When construction begins Wednesday at the corner of Slauson Avenue and Overhill Drive, a health food mainstay in Windsor Hills will get even healthier--and a local entrepreneur will realize a dream that residents hope will inspire other business owners as well.
After almost two years of bureaucratic wrangling, Purcell Keeling is finally ready to break ground on a new, expanded site for Simply Wholesome, his restaurant and store at 4448 Slauson Ave. Keeling is moving across the street to the site of the old Wich Stand, a 1950s-style coffee shop that closed in the late 1980s.
"This community has been very good to me. I'm very fortunate that I can say I've outgrown this place," said the 41-year-old Keeling as he tended to customers and checked stock during a bustling afternoon at the restaurant. "I feel that I'm just doing what I've been put here to do."
Keeling's move couldn't have come at a better time for local residents seeking to revitalize Windsor Hills' small but dense commercial strip along Slauson, which boasts some sterling businesses--including CJ's Elegance boutique and Grass Roots Bookstore--but has physically and economically declined over the years.
Homeowner groups for two years have vehemently fought affordable-housing developers interested in the site, saying the corner property is better suited for a store or restaurant.
The county Regional Planning Commission voted down the housing developers' proposal in August, 1993, clearing the way for Keeling's expansion. Though the county's Community Development Commission pitched in and helped finance the project with a $400,000 loan, Keeling spent the next year and a half getting permits and finalizing bank paperwork on the purchase of the $1-million-plus property.
The Wich Stand, declared a historical landmark because of its 1950s architecture known as "Googie," after a defunct coffee shop of that name, will be preserved but will undergo improvements such as new flooring and interior.
Keeling also plans to offer live music and add a yoga center at the new site, which is nearly five times the size of the hilltop store he opened in 1984. Keeling expects to reopen his restaurant in August or September.
Joanna King, a Simply Wholesome regular and board member of the Windsor Hills-area United Homeowners Organization, says she hopes the addition will prove a catalyst for more refurbished commercial developments, particularly in the aging Windsor Hills Shopping Center strip mall on Slauson.
"This will bring the whole neighborhood up," said King, who stopped in at Keeling's place for her usual vegeburger and carrot juice. "I love health food but hate going out of the area for it. Now we'll have a place that looks even nicer, with more greenery and more atmosphere."
Keeling says he is simply happy to see years of hard work as a one-man operation pay off. A Los Angeles native and one-time world class distance runner, Keeling started out as a nutrition counselor at an Inglewood health spa, selling nutritious food, homemade shakes and vitamin supplements.
At the urging of a friend, Keeling opened his own store and built a loyal clientele that includes weightlifters, housewives and local sheriff's deputies, who eschew traditional doughnuts for vegetarian chili and protein shakes.
Keeling admits he once considered locating near Melrose Avenue, or upscale points north of that, but realized three years ago how much he wanted to stay in his own back yard.
During the 1992 riots, he said, offers poured in from residents and others to stand guard over Simply Wholesome and make sure it wasn't burned. Young men came into the place to inform Keeling that were it not for the restaurant, the corner shopping center where it is located would have gone up in smoke.
"I felt good about that, that people cared enough to want to help me out," Keeling said. "I saw what a community fixture this place is. That's when I decided I wasn't going anywhere."