This is the second of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.
Almost every community has one – a place to hang out, grab a bite, see friends and feel safe – think Central Perk in “Friends” or the Regal Beagle in “Three’s Company.” Places like these aren’t always portrayed in the media for predominantly black and Hispanic communities, but Jefferson Park has what many in the community call their “black Cheers”: Harold and Belle’s, a family owned Creole restaurant.
“The people here, it’s almost like family, ok. Everybody sitting at this bar, we know each other, we look after each other. We buy each other drinks, we buy each other food, it just depends what day it is. It’s almost like our cheers,” says Tony Sargent, who has lived in Jefferson Park for 40 years and has been a regular at Harold and Belle’s for most of that time.
Harold and Belle’s opened where it stands now in Jefferson Park in 1969 by Harold and Belle Legaux, a Creole couple who moved to the Los Angeles area from Louisiana. Many other Creole families from the seventh district of New Orleans were moving into Jefferson Park at this time, and the restaurant served as a small gathering place with a juke box and go-go dancers. The Legaux’s son took over in 1979, expanding the restaurant and making the Creole menu a bit more upscale. The restaurant has recently transitioned to the care of their grandson, Ryan Legaux, the current general manager of the restaurant.
“It’s a part of my family, my whole life has been spent coming to this place…it’s gone over some definite changes over the years to make it what it is today,” says Ryan Legaux.
Many loyal customers from Jefferson Park have seen it transform through the ages. People sitting at the cozy bar near the front door of the restaurant nearly all call themselves regulars and know Legaux personally. “Well gosh, I’ve lived in the neighborhood all my life, and so between my parents and myself [we’ve been coming here] pretty much since they opened,” says Raymond Morgan, Jr., a longtime Jefferson Park resident.
But the truths of the neighborhood can sometimes stand in the way of bringing Harold and Belle’s new business. Out of 209 neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Jefferson Park is ranked number 32 for violent crimes, the majority of which are aggravated assault and robbery, according to an LAPD project on the Los Angeles Times’ website. LAPD documented 100 violent crimes and 254 property crimes in Jefferson Park in the past six months, which means about 145 crimes per 1,000 people in the community. Legaux says crime statistics like these lead to less foot traffic in the community, especially at night, which can lead to fewer customers than a restaurant in an area with less crime.
“[Being in Jefferson Park] has some disadvantages, too, because it’s not the best neighborhood, so we deal with those elements a lot. It’s kind of a destination, so people don’t necessarily come to this neighborhood looking for good restaurants, people are coming specifically to come here,” says Legaux.
But he says a restaurant doesn’t always need a strong customer base outside of the community when it has such loyal customers from the neighborhood. “We do get a lot of the neighborhood people supporting us – so many of the regulars have become like family,” he says.
Not much can keep the Jefferson Park residents away from Harold and Belle’s, whether it’s crime statistics or the recession. When asked how long he’d continue to come to the restaurant, Sargent answered, “As long as I have breath! And as long as they keep serving catfish the way they do.”