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RESTAURANTS : Persistence Pays for Watts Franchisee

“I started with the big chain restaurants,” says Donald J. Bohana. “Then I tried some small places. But no one was interested.” Bohana, a founding director of the L.A.-based Guardian Bank, simply wanted to open a restaurant in a wide-open market: the Watts-Willowbrook area of Los Angeles. Since the Watts riots of 1965, not one family-style restaurant has opened in the area. “If you want to take somebody to lunch,” Bohana says, “you have to drive darn near to Inglewood. And that makes absolutely no sense.”

Bohana, however, is a persistent man. And so, in February, Bohana will open a Denny’s in the Kenneth Hahn Shopping Plaza.

“Most of the chains were interested when I gave them the demographics over the telephone,” he says, “but then I told them where the restaurant would be located and they came up with all sorts of reasons why they weren’t giving out any more franchises.”

Actually, Denny’s also declined. But Bohana decided that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “I had to do a lot of selling and convincing that this was something that should be done,” the Los Angeles native says. “The only thing they could relate to is what they read in the newspaper--the crime, the drugs--but that certainly is not the case. There is not any graffiti around the place, and the shopping center is probably the most secure mall in Los Angeles.”

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“Frankly, we’re real glad to have him,” says Karen Randall, Denny’s director of public relations.

The 150-seat Denny’s has a built-in clientele; it’s across the street from the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, which employs 2,000.

“Most of the basic services left after the Watts riots and did not come back in,” says Bohana, the first African-American franchisee of the nationwide chain.

The 5,000-square-foot restaurant will have a separate banquet room that will seat 50. In addition to the basic Denny’s menu--chicken, eggs, burgers, fries, salads, malts--Bohana has been given some latitude. “We will have manager specials,” he says. “Like on Fridays we will have more ethnic food, maybe New Orleans-style gumbo.”

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Bohana will employ about 85 people, all from the Watts-Willowbrook area. “Eight-five new jobs,” he says, “plus it’s recycling the dollars within the community. Hopefully, now someone will get the bright idea to build a theater, a bowling alley. Some things that we just take for granted.”

NO, WE ARE A HEALTH FOOD RESTAURANT: “We don’t like to say that we are opening a health food restaurant because of the stigmas associated with it,” says Tanya Petrovna, “but yes, it is a health food restaurant.” Next month, she and her partner, Mona London, will open MT Plate, in the new Mrs. Gooch shopping center in Redondo Beach.

“Everything is as organic as we could find it,” says Petrovna, “grains, beans, greens--and everything will be made from scratch. We are trying for ethical eating.”

The partners, who have been operating their restaurant in Palm Springs for the past year, say that even though they do not serve meat, most of their customers are not vegetarian. “Our philosophy is people eat for flavor and texture,” Petrovna says. “So it happens to be good for you, so it happens you feel good, that’s just a byproduct.”

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STOCKPOT: Morton’s of Chicago is opening a steakhouse in the Hotel Nikko on La Cienega. . . . Remember the Hungry Tiger in Marina del Rey? It’s been redone and is now a restaurant and sports bar grill called Endless Summer. Co-chefs Alison Ganon and Catherine Dimanche will serve such dishes as Chilean sea bass ceviche and smoked turkey nachos, along with pizzas, salads and sandwiches.


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