Westside Activist, Entrepreneur, Restaurateur and Owner of Venice ERBA Markets, Handal has a passion for community service!
By Nick Antonicello
VENICE – For years the Venice Neighborhood Council’s fiscal house was headed by longtime former treasurer Hugh Harrison, who retired after his last term of office in 2021 that saw newcomer Andrea Boccaletti defeat Robin Rudisill 972-862 to succeed him. But Boccaletti’s time was short as he subsequently resigned and the board found themselves with a void in a key executive position.
Enter John Handal II, more popularly known as Jay Handal, a Brooklyn-born entrepreneur, restaurateur and community activist who was appointed to fill the unexpired term.
While Handal is not a resident of Venice, he is a longtime community fixture of the Westside who has a deep background in the workings and machinations of LA’s neighborhood council system. As a business owner and stakeholder here in Venice, Handal wants to volunteer his time to a community that has embraced him, and feels he has a responsibility to give back.
The owner of Erba Markets, a retail cannabis outlet on Lincoln Boulevard brings a long and diversified resume of demonstrated success and a history of working for the common good.
The 70-year old father of two adult children and five grandchildren, Handal is a product of Holy Innocents grammar school and Brooklyn Prep, as well as Loyola College of Maryland.
Handal moved to LA in 1975 and formed his second import business, John B Handal & Sons only to segway in 1987 by opening the San Gennaro Café located in Brentwood Village.
In 1992 he opened Mi Place, another Italian Restaurant & Bakery in Pasadena. In 1995 He would revitalize an existing restaurant and rename it San Gennaro Pasta Café & Bar in Culver City. As an active member of the Culver City community he was appointed Chair of the Western Hemisphere Marathon, the second oldest marathon in the US. He later became part of the organization of the Culver City Downtown Business Association.
Handal would extend the San Gennaro Café brand to the Las Vegas market while opening The Juice Café in 1998 and helped formulate the first Business Improvement District (BID) for Culver City.
In 2000 Handal became Chairman of the Brentwood Village Chamber of Commerce and then President of the West Los Angeles Chamber. In 2004 Handal was appointed to the LA Small Business Commission by then Mayor James Hahn and in 2006 became an elected officer of the Brentwood Community Council and Chairman of the West LA Neighborhood Council in 2007.
In 2008 Handal became the citywide election administrator for the LA Neighborhood system which included the Venice races. Since 2014, Handal has been opening and managing compliant medical marijuana retail dispensaries in Los Angeles including the communities of Venice, San Pedro, The Woods and West Hollywood.
A longtime Elk’s Lodge member, Handal is a former Deputy Grand Knight of the KFC, a Catholic Men’s fraternal organization as well as a member of the Rotary Club as he sits on the boards of various charitable organizations here in LA County.
With all his past experiences, knowledge and broad resume of volunteer service, Handal views the position of treasurer as the custodian of funds for this local council.
Handal believes his most important responsibility is to keep the board’s funds in compliance and retain transparency for stakeholders by posting the numbers in real time online. In effect, the financial information about this council is available for all to see and inspect.
The VNC has an annual budget of $32,000 with the ability to roll over from a previous budget unspent monies. Asked if residency is an important issue in his quest to remain treasurer, Handal responded the “best qualified” should serve in this executive position.
Handal says he spends at least an hour a day in this volunteer position with an emphasis on generating payments and receipts to ensure the LA City Clerk approves all expenditures.
“I’m an independent guy. I’m the money police. I need to ensure that what we do is legal and doable,” offered the incumbent.
Handal pointed out that all of the invoices for the December 3rd Venice Holiday Sign Lighting event have already been issued and approved for payment.
If elected to a full, two-year term, Handal would like to see a timeline setup to create an “equity in distribution” for not-for-profits seeking the board’s funding while sitting with committee chairs so they fully understand the funding process, parameters and amounts that can be distributed.
Handal stressed the VNC has limited dollars, and they need to be spent wisely.
Handal also wanted to remind voters of the board’s volunteer status, and that decorum is important to a council’s success or failure.
Handal joked that if he is not successful in his race, “there won’t be a pay cut.”
Nick Antonicello is a 30-year resident of Venice and is covering the VNC elections scheduled for March 26th. Antonicello will be interviewing all interested candidates and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org