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Troubled Crenshaw Cafe Serves Its Last Customer

March 20, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The financially troubled Crenshaw Cafe, a popular eatery on the Crenshaw strip that served up lively conversation with its plates of soul food, closed March 3.

The fortunes of the cafe began a fast decline after owner Jamil Shabazz, 40, was sentenced to state prison in November on conspiracy and insurance fraud charges for his involvement in one of the largest auto insurance fraud rings in the country, according to the district attorney's office.

Cafe head waiter Michael Garrison, who took over management after Shabazz was incarcerated, said dwindling business and increased overhead quickly overwhelmed him and forced the cafe to close. "It's a shame, but there was nothing else to do," he said.

Property owner Beryl Robinson, who also owns nearby Coley's Kitchen, a nearby Jamaican restaurant, said the cafe had fallen far behind on its $1,600-a-month rent.

It was the latest in a string of closures of notable black-owned restaurants in recent years, including Sir Graham's in Inglewood and Sisters on Crenshaw.

The 8-year-old cafe was famous for its soul-food cooking that, following Shabazz's Muslim beliefs, eschewed pork and emphasized vegetables. Alongside the grits smothered in gravy and short ribs were ground turkey burgers, egg and broccoli scrambles and steamed vegetable plates.

As famous as the food was the handwriting that covered the walls at the 10-table restaurant. Signatures and testaments to the cafe's culinary virtues were scrawled in ink by Muhammad Ali, jazz pianist Billy Childs, ex-Laker star Michael Cooper, the Dorsey High basketball team, singer Lou Rawls, rappers Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J, to name just a few.

The high-profile crowd, which included many members of the local Muslim community, guaranteed spirited conversations.

Nick Cates of North Hills, a longtime patron, said he often dropped by after church on Sunday, Bible in hand, and wound up in friendly philosophical debates with Muslim customers.

"There was always some kind of dialogue happening," Cates said. "The cafe had a cast of characters I didn't see anywhere else."

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