Considering that their eatery, O!burger, serves $7.99 burgers not exactly value-meal deals in this recession co-founders Martha Chang and Andy Soboil are relieved their West Hollywood fast-food place has survived its first year a milestone for any restaurant.

The restaurant, which serves pesticide- and chemical-free organic food, is a departure for both Chang, who was executive producer of "Barney's Great Adventure" and the "3 Ninjas" franchise, and Soboil, a former private chef to celebrities.

Chang, for example, has learned to get behind the grill and cook.

"I've got a few burn marks to show for it," she said.

And for Soboil, whose Web site names Nicolas Cage, Barbra Streisand and the late Johnny Carson as clients, running a business with a tight budget is different from cooking for celebrities who have expensive and indulgent tastes.

"When you work for celebrities, there is not a budget," he said. "If he likes truffles from Mongolia, you bring it in. Now, every piece of lettuce has to be accounted for."

Elevator to the Top

Boyle Heights businessman Dick James knows the value of a summer job.

It was just such a job as a freight elevator operator at the old Ambassador Hotel some 50 years ago that launched James on a 25-year career in the hotel industry.

"I went from the freight elevator to the front desk and then to the sales desk and then became head of sales," James said. Eventually, he became sales director at the world-renowned Hotel del Coronado near San Diego.

So it was little wonder that the 73-year-old James showed up at a May 4 meeting of business executives with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to sign up employers to participate in a summer jobs program for teens. Villaraigosa used the opportunity to announce that $20 million in federal stimulus dollars would allow the city to boost its placement goal to 16,000 teens from last year's 13,500.

James publicly pledged to hire four teens from the summer jobs program, effectively doubling the size of the work force at his company that promotes non-profit organizations.

"We will gladly put the youths to work," he said.

Stepping Up Again

Craig Blasingame loves his new room, and he was on hand recently to show it off to visitors attending the opening of a Santa Monica apartment complex for former homeless people called Step Up on Fifth.

"It's my place," Blasingame, 52, said of his new digs. "I've got a key, and I have to make the bed."

He also has a new career: providing security and maintenance at the nearby Farmers' Market while training as a counselor for people with drug- and alcohol-related problems.

All of which is a far cry from the 24 years he spent as owner-operator of his own Brentwood-based four-employee septic tank pumping business called Reddy Man.

That came to a screeching halt in 1999 after Blasingame suffering from clinical depression and substance abuse lost the business, his wife and his home. Eventually he hooked up with the agency operating the shelter.

He recalled that when he ran his company, he was burdened with stress.

"You got to stop and smell the roses," he said. "Life is passing, and all you're thinking about is keeping that revenue running."

Staff reporters Daniel Miller, Howard Fine and David Haldane contributed to this column. Page 3 is compiled by Editor Charles Crumpley. He can be reached at

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