Councilmember Prang: Irv’s Burger Situation ‘Really Frustrating’

irv's burgers, santa monica boulevard restaurant

West Hollywood Councilmember Jeff Prang, a long-time supporter of WeHo’s Irv’s Burgers and instrumental in getting the landmark burger stand designated as a “cultural source” in 2005, reiterated his support for the Hong family on Tuesday while expressing frustration with the current owners.

According to a recent report from Route66News, the 63-year-old hamburger stand, which is run by the Hongs and sits near the northeast corner of Santa Monica and Sweetzer, has been served an eviction notice by its landlord, Standard Oil Investment Management.

“This is an old Route 66 hamburger stand that used to be all around the country. There aren’t many left,” Prang said. “It’s a thriving business, there are always lines. It’s not like it’s a struggling nostalgic business. It’s very vital. I would think that they (owners) would see not only is the business a real asset to the property, but the Hongs are an asset. Those are really wonderful colorful people who add to the community.”

Irv’s owner Sonia Hong, who works with her brother and mother behind the counter, and is known for penning personal notes on nearly ever paper plate she serves, has made the stand a neighborhood favorite for more than a decade.

Prang also shed some light on the ongoing saga between the Hongs and their current owners.

According to Prang, Irv’s Burgers is part of a single piece of property that also includes the adjacent space where Standard Oil plans to construct “Beach Nation.”

“Because it is a single piece of property, when Beach Nation was approved, the city also required them (Standard Oil) to bring the Irv’s site up to code, which means it needs a new roof, and the outdoor tables with umbrellas also need to be brought into compliance,” Prang said.

According to information Prang received Tuesday from Community Development Director Stephanie DeWolfe, the Hongs have been told by owner Steven Bohbot, vice president at Standard Oil and the “point person” in talks with the Hongs, according to Prang, that they need to pay for the roof and outdoor patio improvements if they want to stay.

Hong has also said her landlord has attempted to more than double her rent to $10,000 and put her on a month-to-month lease, which makes the eviction possible.

“It seems as though it’s ‘constructive eviction,'” Prang said. “You’re not evicted, but I’m going to double your rent and make you pay for the roof and all these other things. It’s a historic business and it really should be the building owner’s responsibility.”

Prang said he has tried reaching out to Bohbot in the past. “But he never returned my calls or responded to my letters, which I thought was unusual,” said Prang, who was mayor of West Hollywood at the time. “When the mayor is calling, one would think you would call to find out what the mayor wants.”

Prang also said that City Manager Paul Arevalo had reached out to the owners without a response.

“It seems to me they’re saying ‘Yeah, you could stay.’ But I think he (Steven) knows it’s probably bad PR to evict her,” Prang said. “But he’s dumping an economic package on her she could never afford, so they’ll have to leave.”

This isn’t the first time Irv’s has tried to fight off an owner. West Hollywood designated Irv’s Burgers as a cultural resource in 2005 after a campaign dubbed the “Burger Brigade” that was sparked by the property owner’s plan to demolish it and use the area for parking for a Peet’s Coffee planned for the adjacent lot.

“If we could designate people as a ‘cultural resource’ we would designate the Hongs because they have one of those really unique personalities. It’s one of those things,” Prang said. “There’s a personal attribute that is as important as the business. A really unique group of people.”

The city’s designation of the business as a cultural resource is no guarantee that it won’t be closed and the building demolished. If the property owner can prove that the building is in poor shape and reconstruction will be too expensive it likely will get permission to destroy it.

“A lot of property owners who buy properties are mercenaries,” Prang said. “They are out for the money. They might state that the people and the culture and all that’s wonderful, but that doesn’t help their bottom line. That’s very hard to fight.”

Late Tuesday, the city issued a statement: “The current entitlements require that the rehabilitation work to the building in which Irv’s Burgers is currently a tenant be completed prior to the opening of the second restaurant on site. Although the city has no authority with regard to commercial landlord and tenant matters, we have been in contact with both and offered them our assistance.”

The city has stressed that the current plans do not include demolishment of the building.

“We’ve done about as much as we can,” said Prang. “That was why I was making personal efforts to reach out to the owner to appeal to their sense of community and history, of compassion for the Hongs. But if it’s not a message they’re interested in, there’s nothing I can do to compel them to do it.”

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Michael Sprague
7 years ago

Councilman Prang, This is a great opportunity for the West Hollywood City Council to act on the behalf of it’s citizens and small business people. Invoke Eminent Domain and go into the landlord business yourself. Simply seize the property, pay the current owners a reasonable amount, before the economy recovers completely and it is still, relatively speaking, a bargain, and then the city can rent to Irv’s Burgers at a reasonable level. This is a process that has been used by many governments to evict renters in the past. Why not use it to evict a venal landlord? If the… Read more »

EMMYCAT
EMMYCAT
7 years ago

WE need to set up a good old fashioned picket line in support of the Hongs. Every day during their business hours. That would get the local media’s — and thus more people’s –attention.

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
7 years ago

“bad PR to evict her”? i don’t think that this type of business gives a hoot about PR since they are immune to consumer boycotts. I think their name is pretty much proof that they don’t care about PR. and nice of mr. prang and the city to try and help save this historic landmark. and how rude is it not to call back “the mayor”? however there is still plenty that the city can do since they have the power of permits and bureaucratic speed is at their discretion. so let’s go ‘boardwalk empire’ on those clowns! unless of… Read more »

Snarkygal
Snarkygal
7 years ago

Well, that’s a shame. I can’t see how he can spin this. The Hongs are now looking for a new location in case things don’t change. There is also a PayPal account open to help the family because the whole family will be losing their jobs, not just one of them. I wish them the best of luck.

Marco Colantonio
Marco Colantonio
7 years ago

It appears that Standard Oil Investments has no relationship to the Standard Oil Co. I believe, but Wehoville can correct me if I am wrong, that the principal of this company is Mehran Ebrahimpour. He is the same Beverly Hills based developer that orchestrated a similar landmark eviction for Henry’s Tacos. He knows how to work around the landmark status, squeeze out the tenant out and then spin it for the press.

Snarkygal
Snarkygal
7 years ago

There must be some way the City can intervene. A tenant is not responsible for making capital improvements to the building where they are renting. Also, is there no rules as to rent increases on commercial spaces? Standard Oil Investments? Is that part of Standard Oil Co.? Or did the owner of this building “borrow” the name? If dealing with the oil company, maybe contact the company directly instead of the guy who won’t answer calls.

Save Irv’s!

jess west hollywood resident
jess west hollywood resident
7 years ago

Irv’s is a part of Route 66 history, and everything should be done to keep them in business. I personally have been going there since there was an “IRV”. Please make the owners bring i up to code, and leave them alone