A wave of panic travelled through Los Angeles last week when news spread that Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, one of the city’s fixtures, may shut down all seven of its locations. Former Roscoe’s employee Daniel Beasley had sued Roscoe’s—and its parent company, East Coast Foods Inc.—for over $3 million in damages, citing racial discrimination. The African-American worker claimed that Roscoe’s, which predominantly services the local African-American community, treated its black employees worse than its Mexican employees. Last year the court awarded Beasley $3.2 million, and at the end of April, East Coast Food Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Amid the panic that Roscoe’s might close, Snoop Dogg claimed that he’d buy the chain to save it. There’s been speculation that that East Coast Foods Inc. filed for Chapter 11 to get out of paying Beasley, but the mere possibility of a Roscoe’s-less Los Angeles is a terrifying thought to some diners.
We got on the phone with Bill Esparza, the man behind the food website Street Gourmet LA who was recently nominated for a James Beard award for food writing, to explain Roscoe’s significance to the city. He also happens to live in walking distance from its Hollywood location on Gower.
How would Los Angeles be culturally impacted if Roscoe’s closes?
Roscoe’s is relevant in the African American community, but it really is part of a larger group of restaurants that are within the celebrity culture of Los Angeles. For instance, when you think of a place like Dan Tana’s, there’s always a celebrity sighting. And if you go back further, you can think of places like Chasen’s and Morton’s, where the Los Angeles rich and famous like to dine. Everyone remembers the time Larry King went [to Roscoe’s] with Snoop Dogg and then when Tupac famously celebrated over a plate of chicken and waffles when he was released from jail. There have definitely been a lot of legendary stops by hip-hop and R&B artists.
We tend to put Roscoe’s in its own category of soul food, but really it’s part of a greater celebrity community. It’s also part of American cuisine. Chicken and waffles dates back to New York and the jazz era and the roaring ’30s and ’40s. Then in 1975, the combination of chicken and waffles was brought out here to Southern California. Roscoe’s was made famous by the African-American celebrity community and Roscoe’s really capitalized on that by being connected. The owner, Herb Hudson, was connected in the community.
Every time I go to that corner on Gower and Sunset, there’s a line around the block. So beyond the fact that it’s a place for celebrities, it’s also a place where regulars go for a special meal.
It seems like Roscoe’s is always packed, so it’s hard to believe that a settlement for $3.4 million could end up bankrupting the parent company that owns Roscoe’s.
Yeah, and there’s a silly story that Snoop Dogg would buy the chain in the event it would close.
If Roscoe’s closes, do you think other chicken and waffles joints will start to pop up? Would you even consider eating at another Roscoe’s-like joint?
It’s a testament to Roscoe’s that no one has ever tried to start a new chicken and waffles house around town. Roscoe’s has owned the chicken and waffles combination, and the fact that they’re being taken down by a lawsuit, I don’t see how someone else could just come in and capitalize on that. Part of me thinks that Roscoe’s is going to get through this, but yeah, that’s Roscoe’s thing. They own [chicken and waffles] in Los Angeles culture, in celebrity culture, and in pop culture, so I have a feeling that people will want Roscoe’s to come back in some way, either as Roscoe’s or something else.