Coming soon to South L.A.: waffles
Here's one encouraging development I came across while looking into the Vermont/Manchester project: There is in fact some fine dining coming to the area, albeit not at the corner in question and not as part of any government-guided project. On the site of the legendary Kite Restaurant on the 9100 block of South Vermont Ave., a Waffle Factory restaurant is set to open within the next two weeks.
Waffle Factory is the brainchild of Robert Whitfield and Cassie Lowe.* Lowe is seen here on a Saturday evening spent getting the place into final order. I followed this development at a distance as Lowe and his partner Robert Whitfield came close to abandoning the deal for lack of funding. They ended up closing the financing gap and, based on the work going on in the interior, it looks like the heavy lifting is already done.
The Waffle Factory, a prime example of the kind of retail that is at the center of South L.A. foment, is located on unincorporated county land and thus is not the kind of project that would involve an organization like the Community Redevelopment Agency. In fact, if you're looking to make a case against public subsidies for development, this is a pretty good one: The founders sought money from various sources but ended up paying for it out of pocket. That may cast some uncertainty on the business: Lowe expects to pay off all his loans on the place within 10 days of opening, while Whitfield jokes that his car's about to be repossessed.
The bottom line is that this project is actually being completed, in contrast to visionary projects that involve buy-in from multiple parties, public funding or tax breaks, alphabet-soup agencies, and so on. If even 25% of the people who have told me the Vermont corridor lacks decent sit-down dining are willing to back that claim up with their disposable dollars, the Waffle Factory could make a fortune.
There's a paradox in South L.A. retail campaigning: On the one hand, proponents of better businesses say the neighborhood has more disposable income than squeamish retail chains and shy lending institutions believe, but on the other, the default belief seems to be that anybody who builds in the area needs all manner of breaks, subsidies and guarantees because they're building in a distressed area. Whitfield and Lowe are betting on the former claim. The menu includes both quick takes ($7.99 for an everything burger)* to more luxurious eat-in stuff (a red-meat dinner for less than $16*). Following are some pictures of the place: