,” Bazrafshan said.
Dave’s Chillin & Grillin opens March 10 on 5715 N Figueroa St and will offer a 10 percent discount to all Occidental students.
Despite the trend of quick turnover for restaurants on Colorado Boulevard, some of the boulevard’s restaurants have been in business for decades. Ned Martorana, co-owner of Casa Bianca, a family–run Italian restaurant located on Colorado Boulevard that has been in business since 1953, spoke about how the neighborhood has changed and Casa Bianca’s lasting success.
“From my point of view, a restaurant has to be consistent in what they serve to the public, so as long as you have a good product and you’re consistent, you’ve got a good chance of surviving,” Martorana said.
According to Martorana, his parents opened Casa Bianca when he was a child and passed on the business to Martorana and his sister, who now co-run the still-active eatery.
“When the place started, I think there might have only been two restaurants in Eagle Rock in the 1950s, this one and one or two down the road, but in the last 10, 15 years, restaurants have been opening all over the place, so there’s a lot more competition now,” Martorana said.
Among the new restaurants on Colorado Boulevard is Red Herring, an upscale American comfort food eatery open since August 2016 and owned by married couple Dave Woodall and Alexis Woodall.
“There’s a little bit of a diamond-in-the-rough quality to Eagle Rock that I think is becoming shinier and shinier as more people move there,” Alexis Woodall said. “It’s fun to watch more and more people move to Eagle Rock and celebrate it for its charm. Nobody wants to change Eagle Rock; we want to make it a little more popular, make it a little more visible.”
According to Diego Zapata (junior), an Urban and Environmental Policy minor currently developing and researching methods to rate how gentrifying new businesses are, understanding neighborhood change can be complicated.
“Part of the nature of gentrification is that once it starts, it’s difficult to stop it,” Zapata said. “Ultimately, that doesn’t mean that the work I’m doing is invalid. I do feel there is some means of sustainably developing the community, and coming to terms that this community is part of a city, and that cities evolve continuously.”
Diep Tran, the owner of Good Girl Dinette, an American diner that serves Vietnamese comfort food open since 2009 in Highland Park, spoke about her experience as an immigrant opening and running restaurants.
“I’m an immigrant, I grew up in immigrant communities, I’ve lived most of my life in immigrant communities, so it made sense for me when I opened a restaurant to have it located in an immigrant community, and Highland Park has a rich immigrant history,” Tran said. “[Opening a restaurant] is pretty nerve-wracking. If you’re not money, and you’re not friends with a lot of money people, then it’s pretty difficult. I think communities of color have always felt that.”
Tran said that she works to maintain authenticity in serving the community.
“I’m not looking to be anything other than a neighborhood restaurant and that’s actually the hardest thing to do — to be a restaurant that day in day out makes great food, retains its soul — that’s probably the hardest thing to do,” Tran said.