DOWNEY – After being closed for nearly a year, Bastards American Canteen is nearly ready for a full reopening, coming back stronger and better than before.

On Dec. 19 last year, Bastards was unexpectedly forced to shut its doors after a fire at neighboring Peking China spread and caused considerable damage.

“You wake up to that call, it’s never good news,” said owner Nick Velez.

While not nearly in as bad of shape as its neighbor, Velez said that a lot needed to be done “just to get back into play.”

“It took at least three or four months just to get that smoke out, the smoke smell out. It was very, very bad. It smelled like a chimney in here; that took a while to get cleaned out,” said Velez. “They had to repair the roof…It took us about a year; almost a year to take care of all these small little tasks. They seem like small tasks, but they’re all time consuming and very tedious.”

Meanwhile, Velez was also juggling a second location in Temecula, which opened a year ago.

“It’s been year after year where it’s constantly something is going on,” said Velez. “Whether it’s losing my business partner and best friend, to opening up a new restaurant, to my main restaurant, my headquarters, Bastards catching fire.”

Velez says it was “difficult to stay motivated.” Rumors began to spread that Bastards would not return, or would even be sold.

“I heard those rumors too,” said Velez. “I would get calls, I would get text messages…it’s funny, because all this is scuttlebutt.

“When I heard it at first, I wanted to nip it in the butt and put something on social media, but for one I didn’t have the time, the energy or the time to entertain that. So, I said, ‘Just keep pushing on with the mission.’ Let everybody know about Temecula, and let’s get people to Temecula who want to support us, and when it’s time to reopen, you better believe we’re going to reopen with a bang.”

Velez and Bastards “kept pushing forward,” but when the time to open drew near, there was a problem.

“Once you repair that, you still need to hire, you still need to train, you still need to order your initial inventories for front of the house, back of the house,” said Velez.

That’s when Velez was struck with an idea.

“We were blessed to meet a nonprofit organization called Veterans Stand Together. They operate out of Downey / South Gate area… What they do is they focus on vocational training for veterans,” said Velez. “I approached them and said, ‘Hey, I have an idea. What if we put together a hospitality program for veterans.’”

Under the new free program, veterans are brought in and taught mixology and restaurant operation for two weeks. The program kicked off in October, and has already trained around 40 veterans.

“From October, we hired 100% of those veterans,” said Velez.

Velez described it as a learning curve, saying that many of the veterans have never worked in “the food and beverage industry.”

“All they’ve done is serve their country honorably. They’ve put on a uniform, they went to war and they came back,” said Velez. “And now, they’re working in the same trench lines that I’m working, that Calvin [Spencer] worked in, and they’re getting a feel to what it’s like to be a restaurateur.”

The need for community service also remains important.

“This is something we did before the fire. This is something that has always separated us,” said Velez. “We’ve always done this, ‘Hey, how can we help?’ Yeah, we served our country, but how can we serve our community now? And that’s what separates us from any other restaurant in Downey, in Southern California, is that we have a nonprofit embedded into what we do.

“We’re here not only to help you, give you good food, give you good drinks, give you good service. We’re also here to continue to serve you, to serve our community, whether it’s finding you a job, getting you help, getting you help with your VA claim, or donating food to the community. That’s something that we’re here to do, and that’s something that we take very seriously since we took our oath for this country.”

Bastards reopened its doors back in November for an event celebrating the Marine Corps. birthday, though, says the restaurant is still in a bit of a “soft-opening mode.” 

But Bastards is poised to return to full operation come the start of the new year; they’ve even added pizza to the menu.

“I want to invite everyone to come into their home, because this place is not only a sanctuary and a place for veterans, it’s a place where the community and veterans can unite.”

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