Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. In this installment, we speak with a restaurant owner whose parents' business partner got involved with the mob.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in December 2015
When you own a restaurant and it isn't doing well, you will get desperate.
This was the case in a popular restaurant that my family used to own with a shady guy in the San Fernando Valley. We had split the ownership—and the restaurant's financial responsibilities—50-50 because my parents got divorced. It was hairy for everyone involved, really. My dad would get these cash advances from private companies that charge a 30-percent interest rate, so we barely got by.
Unfortunately, this was not the case with my parents' business partner, who had already overextended his line of credit with banks and any other type of loan, which is why we think he resorted to getting a loan from the Russian mafia. Things only got progressively shittier after he did that.
The signs were all there, but I was so young that I didn't put two and two together. Later in life, when I opened up my own restaurant, I learned about the power that gangs and mafias still have over businesses in Los Angeles. The first thing I remember are these sketchy dudes with Russian accents who would always come by to ask if my parents' business partner was there; the guy would hide somewhere in the restaurant and tell me to tell these scary-looking dudes that he wasn't around. Sometimes they would come by a couple times a week, yet my parents' business partner would never want to confront them.
Then the really weird shit started happening. The first event was when somebody broke into our restaurant without any signs of forced entry. The second event was when they broke into the restaurant's safe that was located inside a caged office area with all of these crazy security features. Shortly after these two strange occurrences, someone broke into my parents' business partner's house and completely trashed his place without taking anything—as if they were just sending a message to him, trying to shake him down.
I don't know if it was just the universe fucking us over because of this bad energy, but violent customers started to come into the restaurant. The most memorable was this biker—probably from a Russian motorcycle gang, for all I know—who was at the bar, ordering shot after shot of Patrón for everybody in the bar. When his $300 check came, he refused to pay it and instead took out his pocket knife and stabbed the check in the middle of the bar. Nobody got hurt, but stuff like that never happened before.
Someone broke into my parents' business partner's house and completely trashed his place without taking anything—as if they were just sending a message to him, trying to shake him down.
All the while, those Russian dudes would still come by the restaurant and wouldn't stop asking for my parents' partner. Sure, the restaurant was located in the San Fernando Valley to begin with, which is a weird part of Los Angeles by any measure. It is home to not only a lot of Russian immigrants, but also to a lot of Mexican gangs, illegal street vendors, and celebrities who can't afford to buy a house in Beverly Hills.
At one point, even Dr. Dre was a regular because his recording studio was only a few blocks away—that is, until my parents' business partner scared him away with all of his bad house music. Note to other LA restaurants: Your restaurant and bar does not have to aspire to be a nightclub or lounge, too.
I want to say that this poor guy didn't deserve what was happening to him, but I would be lying. He was a bad operator and treated all of his employees like shit, so I guess that was karma's strange ways of making things right again. The ironic thing is that the restaurant received its fair share of accolades, getting reviewed by the LA Times and even getting a write-up by Jonathan Gold back when he was at LA Weekly. The food was good, but good food alone sometimes isn't enough.
Eventually, the Russian guys stopped coming and we found out that the poor guy had to ask his parents to lend him the money to pay them back. I suspect that the sum was somewhere in the ballpark of $50,000 to $100,000. To nobody's surprise, this restaurant model proved to be unsustainable and we went out of business. Of course, not before getting shut down by the Sheriff department first, probably because the restaurant had been a marked a crime hot spot with all of the break-ins (and unpaid taxes).
We never heard from that guy again, and now the restaurant has been turned into a Russian teahouse. Go figure.
As told to Javier Cabral