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Hot Dog Stand Beats D. A.'s Bid to Close It

February 07, 1985|JAMES RAINEY | Times Staff Writer

Connoisseurs of the Oki dog can rest easily this week.

The favorite meal of many late-night diners in West Hollywood will be available for some time to come because a judge has rejected an attempt by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office to close Danny's Dogs, home of the Oki dog and other gastronomic treats.

Danny's had become a center for "disgusting behavior" and a roosting place for drug pushers, prostitutes, thieves and other criminals, according to officials of the Sheriff's Department.

So in late October the district attorney filed a 318-page lawsuit that cited narcotics, red light and public nuisance abatement laws in an effort to close the stand, located on Santa Monica Boulevard near Plummer Park.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 3, 1985 Home Edition Westside Part 10 Page 2 Column 2 Zones Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
In a Feb. 7 article, The Times erroneously referred to Oki Dogs Inc., 7450 Santa Monica Blvd., as Danny's Dogs. Oki's until recently had a sign identifying it as Danny's Dogs, but was forced to remove it by a chain with that name in the San Fernando Valley.

But Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Jerry Pacht on Friday denied an injunction to close Danny's pending trial of the suit.

New Business Hours

The size of crowds, the number of complaints from neighbors and the arrests that were normal last fall have decreased dramatically, according to Lt. Michael Quinn of the Sheriff's Department.

"I'd say that there has been a 100% turnaround in the last couple of months," Quinn said. From August through mid-November, sheriff's deputies made more than 200 arrests in and around Danny's, according to Quinn. Since then there have been fewer than a dozen.

The improvement has followed several changes made by owner Jimmy Sueyoshi. Sueyoshi now closes from 3 until 6 a.m. instead of staying open all night, so that the street people who made Danny's home will disperse into the night. He has also cut back trees and bushes that obscured picnic tables from passing sheriff's patrol cars. And he has hired a nighttime security guard to maintain order among the runaways, punk rockers, male prostitutes and other habitues of Danny's.

Judge Pacht cited the drop in crime in refusing to close the stand. But he also said that he was not convinced that all criminal activity in the area could be blamed on the Danny's.

"These street people who are there can all go to another stand just across the street," Pacht said. "So I don't know if closing it down is really the answer."

The lawsuit is expected to be heard within a year, but Louis Bernstein, Danny's lawyer, said he thinks it will be dismissed because the improvements have left no reason for closure. A decision has not been made on whether to pursue the lawsuit, an official in the district attorney's office said.

Sueyoshi, 39, who named the Oki dog for his homeland of Okinawa, said his business has fallen off 50% to 60% since revelations of the district attorney's action were reported on television and in newspapers.

But he was happy at escaping the injunction and predicted a re-blossoming of business.

"We beat the case good," Sueyoshi said. "I am very happy. I been in business for 22 years and I always work hard. The time will come when it (business) will go back to normal again."

Throughout the struggle Sueyoshi has pictured himself as a hard-working businessman who served the United States in Vietnam and now gives free food to runaways in West Hollywood.

For a little help sweeping up around the place, Sueyoshi said, he will bless a needy patron with an Oki dog: two hot dogs, chili, cheddar cheese, pastrami and grilled onions wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Sueyoshi said that he came to the United States poor and homeless. "When I first came to this country I had to sleep in the street," he said. "So I know what is cold and what is hungry. So I wanted to do this for them. I don't think any of them are really bad. Some have gone to school and made good."

But sheriff's deputies and the district attorney's office painted a less charitable picture of Danny's before the cleanup. "In the past it was a meeting place for just about every form of criminal element in L. A. County," Quinn said. "We had auto thieves, street robbers, lots of narcotics and both male and female prostitutes."

Quinn said that runaways arriving at the Los Angeles bus station soon got "the word" that Danny's was the place to go. One out-of-towner arrived with a map of Los Angeles marked with an X over Danny's. Three escapees from Juvenile Hall once showed up looking for friends, Quinn said.

And Danny's employees had been tied to drug deals and other problems, Quinn said.

Eighteen months ago, residents in a neighboring apartment building petitioned the Board of Supervisors to limit Danny's hours or close the stand.

They complained that young patrons slept in their trash bins and urinated on the building. Others were reportedly harassed at a nearby bus stop and the elderly were physically abused.

Attorney Bernstein claimed, however, that Danny's patrons were attracted by the good food and low prices and that Sueyoshi could not be held responsible for how they behaved after eating.

"They tried to lump everything around here into Danny's problem," Bernstein said. "But they just can't do that.

"If you were a runaway or one of these types of people, where else would you go to get a full meal that will hold you for a day for under $5? Danny's was a victim of its own good food."

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