With more than two decades of banking experience under his belt, Alan Thian decided in 2006 to strike out on his own and start a business bank. Little did he know that by the time the institution would finally open, it would be in the midst of perhaps the worst financial crisis in generations.

But the chief executive-founder of Royal Business Bank has not been deterred.

"Some people think that this would be the worst time to start a bank," said Thian, whose bank opened in November in downtown Los Angeles. "I think this is a good time to start a bank. Most banks are focused on how to resolve the problem assets and it seems like very few banks are actually doing new business. It gives our bank a very good opportunity."

The bank, which specializes in Pacific Rim trade financing, has booked its first loan for $3 million, and Thian said it has an additional $20 million in loans in the pipeline.

Knack for Right Track

Now that Roger Snoble is retiring from his post as chief executive of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, maybe there's a future career for him in real estate. At least, he seems to have a knack for timing.

Shortly after Snoble arrived in Los Angeles to take the MTA post in 2001, he and his wife bought a home in L.A.'s Los Feliz neighborhood. Early in 2007 at about the peak in the housing market the couple sold their home and downsized, buying a condominium in Pasadena, right next to a Gold Line station. "The whole idea was to be closer to the Gold Line so I could take the train in to work," said Snoble, 63.

A year later, as prices were dipping, the Snobles bought a home in Rancho Mirage at what they regarded as a bargain price. The purchase was completed in spring 2008, just before the credit markets froze up.

The couple plans to retire to Rancho Mirage shortly after Snoble officially steps down from the MTA job in a few months.

Actually, the timing for his departure is good, too.

"We just passed Measure R, so now my successor can jump right in and start the implementation phase," he said.

Multicultural Flavor

What do you do when you have a common Japanese name and you own a restaurant with "Asian fusion" food, but your top selling item is a Mexican dish? If you're Aileen Watanabe, you go with it.

Carne asada is the most popular dish at Watanabe's Pacific Grille restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. It's grilled marinated skirt steak, and you can get it in a burrito, as a sandwich or, in the summer, on a Caesar salad. The restaurant keeps so much of the meat on the grill 200 pounds a week that big parts of the office building smell like carne asada for much of the day.

Watanabe said her chef, Manny Diaz, created the dish about eight or nine years ago as a Cinco de Mayo treat. But it was so popular the restaurant put it on the menu and it has become a staple.

"I never thought it was going to be that way," said Diaz, who was raised in Durango, Mexico.

Watanabe said she gets so many requests that they're thinking of bottling the marinade.

Staff reporters Richard Clough and Howard Fine contributed to this column. Page 3 is compiled by Editor Charles Crumpley. He can be reached at

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