By Will Kazlowski
The local beloved hangout The Sports Harbour, on 13484 Washington Blvd just east of Lincoln Blvd, was forced to close its doors on September 30th 2018. It was the latest victim from heartless property owners that call themselves The Venice Restaurant Group which includes Hans Tiedemann, his partner Michael Dobson, and current Venice Neighborhood Council member Michael Greco. In addition to the Sports Harbour, all of them also own The Whaler, The Terrace and run the Red O establishments throughout the city. Unfortunately for Venice their repulsive business practices, unethical social habits and shameful treatment of their employees is not only considered utterly atrocious by many in the Venice area, but is something everyone should think about before visiting any of their establishments again in the future.
If any bar depicted the family atmosphere of the 80’s sitcom Cheers or the eclectic Tender Bar in J.R. Moeringer’s classic book, it was the Sports Harbour. For hundreds, if not thousands over the last 30-plus years, it literally was a place where everyone knew your name. It was a place where you felt like you were walking into your basement to have a drink and a place where you could always go to meet new people or see a familiar face. If there was one place to go to watch a sporting event with others who felt the excitement of your team win or the heartbreak of your loss, this was the place.
And it was not just a destination for sporting events, but in life too. It was a place to celebrate personal victories, to drown your sorrows or to simply get away and have a drink by yourself. This wasn’t your typical touristy Venice. This was a place where a huge amount of Venice locals were loyal to its bar stools over 30-plus years and felt as if it was their second home, or even their sanctuary. It was there for any event you could think of and It changed faces from day to night and night to day with the constant flow of great sports, comedy nights, office parties, karaoke, anniversaries, fundraisers, trivia nights, and wedding receptions along with arguably the cheapest drinks on the westside. And behind it all, the founder of this beloved establishment was Rahim who was constantly surrounded by his many friends, bartenders and employees that were eternally loyal to him.
Rahim Javan moved to LA from Iran in the 1960’s and was an All-American wrestler at UCLA. He famously held big Thanksgiving feasts at the Harbour every year claiming he didn’t know what Thanksgiving was when he first moved to the United States, but a long-time employee’s family included him in their dinner and showed him what it was all about. He then vowed to himself, if ever given the opportunity, he would always do the same and give people somewhere to go and not spend Thanksgiving alone on this grateful holiday. This led to years of free Thanksgiving buffets paid for by Rahim and prepared and served by his family of employees for anyone who otherwise would have nowhere to go.
His generosity didn’t stop at Thanksgiving either, as he always did everything he could to accommodate every single person that entered his bar, and not just once or just on holidays, but literally every day and always. Rahim and his friend Stan Lee opened the bar in 1987 steps from the corner of Lincoln and Washington. Lee owned the property and Rahim owned the liquor license. Lee always promised to Rahim that the property would be left to him, but after Lee died on August 7, 2009 it went to his much younger widow, Francine, not to Rahim.
In March 2015, Francine Lee sold the property to Brad Neal who subsequently sold it to Hans Tiedemann. The lease for the property had an end date of September 30, 2018. The property however is a zoning nightmare, sitting in three different geographical zones of Culver City, Marina del Rey and Los Angeles. If Tiedemann planned to keep it going as a restaurant/bar, he would need the liquor license. He offered Rahim an extension of the lease for three times the rent (which Rahim willingly agreed to) but attached the condition that Rahim sell Hans his liquor license at an embarrassing figure to which Rahim immediately declined.
If Hans kept it open without a liquor license then no one would show up and it won’t generate any income, and if he were to apply for, and receive, a new liquor license he would have to offer parking which would inevitably lead to a teardown since the Harbour has never had parking – it all belonged to the triplex owned by Stan Lee, which through a verbal agreement, provided parking for both customers and employees due to very limited street parking. However, when the property was sold to local Venice developer Brad Neal, he immediately forbid any Sports Harbour parking in the lot and sealed it off, thus not allowing anyone to park there and be completely overgrown with weeds for many years.
Anyway, negotiations got nowhere with Hans expecting Rahim to basically give his liquor license to him and Rahim knowing if he did that the entire bar would be lost anyways. It was a stalemate, however leading up to the last days of September 2018, Hans continually gave Rahim and the staff the impression that the lease would be extended another 6 months or until football season was over the following year. Hans pretended to discuss a lease extension around March of 2018 and strung Rahim along for 6 months until late September. Sources say one of the new owners of the Venice Restaurant Group said “I’ll run it as a hot dog and lemonade stand if I have to” without a liquor license.
Then September 24th, just FIVE days before the lease ended, word was given that the last week of September would be the last week of business. This abrupt notice gave Rahim and the employees only a few days to prepare for closing and literally no time at all to prepare a proper farewell for its loyal clientele from the last 30-plus years. Not to mention the lack of time for the employees to make future employment arrangements. To add insult to injury, only days after the closing, Tiedemann, Dobson, Greco and their investors hung a sign on the roof with the douchey frat-boy name “D’ Harbor Sports Bar and Restaurant” and posted a notice of intent to sell alcohol with the business name “Sports Harbor LLC” (omitting the U in Harbour) trying to cash in on Rahim’s 31 years of sweat equity and insulting the intelligence of Rahim’s loyal customers, making it look like it is just a remodel without a change in ownership.
The Venice Restaurant Group made it an extremely stressful and emotional time for Rahim, his dedicated employees and their devoted patrons from the last three decades and on October 1st, 2018 its doors were shut for good. The realization of its future absence left many sentimental Venetians in tears who were now losing their second home from which they accumulated an abundance of memories. Most recently, in late April 2019, the sign “D’Harbor” was changed and it opened as the “Washington Ale House.”
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time Hans Tiedemann, Michael Dobson and Michael Greco have dangled employees until the last few days and screwed over hundreds, if not thousands, of locals – they did the same with everyone at the Terrace only months earlier and the Whaler years prior to that. Although it wasn’t the local watering hole the Sports Harbour was, The Terrace Café at Washington and Speedway was also a neighborhood restaurant and bar that had its loyal clientele and local employees that were there for many years, given its outdoor beachy atmosphere and the absence of the loud millennials that frequented The Whaler across the street.
As most people might remember, The Terrace was owned by the boisterous Vladimir Robzer from Russia. Vladimir, like Rahim at the Sports Harbour, was also very catering to the locals allowing them to throw private parties and hold meetings virtually whenever asked. The Terrace consisted of 2 buildings and the lease for each building was coming to an end. As with many other buildings in Venice these days, the owner then wanted almost triple the price.
Michael Dobson got his hands on the lease for the other building which forced Vladimir to sell the Terrace to his Venice Restaurant Group. Rumors about Tiedemann and Dobson buying the Terrace started in early 2017 and continued throughout the year until December when employees then learned Vladimir’s lease was up at the end of that calendar year. All the employees were told everything would be fine and not to worry about their jobs and to enjoy the holiday, but once January 2018 started, Tiedemann and Dobson immediately started playing puppeteer with the employees much like they did recently with the Sports Harbour. The employees, roughly 80 of them, had to interview with a random Human Resources person for their own jobs not once, not twice, but multiple times over the course of the next 3 months, all while being told everything would be fine, only to pro-long what they knew they would do the entire time… close in escrow.
They retained only two of the estimated 80 employees praising a “new concept” and then told employees they “don’t need locals” anymore, and it will now be “tourist-catering” which seemed quite obvious after they then cut down the menu, started serving smaller portions and raised all the prices. They even posted a sign stating as much at the front door promising a new “Brighter Venice Terrace” which a lot of the former employees and residents viewed as a statement that they got rid of the locals that were consistent and loyal, and now not wanted.
Much like they did at the Sports Harbour, employees were given no notice at all to prepare for other employment after many reassurances they wouldn’t need to. Most recently on February 3rd 2019, they abruptly closed the Terrace again to rebrand it as “The Pier House” and Slice of Pizza on the corner will now be called “Cartolina”. Sources say The Pier House will be more like Ma’Kai, an upscale sushi restaurant/deejay lounge that is on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, which in not doing very well and is For Sale as well, rumor has it.
Tiedemann, Dobson and Greco already had a reputation around town as being heartless towards employees and unsympathetic towards locals, but to make it even worse for everyone who worked or frequented their establishments was their lack of moral character fueled by what some close to them allege were personal vices. Across the street from the Terrace is The Whaler which Tiedemann purchased in 2008. Any Venice barfly will tell you a well-circulated story that led to Tiedemann having to give up the property of the Whaler. This forced friend and colleague Michael Dobson to take it over along with his business partner Michael Greco from Las Vegas.
Dobson was already known for his quest to gather up as many leases as he could on Washington Boulevard, including Baja Cantina. Other rumors floated around from Venice barflies that Dobson would frequent the Terrace in the early mornings to order a kettle one with a splash of soda as his hands were uncontrollably shaking after visiting the bathroom. It was further alleged that he would frequent the Terrace a lot with his family and all of the long-term employees who took care of him and his family were essentially all fired later. In addition, Tiedemann, Dobson and Greco are also known for using unlicensed contractors, the latest with the name of Alex Marshall who actually started a GoFundMe page last year so he’d legally be able to get a license. That same GoFundMe page has since been removed.
Even more disturbing, after all of this, on Tuesday December 18 2018 Michael Greco was elected to the Venice Neighborhood Council by the VNC, instead of many other better-qualified candidates who’ve consistently attended previous VNC meetings and have been viable parts of the community for over 20 years. A newcomer from Las Vegas who’s only known to the community from shunning locals and his employees, his introduction speech citied his willingness to give back to the community that doesn’t frequent his establishments anymore – seriously.
The fact that Greco was voted in, someone who just moved here from Las Vegas 3-4 years ago, has never attended any meetings and has never been a part of a neighborhood committee like the other applicants were, says a lot about the VNC itself, a council that’s supposed to represent Venetians, and justifies the horrid reputation they instilled on themselves the past few years. His appointment was even berated by community members during public comment at last February’s monthly VNC meeting. Now, Greco is currently slated as a nominee for the upcoming VNC election to be held on June 2nd at the Oakwood Recreation Center to be voted on by stakeholders.
These are the people their employees and local Venetians had to suck up to and interview with multiple times to retain their jobs, some of which they’ve had for over 25 years. They even had a falling out between themselves as Tiedemann and Dobson are no longer partners on the Sports Harbour property. They say they love Venice, yet they treat the people of Venice and the community like scum thinking no one will notice. Maybe in towns like Las Vegas these actions would go unseen, but here in Venice it’s different and the community stands up higher and yells louder than anywhere else – just ask the Penske’s, any Snapchat employee or Lincoln Place activist. They are perfect examples of why Venice has been losing its soul for many years now and why so many locals feel the need to stand up to protect what’s left of it.
Like most developers, The Venice Restaurant Group (Tiedemann, Dobson and Greco) say one thing and do another. They’re sure to have many people all over town rave about what “nice people” they are, but we can add them to the list of other “nice people” that carve up the town however they see fit just to make an extra buck they hardly need, without any remorse to the community, peoples livelihoods or the ramifications it will have. It’s a shame – in a town that’s being gentrified at an expedited high rate and where protests are being held to protect small businesses, even some of the independent businesses like these are letting down the community.
Yes, everything is legal, but the excuses of “That’s business” or “That’s the country we live in” is just as heartless as it sounds and just because it’s legal, it doesn’t make it right. Their actions have changed people’s lives for the worse – people that worked for them directly, their families and thousands of other good people in the community. And the only thing locals can do about it is to simply not support the businesses that these appalling people own no matter what they’re called: The Whaler, The Terrace (now The Pier House), the former Sports Harbour (now the Washington Ale House), Slice of Pizza (now Cartolina), and the Red O, and tell others to boycott them also and the reasons why: Community Unity. Tourists will unknowingly go wherever looks most beneficial for them at the time, but there’s no reason for locals to go to these establishments at all. They’re clearly not wanted anyway!
These few people have had a massive detrimental effect on the everyday lives of hundreds of Venetians and the social lives of thousands of locals and they just don’t care – if they did, they would’ve done things differently. There’s no reason to be “assfuckingholes” (a term one Venetian/former employee referred to them as) to good people, especially good people that have been a part of the community for decades longer than these new owners and developers have been in Venice.
If they really knew Venice, they would’ve known better because if you’re an “assfuckinghole” in Venice you can expect to be called out on it. The community is strong, people talk and word gets around – especially in bars like the ones they own.