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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Location, Location: Two Eateries Are Served Opposite Fates

August 17, 2000|RICH CONNELL and ROBERT J. LOPEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Here is a tale of two downtown eateries.

Both are only blocks from Staples Center.

One is owned by Mayor Richard Riordan, the other by Alicia Vega.

One is doing fine, the other is not.

Riordan's Original Pantry Cafe is on the path that delegates, media and others travel between their hotels and Staples Center. It's an L.A. landmark, a no-frills type of joint with wooden tables and menus tacked to the wall. Its customers range from crusty retirees and sweaty blue-collar workers to downtown deal-makers and politicians. They come during all hours of the day and night to eat hefty portions of everything from ham and eggs to stews and pot roasts.

The mayor popped by for breakfast early Wednesday, followed later by two delegates from Indiana, who were back for a second time.

"It's close, you can walk in and get food any time," said Pat McGuffey. Told that the corner restaurant was owned by the city's Republican mayor, she paused over her plate of ham, sausage and eggs. The food is OK, she said, but how did the guy land a speaking role at the convention? "I was surprised," she said.

Although many of the usual characters at the Pantry aren't stopping by this week, the slack has been taken up by conventioneers, particularly the media mob.

Meanwhile, several blocks away, 42-year-old Alicia Vega is ensconced inside her white catering truck, waiting for her regulars to line up. She's still waiting because most of them work downtown, which has been virtually abandoned this week. For her, the spillover business from the convention has amounted to a few bottles of water.

In fact, she's losing money, which was not her plan.

She believed the cheery predictions of civic boosters, such as Riordan, who said the convention money swirling through the local economy would be a boon to small businesses. Not wanting to miss out, she stocked up, spending $500 for extra meat and other ingredients for her specialties: tacos, burritos and tortas, or Mexican-style sandwiches.

"It's bad," she said, watching for customers through a small window overlooking Pico Boulevard, where a sign is posted within easy eyeshot: "Road Closed Ahead."

On a normal day, Vega said, she takes in about $450, a quarter of which covers her parking fee and cook's salary. This week she's lucky to make $170.

"I don't know about politics," she said. "But this is not a good idea."

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