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One Long Road for Two Bits Market

By Jenni Simcoe
Published: Thursday, November 11, 2010, at 08:16AM
Vianey Delgadillo and Brandi Lozano Jenni Simcoe

Vianey Delgadillo and Brandi Lozano stand inside the under-construction Two Bits Market.

Brandi Lozano, owner of the future Two Bits Market, has been pouring her heart and soul into opening the store for more than a year. “I learned a lot of humbling lessons learned in the process,” she said.

For Lozano and her two business partners, the permitting process has been a struggle from day one. “I warned her that it would take a lot longer than she was anticipating,” said Vianey Delgadillo, Lozano’s business partner and owner of the Down & Out. “I didn’t want to hear it,” added Lozano.

In March, Lozano told blogdowntown that she hoped to open in May, but that was before delays in preparing the space came to light. Before they began a build-out, the landlord, The Alexandria, was required to do improvements on electrical, interior walls and a new water heater. “We finally signed our lease in July, a year after we chose the space,” said Lozano.

After securing the lease, Lozano anticipated that securing a health department permit would be another difficult process. “I expected it to be really ugly, but the health department process turned out to be the easiest one,” she said.

The health department provided Lozano with a list of plan check requirements that she adhered to and were approved. “It was that simple. I anticipated it would set the stage,” she said. “Unfortunately it didn’t.”

“When we went to the L.A. Building and Safety Department, the whole process got chaotic,” said Lozano. “I couldn’t get a set list of requirements. I’d go back and someone would give me a different opinion on a requirement and a new list,” she said.

It took six visits of going back to Building and Safety before Lozano got the final blow from the Bureau of Sanitation department—she would need to install a 50,000 gallon grease interceptor to pass inspection. Since the store only planned on sandwiches made in a panini press, she knew she didn’t need the grease interceptor. “I’m trying to bring clean food Downtown like organic produce, nothing cooked,” she said. “A 50,000 gallon interceptor is a monstrosity that we can’t afford or have space for.”

Lozano and her partners decided to pursue a different way of getting permitted. They turned to Eddie Navarrette, owner of F.E.Design, a professional expediter firm that helps restaurant owners through the permitting process.

“They call him ‘Fast Eddie.’ Where I was stonewalled, he was able to get answers and move everything along,” said Lozano. “Unfortunately, what Brandi went through is a typical roadblock from the Bureau of Sanitation,” said Navarrette.

Navarrette was able to help Lozano and her two partners navigate the process. “They had intimidated her into thinking she had to have a grease interceptor to help fix the city’s beach problems,” said Navarrette. The Bureau of Sanitation also tried to get the building’s owner to pay for the interceptor. Navarrette was able to get a waiver so the market wouldn’t have to have one. “Even after she said she wouldn’t do panini sandwiches, they told her she still needed the interceptor because she would be cutting cheese. It was ridiculous,” said Navarrette.

It was well into the process when the city and county partnered up with the Central City Association in creating Restaurant & Hospitality Express, a program designed to cut in half the time it takes for inspections and permitting. Through streamling and one-on-one assistance, the program’s goal is to speed openings that previously had taken 12 to 18 months.

“I was contacted by an inspector in the new Restaurant & Hospitality Express department and he’s been very nice,” said Lozano. “But they had an influx of projects and we couldn’t wait, so we looked to Fast Eddie for help.”

“Now that we have a senior inspector checking in with us and helping us, we don’t expect any major roadblocks,” said Delgadillo.

Business for Navarrette is booming, even with the new program in place. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement. It’s easier for small business owners to run plans through and there’s better customer service, but the provisions and requirements are still the same,” he said. Those requirements will still make restaurant owners turn to Navarrette to help out in crisis situations or to speed along the process when they have a strict deadline.

What’s left for Two Bits before it opens are electrical, plumbing, fire, and health inspections. And funding. The lengthy process quickly ran through the nest egg Lozano had started with. She heard about the Community Redevelopment Agency while listening to project manager Jenny Scanlin being interviewed about food deserts — areas lacking access to healthy foods — on the Pat Morrison show. “I called my husband and said ‘we have to get in touch with her.’” The pair chimed in on the live blog and were contacted by Scanlin after the show.

Lozano and her partners applied for a grant from the agency and are currently in the final stages of receiving funding to finish construction. “We have 20 days of labor ahead, so once we get started we’d like to think we’ll be open in 30 to 45 days,” said Lozano, “but who knows?”

After getting this far, she’s learned not to peg her hopes on a specific date.

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