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LEIMERT PARK : Getting In Your Licks at Banjo's

August 08, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

Jimmy Dodson said he knew he had a hit restaurant on his hands when one of his new customers took to frequenting his yogurt shop five and six times a day.

"He said he wanted to try everything," said Dodson, 46. "He went through all the yogurt flavors and a lot of the toppings. He's in here at least three times a day."

That enthusiastic response has been typical for the month-old Banjo's, a yogurt shop and deli at Degnan Boulevard and 43rd Street in the heart of Leimert Park. Though its bright neon sign, outdoor tables and wide selection of yogurt and specialty coffees may be common on the Westside dining scene, Banjo's is a first in the Crenshaw area.

"I used to have to go way past Ladera Heights, almost to Torrance, to get yogurt like this," said one customer as she hurried out of the store balancing a couple of bowls of yogurt topped with kiwi. "I live near 47th and Crenshaw, so this is nice and convenient."

In addition to yogurt and nearly 20 toppings, Banjo's offers cappuccino, cafe latte and espressos in flavors such as hazelnut and mango, overstuffed deli sandwiches, soups and fresh-squeezed juices.

Dodson, a former electrician, decided several years ago to launch his own business. Though he lives in Leimert Park, he didn't make up his mind to open up shop there until one afternoon when he sat and counted cars going through the intersection of Degnan Boulevard and 43rd Street.

"I couldn't believe how many people passed through here," said Dodson. "That settled it for me."

Dodson had also informally polled his neighbors and discovered that the business they most wanted in the neighborhood was a restaurant that also sold frozen yogurt. "Black folks don't just eat barbecue and soul food," he said. "It was no surprise, but I found a real demand for a place like this." Dodson said he is looking for the Los Angeles Festival, which begins Aug. 20 in Leimert Park, to improve foot traffic and increase sales.

Dodson employs son Kenji and daughter Chaka in the shop, and has hired several local high school students as well. He said he was inspired to work with community youth by one his fellow business owners and frequent customers, actress Marla Gibbs.

"Marla really sets an example," he said, referring to Gibbs' nearby performing arts school and steadfast determination to start viable businesses in the community. "You have to have faith. This place proved (the truth of) that saying in the movie 'Field of Dreams'--'If you build it, they will come.' And they have."

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