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Crazy Neighbors, Bureaucracy Lead To Closure of Doughboys on 3rd Street

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Wow. Just wow. Eater LA posts a portion of the letter from Doughboys owner Frank Waldman now posted on the web site for Doughboys, the 3rd Street eatery, that has been forced to shutter after a struggle with a neighbor, Building and Safety inspectors and Curbed patron saint Jack Weiss (CD5). Nice to see his jackassery continues. Essentially, what happened was residential neighbors behind the restaurant began complaining to Building & Safety, Councilman Jack Weiss, the police and the Health Department for a variety of reasons, including noise. A lawsuit against Doughboys for noise was thrown out when the judge found no violation. Then the neighbor(s) sent the Health Department after Doughboys. Again no violations were found. Then Building & Safety was called, which did result in the discovery that Doughboys was occupying a space that, although it was previously a restaurant, had not received a change of use to allow it to operate as such. Then things got ugly.
What really happened to Doughboys
(as posted on www.doughboys.net)

I have heard many rumors about the state of Doughboys...what happened and why. But none of them even remotely accurate. I would like to set the record straight. And while it might seem a bit self-indulgent, it’s my website, and if I can’t do it here, where can I do it.

It began as a wholesale bakery with an eye towards evolving into a café and retail bakery. I opened Doughboys in February of 1992 with 2 employees (both bakers) and myself. The front of the space was used to store flour, the rear was the bakery. We began with two customers.

Towards the end of 1993, the restaurant adjacent to us became available. While I had no need of it at the time, I knew I would need it eventually if I was to expand. It was a fully equipped restaurant, complete with a walk-in refrigerator, stoves, ovens, and hood. I purchased the equipment from the owner, and signed a new lease. As is always the case when you take over a business, I was required bring the site up to current Building and Safety codes, as well as Health department codes. This involved submitting plans for necessary work and obtaining building permits, then completing the work and having it approved. We were required to upgrade our entire hood structure, including the exhaust and make up air system. That had to be approved by the Mechanical division of Building and Safety. It was. Then, the fire suppression system upgrades that needed to be approved by the Los Angeles Fire Department. They were. We made plumbing changes, repairs and upgrades with plans being submitted and the work being approved by the Plumbing division of Building and Safety. There were repairs to the tiles, walls, refrigeration units, and many other things required for Health Department approval. All of this was done legally. We even have a stamped, approved set of plans issued by the Industrial Waste Department acknowledging both addresses as one. Eventually, over time, Doughboys evolved into the bakery and café I had hoped for. It took many years, much work, and the help of a wonderful staff, many of whom have been with me for years.

Within the last few years, as 3rd street has grown, some members of the Wilshire homeowners association have expressed concern over the parking situation, noise, and general congestion in the area. Their concern is certainly legitimate. Most of the homeowners are communicating with local business owners directly, with mutual respect and understanding. They have regular meetings where they discuss possible solutions. However, a very small minority of the homeowners directly behind some of the restaurants have chosen to take a different course. In our case, there were many calls to the Department of Building and Safety, our councilman's office, the police, Health Department, and other agencies. Police officers and officials from their respective offices responded to every call, and almost all were deemed “no violation”. The police in particular, never cited one incident in which we violated any law or civil code. A Lawsuit brought by our immediate neighbor to the south for excessive noise was thrown out after the many hours of recordings and videotape furnished by the neighbor prompted the judge to declare that all he really heard were police helicopters. The Health Department was called with every conceivable allegation. Almost all visits by the inspector (there were 12 to 13 in a period of 8 weeks, normally there are 4 visits per year) turned up “no violation”. And things that were found needing attention received it immediately. Since letter grades were initiated in Los Angeles County, the majority of ours have been “A” ratings. This prompted one inspector to suggest we try to do something about the “harassment” by our neighbor.

And while the many calls to the Department of Building and Safety alleging illegal construction proved false, it ultimately prompted an investigation into the 2 spaces we occupied. The original one and the one we took over later. As it turned out, the “restaurant” we acquired in 1993 had never changed its zoning status, as would have been required, to convert its use from “retail” to “restaurant” use by its owner. This is an important distinction because there are different requirements in parking, plumbing, electrical, and so on for all zoning, such as industrial, residential, mixed use, commercial, restaurant, and on and on. This also meant he had been operating illegally. And it also meant that after all these years, when they insisted I convert its use, it was unlikely I would be able to due to the current codes which change year to year. I obviously resisted just closing my business and continued to search for a solution. This was a long and tedious search involving many people. And it took quite a long time. So long, in fact, that I was fined several times, and was ultimately charged with criminal prosecution for non-compliance. There is currently a warrant out for my arrest. I was told by the city attorney that to dispose of the criminal matter, I would need to obtain a building permit to show we were officially on the way to compliance.

Surprisingly, my architect, with my landlords help and support, was actually able to design a plan that would satisfy ALL code requirements and bring the space into complete compliance with the laws. This included the fire codes resulting from joining the two spaces. It was sufficient to the extent that we were granted a building permit. This would allow us to begin the work needed to come into full compliance, and remain a café. It should have also resolved the criminal matter. Every penny available to me, including the refinancing of my home, the virtual draining of funds from our Highland location, and money and work from friends, was used for the work needing to be done. Over $100,000 was spent on construction. As we neared completion, and were 4 to 5 weeks away from what we hoped would be our final inspection, our building permit was revoked. When a senior Building and Safety inspector was contacted by my architect, he was told that the inspector who approved the permit made a “mistake” and overlooked some things.

My architect promptly went to work addressing those “things”, and discussed them with the senior inspector. One by one, each item was resolved to the satisfaction of the inspector. A “supplemental permit”, was issued allowing us to continue. But that too was promptly revoked, with the same supervisor unable to say why. He could only say that it was sent “upstairs”. We were eventually led to our city councilman, Jack Weiss. In support of Doughboys, my landlord insisted on a meeting with the councilman’s assistants, senior members of the Department of Building and Safety, himself, his lawyers (at his own expense), and my architect. He also carried with him a petition with the names of over 600 local residents (all in Mr. Weiss’s district) in support of Doughboys, which were obtained by many of our staff, on their own time, and wanting only to support us. The meeting ultimately failed to resolve the problem, the petition was ignored, with one of Mr. Weiss’s assistants referring to the complaints of several neighbors (one in particular, she said, called every day without fail) and the pressure they were putting on Mr. Weiss. The end result was that the space in question could NOT be used as a restaurant. That effectively closed Doughboys for good. And for good measure, that member of the councilman’s staff said to my landlord, “he really needs to take care of that criminal matter”. This was the criminal matter that was to be disposed of upon our receipt of a building permit.

16 years of work, 40 people put out of work, hundreds of thousands of dollars lost, our bakery, as well as our new mail order business (which began after our Red Velvet cake was featured on the Oprah Winfrey show), all lost. And then there’s the sadness of being forced to leave the neighborhood in which I worked for so long and the neighbors I had come to know. Some we knew for years, and watched their children grow up. It has also removed me from the day to day involvement of our highland location. This, and the financial condition in which I was left, led to difficulties which ultimately forced the closure of that location as well. And months after the actual closing, I am still discovering new issues resulting from it. Multiple lawsuits, accusations of dishonesty, and indifference to the many people who helped build the company, and the continuing drama of the criminal charge, which, after losing everything, is still unresolved. I’m still a criminal. There have been many suppliers and trades people with whom I’ve worked over the years, many of them small companies and many of them close friends, who have been affected as well.

But By far the worst however, was the loss of, and the inability to pay many of the employees who had worked for me so long. These were the people responsible for the growth of doughboys. No one person can build a company by himself. Many successful business people with tell you they became that way by hiring people smarter and more talented than they are. Such was certainly the case with me. Some have been with me for up to 14 years. One started when he was 17 (he lied about his age). This was the only job he had ever had. Over the years, I watched them date, marry, have children (some of whom were even brought by the restaurant on their way home from the hospital so everyone could see them), bury close friends and family members, and all the other things that families and friends do. At our Christmas parties, we would count how many babies had been born that year (one year I believe it was 7 or 8). These people all trusted me to fulfill my part of the bargain. They worked; I would pay them for their work. And when I was forced to close, and unable to completely fulfill my part of the bargain, there were several responses...all of them incredibly painful. No one really understood how it happened, nor did they especially want or need to. There were some who thought I planned it, and just took their money and ran. Some didn’t really think about it much, they were just trying to figure out how they were going to pay their rent. Some tried to offer solace, and just thanked me for the time we had. Many of these employees asked to be contacted if I was ever going to re-open, so they could come back to work. A couple of them even asked me if there was anything they could do to help me; if I needed to borrow some money (I’m not sure I would ever be able to describe how that felt). Some were very angry and threatening, understandably, and wanted to know how I could be so irresponsible. A legitimate question, I think. One I’ve struggled with, but have no idea how to answer. They say hindsight is 20/20. If only! And there are many who won’t speak to me at all, or return my phone calls. But whatever their reaction, I’m sure there were many who just thought I didn’t really care. I did.

It is unlikely anyone could fully recover from this experience. Financially, maybe. Could anyone recover emotionally? Well, I can only speak for myself. I won’t. And it’s still extremely difficult to understand how this could happen, and to accept this loss. What was my role? Could I have done something differently; something that would have altered the outcome? Doughboys has dominated over a third of my life. Think about it...one third of a life’s work; gone. Is it gone forever or can it be rebuilt? And if so, what would I do differently? And would I be able to avoid the same mistakes and errors in judgment? Would the staff ever forgive me for breaking our contract, or consider working with me again? The fallout is likely to continue for some time, and there are many unresolved issues. And there are taxes to be dealt with, vendor lawsuits to fight (or acquiesce to), and personal matters that, previously ignored, will at some point have to be addressed if at all possible.

But I will make every effort to recover. I promise myself every day I will keep trying to find a way to repay those who have lost as a result of all this. And I truly believe I will. And I hope I can restore the name and reputation everyone at Doughboys worked so hard to get.

So, regarding the rumors that continue to circulate, the people who start them, the people who believe them, and even the people who couldn’t care less, my goal here was simply to tell the true story. I am not trying to change anyone’s mind, or convince anyone I’m a wonderful guy. This is no marketing ploy, or sympathy plea. Like all people, there are those who like me, and those who don’t. And no matter what I do, I will always have both. Ultimately, my conscience will allow me to sleep at night or not.

Good Night
Frank Waldman

· The Doughboys Saga: Owner Frank Waldman Speaks [Eater LA]
· EaterWire: Doughboys Shuttered... [Eater LA]
· Doughboys Shutter: The Evidence [Eater LA]