Brothers Duane and Cary Earle started serving hot dogs out of a cart in Venice Beach in 1986, inspired by their upbringing in Brooklyn, New York. Today, their restaurant Earle’s on Crenshaw is a beloved hot dog and burger restaurant with a big storefront along Crenshaw Boulevard in the South LA neighborhood of Leimert Park.
The Earles’ first physical location opened in 1992, in the throes of the LA Uprising. While restaurants in more upscale neighborhoods like Santa Monica, Venice’s Abbot Kinney, and Beverly Hills have boarded up windows due to the current protests, here at Earle’s, workers continue to serve piping hot chili dogs and vegan burgers for takeout. Eater talks to Duane Earle about how his restaurant has remain entrenched in South LA, serving both locals and first responders, many of whom aren’t able to get anything to eat with 6 p.m. citywide curfews, and why these protests are different from the 1992 Uprising.
On the difference between the 1992 Uprising and the current protests and unrest: We’re actually relieved that we didn’t suffer any damage. It beats waking up in the morning and the whole neighborhood is torched. After 1992, there weren’t any supermarkets. They all got looted, and the liquor stores got burned. It was a catastrophe. This time, the inner city came out unscathed so we’re very lucky.
Being there for the both the 1992 riots and today, in ’92 it was all LA with gang bangers and local youth that got involved. There were no marches. They weren’t aligned with the streets. This time around, the marches are of all races. This thing is really effective. This is completely different from 1992 because you have so many different races involved. If 1992 had marches, it would’ve been a different scenario. It’s the same anger; the difference is you have more people involved.
There were people lined up ready to rush the White House. This guy [President Trump] was ready to bring in the army. The image of America is horrible right now. We gotta fix it ourselves and the only way is to give a helping hand. I’m from Trinidad, and as much as people say they hate this place, there’s no other place that will allow as many immigrants with different religions and nationalities. This country was made from different groups. The same groups are going to help rebuild this country.
On serving both the public, local elderly folks, and first responders: We’re feeding the elderly three days a week. The fire and police departments have been helping with deliveries. Once the city implemented the lock down, we worked around it and managed like everyone else. It’s a pleasure serving first responders right now, especially because there’s no food to eat. These guys are working 12- to 14-hour shifts. A lot of the stores are closed. It’s a daunting task. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes right now. Once this thing is over, we’re going to have to go back to this COVID situation. It might peak again and we’re know we’re going to be busy serving food. That’s what we do — we serve the community.
Serving elderly people, that’s a big thing. A lot of them can’t get to their doors. We serve 150 people on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Some of these elders are really frail, and it takes 3 to 12 minutes to get to the door sometimes.
On continuing operations during 6 p.m. curfews: We’re used to this kind of recovery, rebuilding process. They didn’t lock down the city in 1992. It’s different trying to adjust with the curfew. We’re able to manage.
On why Earle’s hasn’t been affected by unrest: In 1992, I remember my brother (Cary) spent the night in the restaurant. My other brother did it again this week just to make sure nothing happened. We’re very pleased to be in this community for this length of time. We didn’t think anyone was going to mess with us. This community grew up on our food. If you mess with Earle’s then you ain’t got no more hot dogs.
We started as a hot dog cart 36 years ago. We’re sewn into this community. We’re sort of like Cheers. People have grown up on our food and we’re still in the neighborhood. It’s unheard of. It’s the same owners. You can catch the owner behind the counter cooking or in the back, after 36 years. It’s quite a feat.
On how things might get better from the protests: We have to lead by example. We need a lot more people stepping up and everyone needs to lend a hand. It’s a city issue, it’s a state issue, it’s a country issue. You can’t just rely on police, government, and law enforcement. The one percent of the 99 is how I look at life. If that one percent could’ve been checked, we could’ve had parades by now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.