For 30 years it was a Louisiana-flavored fixture on the eastern tip of the Crenshaw District, a lively neighborhood eatery where owner Aquilla Jase cooked up $5 bowls of gumbo for friends gathered in his "living room" on Exposition Boulevard.
But after the 69-year-old Jase's death in October, Sid's Jase's Cafe locked its doors and grew uncharacteristically silent, taking on the imperiled, untended look of too many South-Central Los Angeles businesses.
Now Sid's may be making a comeback. Jase's daughter, Lorraine Heisser, says she plans to reopen the cafe in August, determined to keep alive her father's legacy of good food, good friends and commitment to the community.
"It's a landmark," said Heisser, 48, of the restaurant she describes as her second home since it opened in 1964 at 1401 Exposition Blvd. "This cafe has always been in my life, one way or another. I'm going to (keep the restaurant open) for my dad."
While her father's will goes through probate, Heisser said, she is mounting a plan of attack for getting the cafe, which had suffered financially in recent years, back on its feet. Along with the restaurant, she inherited overdue bills, a rain-damaged roof and other problems that will cost about $75,000 to solve.
But Heisser said she is determined to take out business loans and do whatever is necessary to resume operation.
"Daddy loved this place," she said. "There's so much history here. . . . I met a lot of my friends at the cafe; we all grew up here. Often I would have my friends on one side of the place, he'd have his friends on the other, and the customers were in between. It was like having a big party."
Built in the 1930s, Sid's was initially owned by a Louisiana bandleader, then by another Louisiana native who eventually sold the business to Jase. When her father discovered it would cost an additional $500 to change the cafe's name, Heisser said, he opted to keep the name and invited customers who inquired after the last owner to simply call him Sid.
Although the name remained the same, the establishment quickly metamorphosed from a beer-and-poker joint to a family restaurant that nonetheless had plenty of room for good times.
People met at Sid's regularly not only to eat, but also to chew the fat--along with the crab legs, hot sausage and other dishes that all sold for $10. It was there that Jase, former Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell and other transplanted Louisianians mapped out plans for the Louisiana to Los Angeles Festival, a two-day event that recently celebrated its seventh year in nearby Leimert Park.
"It was one of the first Creole places around," said August Gagnier, owner of Gagnier's Restaurant in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and, like Jase, a New Orleans native. "I used to eat there when I first came here, back in 1957."
Heisser said she used to do many things there, from waiting tables to tending bar to helping her father cater local parties. She and Jase watched relationships among customers flower into marriage; babies who first came through the door cradled in their parents' arms grew up and some eventually came to work in the restaurant.
Heisser always kept a hand in the operation, even when she was a student at Cal State Dominguez Hills and later as a full-time supervisor at the Los Angeles Job Corps Center. "I'd always come back Friday nights to work, whatever I was doing," she recalled, tears filling her eyes. "My father, he was my best friend."
Levi Kingston said he also misses those Fridays, the afternoons when he and a friend would meet up at Sid's for a beer and a rundown of the week's events. "It was one of the few places around that didn't charge a lot of money," said Kingston, a community activist and chairman of the board at the Hoover Intergenerational Care child-care center. "You didn't need a reservation. There are a lot of Louisiana locals that treated this place like their hangout. There's a vacuum now."