TRANSFORM THE OLD CITY
On a late spring afternoon in the West's most sprawling metropolis, a golden sun beams on Pueblo de Los Angeles, an incongruous collection of ancient structures—a Spanish mission church, an open-air market, and a row of adobe houses—tucked behind the glistening downtown of modern Los Angeles. A stream of people pushes down historic Olvera Street against the tide of homebound office workers. In ones and twos and threes, the men and women enter the mission-style confines of El Paseo Restaurant, passing under the dark wooden ceiling beams until they reach a stuccoed room off the main dining hall. Here they drop their business cards in a large fish bowl and pick up margueritas and plates of enchiladas. As they nibble and sip, the thirty or so people at the semiannual social mixer of the Food Industry Business Roundtable, or FIBR, chat cheerfully with one another, at times exchanging business cards or scribbling the names and phone numbers of people and companies.
Even in polyglot Los Angeles, the assembled members of FIBR form an intriguing assortment of people. Two of FIBR's officers, Kenny Yee, the voluble heir apparent to the Wing Hing Noodle Company, and Gina Harpur, the charming general manager of Juanita's Foods, circulate through the crowd and welcome the guests. Ozabe Banks, sole proprietor of a soul-food sausage company located in the heart of South Central Los Angeles, arrives with his baby in a stroller and attracts several friends who greet him and coo at the little one. Two men in cowboy boots and hats, the owners of Cacique Cheese over in City of Industry, will later in the evening win giant baskets of food, the grand prizes for the business card drawing. Sherman Loo, an officer of the City National Bank and appropriately dressed in a banker's dark suit, will give a talk on the year 2000 problems that business computers may encounter. And from L.A.'s bustling Toy Town district has come May Cheung, the gracious manager of the Toystar division of Tai Tung International and member of FIBR's sister organization, Toy Association of Southern California (or TASC). She is here to participate in the evening's main event, a farewell to Linda Yeung, who as director for economic development for the much-maligned riot-recovery agency, Rebuild Los Angeles, helped start FIBR and TASC and launch a new approach to local economic development.