Beloved South L.A. cafe Revolutionario is humming during most hours of operation. Customers are drawn to the delicious fusion fare that fits North African flavors and ingredients into fun, familiar dishes like tacos and quesadillas—and to the hospitality of Farid Zadi and Susan Park, the married couple who run the operation. But running a small business in a changing neighborhood always comes with challenges, and in the case of Revolutionario, Zadi and Park found themselves caught in the middle of a lengthy and expensive legal battle for the building they occupy.
Now, just as a new landlord has closed a deal and a sustainable future for the business appears in sight, Zadi and Park have launched a crowd-funding campaign to cover $10,000 in outstanding lawyer bills and fees so they can get on with what they do best: cooking up some of the most inventive food in the city.
Park and Zadi picked their location, on stretch of Jefferson Boulevard just far enough west of USC to still be low key, specifically for the diverse mix of customers who cross through the neighborhood. The building needed updates, including repairs to the electrical system, but they believed they could make it work and signed a lease that included a three-year term and a right of first refusal should the building go up for sale. The Revolutionario concept had launched as a series of pop-up dinners which had been hits, so there was a built-in customer base and brand from day one, and the restaurant was able to work as a business quickly, in spite of the challenges.
“We were doing OK and were able to live off of what we’re doing since the first months,” Park says. “Where we started getting into trouble was with the building being put up for sale.”
Initially, the building was expected to go up for sale for a million dollars, and Park entertained the idea of buying it herself at that price.
“That felt kind of doable. I could have gotten a round of investors, tried to pull it off,” she says. “But the building owner, now former-owner, found these terrible real estate developers, and they got to him and filled him with greed, and suddenly he pumped the price to two million, which just wasn’t realistic”
A potential buyer entered the picture, but wasn’t interested in being a landlord to a little taco cafe. That set off a complicated legal dispute between Revolutionario, the landlord, and the potential buyers that continued for over a year. All the while, according to Park and Zadi, the landlord dragged his feet on necessary upgrades, causing problems like cooking equipment failing during busy dinner rushes or air conditioners blowing out due to outdated wiring, which caused the restaurant to become so hot on summer days that customers stayed away.
“Our business was able to absorb it, to a point. But it’s really hard. We’re a small mom-and-pop business. We have employees that we pay a living wage,” Park says. “With the building sale and transfer we incurred additional costs and it became a tipping point moment. That’s why we started the GoFundMe.”
Earlier this month, a deal to sell the building finally closed—not with the developers who fought the couple (they eventually walked away from the project) but with an individual investor who has been a long-time customer of Revolutionario and is interested in keeping the business in place. He has plans to help them upgrade the building, including new wiring, lighting, and signage, that should help the restaurant continue to stay open and even expand, if all goes well.
“I think there’s a lesson in what we’re doing,” Park points out. “It could have been that the developers came in, and then we’re just gone. But we decided to fight them, and make it hard for them to kick us out, and we won.”
With that battle behind them, they hope to use money raised by crowd-sourced donations to help pay off their legal debts and other fees and get Revolutionario back on track in the location that, in spite of its challenges, they continue to love.
“We’re a multi-cultural, multi-lingual family, and this neighborhood really embraces that,” Park says. “We do things like feed local homeless people, we feed customers when they hit hard times. We like it here. If you come to our restaurant, you’ll see us taking orders and greeting customers, it almost feels like you’re in someone’s home. After three years, I feel like we’ve gone through a lot of the hard stuff about running a business. This is like a final hurdle. We don’t want to give up.”
Revolutionario is located at 1436 W. Jefferson Blvd., Exposition Park
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