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L.A. ABBREVIATED | SO SoCal

Host With the Most

May 19, 1996|Shonda Buchanan

Adorned in their after-church Sunday best, groups of patrons wait outside the Blvd. Cafe for their names to be called. Pat Story, the cafe's hostess, pokes her head out the door. "Williams!" she calls in a raspy Southern drawl. As a woman and her daughter file in through the glass doors, a waft of clanging dishes, peach cobbler and clamorous conversation flows out. One woman, draped in a violet shawl, tries to catch Story*s eye as her friend shifts from one foot to the other. They have been waiting for 20 minutes.

As always on weekends, the Blvd. Cafe is packed. Located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard one block west of Crenshaw, the cafe has been an L.A. institution almost from the moment it opened 11 years ago. On any given day you can spot such regulars as Wesley Snipes, Flip Wilson, Ruth Galanter, Queen Latifah, Marla Gibbs and Luther Vandross. Throughout the week, the cafe functions as a boardroom, miniature stock exchange, family reunion site, hot spot for the Hollywood must-be-seen and after-golf rest stop for Rolex-sporting, polyester-clad retirees.

Presiding over the restaurants constant commotion is owner Frank Holoman. Dressed in a nylon green jogging suit, he maneuvers through the lunch crowd. Steaming black coffee trickles down the sides of his Styrofoam cup as he greets customers. "Hi, how are you?" he asks a middle-aged couple who have just come from church. "Fine, fine," they return Holoman's greeting with country nods and smiles.

An African American gathering place, the real test comes with the food, and the Blvd. Cafe is prized for its fried chicken, yams and cabbage. But good restaurants are often an extension of someone's personality, and it is impossible to imagine Blvd. Cafe without Holoman. Short and rotund, in his early 60s, he has a politician's gift for speaking engagingly, making his customers feel at home. There's no fake bonhomie about him. Soft-spoken, he emphasizes his points with a piercing gaze and precisely constructed sentences.

"I have customers who come to the Blvd. Cafe twice a day every day of their lives," Holoman says, pushing his Gucci-designed glasses along the bridge of his nose. "It's a part of their psyche. People feel it's as much theirs as it is mine. Any day I can look out of my office and see business people making deals, families, church people doing their thing, sometimes women sitting by themselves looking out the windows."

On this Sunday, when Pat Story finally calls out the name of the two waiting women, they visibly sigh. Upon entering, they are greeted by larger-than-life portraits of Nat King Cole, Muhammad Ali and Frederick Douglass; the noise of more than 100 customers is both overwhelming and reassuring. Settling into their seats, they finally relax. "Hey, Mona, how's it going?" a waitress grenets them, sidling up to their table, pad in hand, pencil poised. "You decided or do you need more time?"

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