When you walk into Dave’s Chillin’-n-Grillin’, the popular sandwich shop on Eagle Rock’s bustling Colorado Boulevard, you’ll usually be greeted by owner Dave Evans. He’s almost always there (75 hours a week by his estimate) in his signature Red Sox cap, happily extolling the virtues of his menu in a thick Boston accent. He’ll push the Rosemary’s Turkey one day, pointing out that it has mozzarella, monterey jack, and avocado, and the Tuna Melt the next. “It’s great,” he’ll say.
While the sandwiches are indeed great, Evans himself is undeniably part of the charm that’s made Dave’s Chillin’-n-Grillin’ a success. The restaurant just celebrated its 10-year anniversary in April, persevering despite the many changes that have come to the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood within the past decade. When asked if Eagle Rock’s shifting demographic and onslaught of new businesses has affected his own venture, Evans doesn’t sugarcoat it.
“There’s only 32,000 or 38,000 people in Eagle Rock, and there’s 73 restaurants,” he says. “There’s 14 places to get pizza for god’s sake. It’s so saturated…Everyone is struggling”
According to Yelp, there’s actually nine, but Evans’ point is well made. Eagle Rock has changed a lot since he set down roots back in 2005 (there were only about 35 restaurants in the area at that time, he says), after spending years managing restaurants and bars in L.A. Before that, he’d put in a year managing a Benihana in Hawaii, and before that, he worked for the D’Angelo Sandwich Shop chain, helping to open numerous locations throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire all with the plan of opening his own shop someday. “Stepping stones, you know? Baby steps in life,” says Dave, who used each experience to to learn everything he could about the industry.
To buy Dave’s, Evans put himself on a strict regimen of banking $60 of his bartending pay four days a week. Every time he had saved $3,000, he’d buy a CD. Once he had five CDs total, he cashed them out along with his 401K, sold everything he could, and took over the space from a friend of an old girlfriend, who was anxious to unload her failing juice bar. To square the deal, he paid up three months of owed back rent and purchased her old equipment.
“Everything was cheap and easy back then. It was a walk in the park,” he says. “Now, it’s tough.”
Despite the difficulties of the business, Evans is still enthusiastic about the shop, which he calls his “baby.” He’s adamant about using fresh-baked bread and high quality meat and cheese. He’s also a stickler for Best Foods mayo. “I mean, it’s $12 a gallon. I could get Cisco mayonnaise for $7 a gallon,” says Evans. “We’re talking about something you squirt on a sandwich, and I’m wasting $3,000 a year on it. But that’s how much I don’t compromise.”
He’s also eager to go even deeper into the industry and has big plans to expand the Dave’s brand. Evans is currently building a sports bar that’ll take up the back half of the shop’s tiny dining room, which he expects to debut next spring. The bar will be a 10-seater, and he’s in talks with Eagle Rock Brewery to produce a Dave’s Wicked Red Ale as a signature beer.
He’s hoping that the expansion will help fund an even bigger dream: Dave’s Wicked Clam, a New England-style seafood concept that he first introduced through pop-ups a couple of years ago. He and his business partner Ghazal Bazrafshan, who also acts as the CFO for the sandwich shop and is described by Evans as “the backbone of the company,” plan to go brick-and-mortar with the Wicked Clam in the future. They wouldn’t mind a few more Dave’s Chillin’-n-Grillin’s, too.
The two are also working on bringing Dave’s Hotts, a spicy pink pepper sauce based on the regionally popular condiment found mainly in the Northeast, to the market. They currently sell jars of Hotts in the shop whenever Dave has time to whip up a batch. Popular among customers, who you can regularly spot dousing their sandwiches with it, the whole lot usually sells out in two days.
And even though he insists on a “one thing at a time” mantra, Evans also has a new underground menu—his old one became so well known that it ended up on the regular menu—in the works. His favorite creation so far is the “Mexican Jew,” a grilled reuben with chiles and sauerkraut, but he thinks the Meat Monster, stacked with turkey, roast beef, mozzarella, has what it takes to win devotees, too.