Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen is instantly recognizable by the line of hungry patrons snaking out the door and down the block. It’s a communal affair here, reminiscent of a fun weekend family dinner, with everyone coming together in celebration of life and sustenance. An Inglewood institution since 1999, the cafeteria-style comfort food oasis serves up delicious southern classics such as smothered pork chops, collard greens, candied yams, and black-eyed peas.
What distinguishes Dulan’s as a small business, though, is the legacy of the late, legendary restaurateur Adolf Dulan. He first learned to cook alongside his mother frying their own farmed-raised chickens in Oklahoma. The patriarch has not only passed down the family business and its craveable recipes to his son, Terry Dulan, but also a penchant for giving back to the community. Terry returned home after a nearly thirty-year career on Wall Street to lead Dulan’s into the future.
What was it like growing up in the restaurant industry?
When I was a child my dad opened up an Orange Julius. I started working in the restaurant at age 11 making orange juice. I wasn’t very happy about it because I was missing my Saturday and Sunday morning cartoons. My dad went on to open up about five hamburger stands. He opened up a nursery school. He wanted to open up another hamburger stand in Marina del Rey, but they couldn’t get a French fry machine due to some codes.
So somebody told my dad and his wife that they should sell soul food, and that brilliant idea subsequently became Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch, which had a thirty-plus year run. We fed almost anybody you can think of. Kobe Bryant, Elizabeth Taylor, Vice President Al Gore. I have thousands of pictures with celebrities. The restaurant did very well.
So how did Dulan’s come about?
My dad opened Dulan’s in his late sixties. He had a passion for food. He came to visit me in New York. I drove him around some of the cafeteria-style establishments and a light bulb went off. He came back and opened Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen. And because of the experience with Aunt Kizzy’s, the food being delicious, and his personal charisma, this business just started growing and growing. My brother Greg already had his business, Dulan’s on Crenshaw, and then we opened up another location.
My father recently passed so I came back four years ago, and I just kept everything that he did. I wanted to make sure everything stayed exactly the same. The food is delicious, the portions are generous, and we have good service. With all those years he put in, I wanted to make sure that we kept his vision and all of his work and legacy going.
How have the development of the new football stadium and Metro line through Inglewood affected your business?
We understand Inglewood. When the Lakers were in the Forum it was a better time. And then there were several years when the Lakers left that there was a vacuum. I think there was a peak and then it went to a valley, and now we have an opportunity to get back to another peak. The importance is for us to stay here. We want to service all of the people who already live here as well as the new people.
The challenging part for me has been to maintain a foothold. We lost our lease when we should’ve had an extension. Trying to make sure I didn’t get pushed out of the neighborhood has been one of my biggest challenges. So I wanted to buy a property because I know what’s coming. One of the things I wanted to make sure was that we are able to take advantage of what’s to come.
We’re getting a lot of new customers. They love the food. We get a lot of customers from out of town, particularly from the south. We get a lot of people straight from LAX. From Atlanta, from Alabama, from Louisiana saying we heard about you. We get a lot of customers looking for good soul food.
What are your favorite items on the menu?
That’s a tough question. It’s all really good. Fried chicken. I like our short ribs. When I lived back east I would come here and get one short rib, a piece of fried chicken, and the mac and cheese. Those are my favorites.
Customers love oxtails, our mac and cheese, and our cornbread. People come in and just buy cornbread and walk out. They love sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, dressing, all that stuff you don’t want to make at home. Sunday’s our biggest day by far. People come right after church. They want that comfort food so they can just relax and watch the game.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of taking over your father’s business?
The joy of people tasting your food. I get people from all over the country, and I say to them, “Just let me know what you think.” And it’s very satisfying when someone is like, “Wow, we don’t even have this in Alabama.”
And another thing is when I took over the restaurant when my father passed away, I was a little overwhelmed by the number of people who told me, “Oh, your father gave me this or your father helped me with that.”
How important is cultivating a sense of community with your customers?
That’s the spirit of my father over the business. One of the things that’s not advertised—that we’ve tried to keep as part of the legacy of the business—is that my father did a lot of stuff in the community. He’d donate to churches. He’d donate to organizations. He spoke to kids.
I’ve tried my best to honor that and step up to the plate and help our community. I’ve donated food to churches and youth programs and health fairs because I want to keep that legacy going. We’ve also had two scholarships. We’ve given away about $15,000 in my father’s name to two students at Howard University. We try to reach out. You know, I grew up here. I used to shop right on this block as a child. And so we, his kids, have tried to continue supporting the community that supports us.
What’s your vision for the future of Dulan’s?
I think that when you have delicious food that gives you staying power. I don’t see any slowdown in business. My partnership with ChowNow has been great. Being a technology guy, I wanted a way to allow our patrons to order food online and skip the line. It’s working great. I really like that the prices are good and the service is good. Things are moving online now, so I just want to be sensitive of what’s to come.
The only thing I’m currently limited by is space. We are leasing additional space for some extra seating so that you can spread your wings a little bit. I’m actually working on that right now. So with all the anticipation of the stadium coming in, we’re not resting. We intend to grow with it. Right now, I’m second generation. My goal is to get to the third.
Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen
1714 W Century Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90047
202 E Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, CA 90301