Interview with Dave Evans: Dave's Chillin' and Grillin'

Dave Evans with his sandwich creations | From Dave's Chillin and Grillin' faceboook pageYoung Voices is a series of interviews conducted by Occidental College students, assisted by the Keck Grant, for Professor Jan Lin's Urban Sociology course. Each interview highlights an individual who has made an impact in their communities. This week Annika Awbrey talks with Dave Evans, the owner and founder of Dave's Chillin' and Grillin', a popular sandwich shop in Eagle Rock.


What is the particular identity or reputation of your sandwich shop in the Eagle Rock community?

Just having the highest quality stuff, serving good high quality stuff to the people, and letting them know they're getting their money's worth. And all sorts of people come in here. It's what you want to feed your children. If you're looking for good food, this is where you go.

What inspired you to start this sandwich shop?

In 1988 I couldn't find a good sandwich, and it pushed a button for me. I sold everything I owned and I bought a one-way ticket to Maui and opened my own Japanese restaurant when I was 26. Then after a year of being on an island and managing a restaurant, and getting bored, I came back to the mainland and started working towards this. I wrote the proposal for this in 1994 and I opened in 2005. So it took me 11 years.

What drew you to the Eagle Rock area?

An old girlfriend's roommate who I used to do catering with years ago in 1998, called me. This used to be a juice shop before, and it was going out of business. She said, "Hey I know where you can get a cheap restaurant if you want one." I had a little money at that point because for years had saved enough to make a CD (Certificate of Deposit), and after five years I cashed them all in and started this business.

You are doing so well as a business. It's amazing how successful you've been.

Yeah, you know what it is? It's a labor of love. I work 75 hour weeks. I'm not making that much money out of it. The business is doing well though! Once I get two or three of these, I'll start making money out of it, but with one you really don't make anything. This is like a stepping-stone for a business. It's like building a foundation for a house, but you can't live in it. But you enjoy it, and you own the land, and you're working on the house.

You're so connected to the community.

Yeah, I do a ton of charity work, and every Eagle Rock restaurant owner eats here. They all come for the sandwiches, but they all something different. Rudy from Mi Piace comes for the pastrami, and then Rick from Columbo's comes for the turkey melt. Ray from Lemongrass was here last week. We get everybody. Chris over from the coffee shop comes over for a turkey sandwich all the time. Cory from Four Café gets the Italian. Even the guys from the Capri come here for the pastrami and the Italian.

So it's all a little connecting web of restaurants.

Yeah, exactly.

How do you think your role has developed over the years?

Basically, the sandwich shop was going to be my stepping stone so I could open my Italian restaurant. I wanted to make enough money from the sandwiches first, and then open a restaurant I could retire in -- a nice Italian restaurant with a full bar, the menus done, and everything. So I have to open a few of these before I can open a half million dollar restaurant.

And now you're just happy being here?

No, I'm still going to open a restaurant. I'm still going to have a Divino's at some point! I've had a couple different concepts for restaurants, and this had been one of them. It's still a work in progress though.

So, how has your role been developing?

Little by little, I'm getting a better reputation for food, and foodies are finding me. On the Internet I rate really high. We've been invited to do the Savannah free clinic again this year. They only invite about 40 restaurants and they're all four star restaurants.They do free medical care for L.A. residents -- they're one of the four biggest charities in L.A. It's good to get into stuff like that. It's good to get involved with the wineries too! You can donate a sandwich and get two $40 glasses of wine at a really nice restaurant!

Dave's turkey melt sandwich | Photo by calamity_hane used under a Creative Commons license

Would you say that social media plays a big part in your restaurant?

You know what? I think I get more advertising from the Internet than I do with the print advertising. We do have a Facebook page, but I don't utilize Twitter much. We rate really high online, so if you search on Yelp or something, we would come up at the top ten. I get a lot out of the Internet because that's how people can find me.

How do you reach the newer and younger generations?

I think because I do so much school charity, I can get connected to the parents, the kids, and the teachers; and then they come by my shop. I take care of any schools in the Eagle Rock and Highland Park areas, but I don't donate much to Pasadena and Glendale. They're well-off enough. People in Eagle Rock, Highland Park, and Glassell Park could use it more.

Do you collaborate with any other organizations around here?

In respect to food, I do my own thing. I don't feel a need to tell other people how to do their stuff. But I am disappointed a lot when I go out to eat.

To what extent do you reflect the local art, music, or cultural scene?

I have a ton of local artists that bring their stuff here, and I often sell it. I also do advertising for all the local shows. About five different concerts and shows and stuff like that. I keep peoples' art and shows advertised in the windows so it keeps people coming and going. It helps. And we as the staff take Christmas photos every year!

Yeah, your photos on your website look so funny and crazy! I bet that draws in the younger generation also.

Yeah, people will say, "these crazy bastards."

Is your sandwich shop connected with or affected by class and racial/ethnic transition in the neighborhood?

Well, all the hipsters coming in is good for me because I'm a higher quality shop. I'm not a fast-food dollar menu thing. The community has definitely changed from the old-school Eagle Rock. Now it's a thriving little artsy-fartsy community. It used to be just hair dressers and transition shops, just car places. That's all it was. A dozen hair dressers and a dozen places to get your car fixed. Before Swork, before the Four Café, before all the Brownstone Pizzas, the Taco Spots, and the Coffee Table; before any of that was here, this was just a little place to come get your car fixed.

What's your impact on the neighborhood identity, the community, and public life?

It's such a quaint little community, and there are so many quaint little shops, so I fit right in here. A lot of people have said, "Wow, it feels like you've belonged here right from the beginning." It's a fun little place.

Yeah, it's really easy to come to Dave's and feel at home.

Yeah, it's a really comfortable place to come chill and eat, or just come to read a book.

You chose the perfect name for this place!

Yeah, the name says it all.

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That was a mouth watering sandwich. I may end up visiting a fast food chain in the corner. I just so looooovvveeee it!

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