What is now a staple in the South LA community, once started off as a humble hamburger stand.
Gregory Dulan was born on a Texas army base. After being discharged, his father, Adolf, moved his family to Los Angeles and in 1975, opened Hamburger City on the corner of Hillcrest Drive and what was once called Santa Barbara Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). Later, he opened a soul food restaurant in Marina del Rey. All the while, he began to pass on his entrepreneurial skills to his family.
“Our father basically forced us to work,” said the son, a Howard University graduate. “I remember him getting me up early on Saturday mornings to go down to the produce market. I wasn’t too happy about going downtown for onions and tomatoes, but I didn’t have a choice.”
Dulan, whose father passed away in 2017, admitted during a recent Community Briefing sponsored by the Black Business Association and Recycling Black Dollars that he didn’t like working in the restaurant business as a youth, but grew to love it. Today he manages Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen’s three South LA locations, with help from his siblings and children. He is very proud to say that the family has worked the business into the third generation. It is quite an accomplishment.
“We’ve been doing it now for about 47 years,” Dulan said. “It didn’t always feel fabulous going through it. There have been some tough times.”
The recent Super Bowl event was a better time for the business, as Dulan’s received a lot of media attention and national marketing, including an interview with the New York Times and an appearance of its Inglewood location on ABC’s Good Morning America the Thursday before the game.
“We got a three-day notice, we had to really hustle to get ready,” Dulan said. “This was live. They wanted to come to our restaurant. Fortunately, we had just finished the restoration of our new dining room. They had to report at three in the morning, because GMA is on eastern time. It was a little intimidating, but we got through it.”
The restaurant was also a part of the large tailgate party held outside of SoFi Stadium. Dulan’s was one of the many kitchens set up as event caterers. And later on, they were contracted to feed barbeque chicken meals to all of the Super Bowl volunteers.
“That was the busiest day I ever had,” Dulan said. “When they say the Super Bowl is the grandest, biggest party in the world. I saw the behind the scenes, it was no joke.”
Dulan suggested that local businesses apply for the NFL Business Connect Program, which created opportunities for local diverse business owners to compete for contracts.
“See the criteria they are looking for,” Dulan proposed to entrepreneurs viewing the webinar. “Get your business prepared for when the next major event gets here.”
The Super Bowl was a great source of business for the local restaurant, which, as all businesses, has suffered during the current pandemic due to rising grocery prices and the “great resignation” of workers.
“It’s been a rollercoaster situation for us,” Dulan said, noting rising labor costs, as they are actually paying above minimum wage in order to compete with other restaurants for staff. He is proud of the fact that they hire high school students and the formerly incarcerated, giving individuals first and second chances for employment.
Dulan’s was selected by the city to help provide meals to senior citizens during the height of the pandemic, when senior centers were closed down. They partnered with the Yellow Cab company to pick up and deliver meals and pivoted in different ways to survive, including hosting community events; partnering with World Central Kitchen, a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters; catering for local area schools; and serving meals via food trucks.
“Don’t be afraid to collaborate with other businesses,” Dulan advised. “Collaboration, I believe, is going to be the key for survival, because things are getting out of hand. We’re going to have to come together on things so that we all can survive. That’s going to be very important for long term growth and survival in the future.”
Dulan partnered with Chicken Prince out of Nashville, Tenn., to open Hotville Chicken in the Crenshaw Baldwin Hills Plaza. He hopes to re-open the Crenshaw Boulevard Dulan’s restaurant soon, following its complete renovation, which will include reopening the patio area for dining and creating a parking lot down the street.
“I’m committed to the Crenshaw neighborhood,” Dulan said, acknowledging his father’s roots in the community. “Dad was the ‘the king of soul food’ and always wanted to own his own business. He always mentored us. He was just a great, great man.”