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Hidden Gems: Meet Johnny Jeltema and Dave Abrams of The Douglas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Johnny Jeltema and Dave Abrams.

Hi Johnny and Dave, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Dave Abrams and I were friends who met through the hospitality industry. We’ve both been in the industry on and off for most of our lives. Dave was running his bar at the time, while I was working for one of his business partners, managing a wine bar and boutique hotel. After a year of becoming quick and close friends. we decided that if we each wanted to open another bar and restaurant, we’d like to do it together. In the beginning of 2019, we started our search for a location on the Eastside (where we both live) to create a low-key bar with great food and beverage. Most importantly, we wanted to primarily serve the locals already living in the neighborhood. Genuine hospitality, along with great food and drink were paramount.

In the Summer of 2019, we were presented with a wonderful opportunity on the corner of Sunset and Douglas in Echo Park – we went into escrow for the business in the Fall. Everything was going great – we raised the money we needed, we found our construction contractors and started chatting with folks we loved to come work with us. On March 13, 2020, we closed escrow. On March 20, 2020, we got the keys to the space. Yes, on the day the lockdowns were announced and then on the day the lockdowns went into effect. To make a long story short: we had no other options, but to just figure it out. We opened July 31, 2020 and have been doing great since. There, of course, has been an insane amount of challenges (including shutting down Dec. 2020-Feb. 2021 due to outdoor dining being shut down, once again). That being said, we just feel incredibly lucky to still be around. Some places cannot say that right now, and we’re eternally grateful for everyone who has helped us stay alive.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Outside of all the normal craziness that is expected (and unexpected) when starting any business, we had the unique opportunity of starting one, with no choice, right at the beginning of the pandemic. Again, outside of the normal obstacles from construction to hiring to menu ideas to guest experience to operations set up to city, county, state, and federal permits, we got to figure out how to do all that on top of changing our entire business model in order to operate like a restaurant, not a bar. In a nutshell, we took out a loan (this was well before even talking about federal loans and stimulus checks) and last-minute redid our entire patio. We rebuilt the entire outside in order to accommodate guests. We then opened with table-side service instead of an order-at-the-bar model. Dave and I worked every shift for the first five months – open to close, five days a week. Was a humbling time! On June 15, 2021, LA City and LA County allowed for businesses to open up fully (inside and outside service). Just under one year of being open, we were able to then change our business model back to our original model and truly be the neighborhood bar we always intended to open. Our neighborhood has backed us up, supported us, and been incredibly welcoming and kind. Life was odd for us all for a long time- it feels good to hopefully be on the other side of things.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
The Douglas was born as a place for wonderful food, great drink and genuine hospitality; your favorite five-star dive bar. It’s a neighborhood establishment meant to serve the folks that live here. It’s your local watering hole. Laughs, accompanied with great food and drink are what make The Douglas a true neighborhood establishment.

Located just 0.4 miles from Dodgers Stadium, The Douglas community feel also brings folks before, during and after games and events at the stadium. With a couple of TVs playing sports, great music on the speakers, an incredible menu of food staples done well, and a beer/wine/cider/seltzer and draft list of over fifty selections make The Douglas an easy spot to come and relax.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank or give credit to?
Our wives. Always there, always pushing us, always guiding us.

We’ve also got an incredibly talented and caring staff that treats The Douglas as if it’s theirs. We are truly grateful for the folks we get to work with on a daily basis. Good people make others happy.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Amir Shafii Kendra Smith

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