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Johnny’s in West Adams Sparks Conversation About Gentrification, as It Replaces Previously Black-Owned Restaurant Johnny’s Pastrami

1:15 PM PDT on August 5, 2020

    [dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]f you’ve ever driven down West Adams, it’s hard to miss the giant neon sign proclaiming “BURGERS, PASTRAMI, DOGS” atop the walk-up stand formally known as Johnny’s Pastrami. Since it’s closing in 2015, the Black-owned business has been under-construction leaving some fans confused as to whether or not they would return. According to the restaurant’s Instagram, there was a “minor fire” that prompted changes to the building. 

    In November 2019, an Instagram account under the user @johnnyswestadams posted a photo of the infamous neon sign, lights aglow, with the caption “Opening soon! #westadams #eaterla #westadamsblvd.” This seemingly offered more confusion. 

    Photo of the space in September 2019 by Lexis-Olivier Ray for L.A. Taco.

    Although the location was the same and the name was essentially identical—Johnny’s versus Johnny’s Pastrami—the establishment was under completely new ownership. Eater initially reported a story on the rumor of the space being redeveloped by Venice’s Gjelina group in September of last year. However, they later confirmed that the space was actually occupied by Chef Danny Elmaleh, who opened an Israeli restaurant nearby earlier in 2019. Now instead of a tarp-covered fence, the newly renovated space offers outdoor patio seating, new menu items, and cocktails for visiting customers. 

    In an Instagram DM with the restaurant, the admin said that Johnny’s officially opened in July but there was a soft opening in June “to test and train staff, make adjustments given current conditions, etc.” 

    The opening of Johnny’s sparked the old-school Johnny’s Pastrami account on Instagram to post on its then inactive Instagram that the restaurant was still “not open for business” and has no connections with the current owners. A representative with the OG restaurant said through Instagram DMs that they were not presently speaking with the media but “look forward to speaking… in the near future.” 

    Passionate enthusiasts of the original restaurant have taken to commenting under Johnny’s Instagram to voice their frustrations with the new business. One user wrote, “It was a real mistake to open and pretend to be a place you aren’t.”

    Another echoed their concerns adding, “If [you’re] going to take over a restaurant and change the entire recipe you gotta change the name. [I’ve] been trying to work through this but I feel so disrespected. You [could have] at least paid homage by [having] the OG sandwich on the menu… I mean at least.”

    An employee from the current restaurant responded to this comment with, “This is a new business, [we] don’t have access to old recipes but do have a thin-sliced dip version on the menu as a tribute, just don’t think some people have seen/tasted it.” The restaurant was not able to comment on questions related to the name of the restaurant by the time of publication and said the “team [is] still making adjustments and focused on training.”

    Claims of gentrification are among the community’s pushback in the eateries comment section. According to the Urban Displacement Project, Los Angeles County had a 16 percent increase in gentrified neighborhoods between 1990 and 2015. 

    One visitor to Johnny’s wrote in a Facebook post, “[Johnny’s] looks like it’s going to cater more to new residents who are just moving into the neighborhood. The neighborhood is going through a [gentrification] phase.”

    As of now, it’s unclear if Johnny’s has any intentions of changing its name, but L.A. Taco has confirmed that they will continue selling pastrami sandwiches—albeit a bit differently than some locals may remember. 

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