Justice Is Served In L.A. By Court Caterer

By Sonya Geis

White Plains Journal News, NY
The Washington Post
Aug 6 2007

PASADENA, Calif. – In the nine months she spent sequestered as a
juror on the O.J. Simpson trial, Carrie Bess gained 50 pounds. Fifty
pounds. And Harry and Gary Hindoyan are at least partially responsible.

The Hindoyan brothers have become the de facto house chefs for Los
Angeles celebrity murder trials. The private caterers fed lunch to
Bess and the rest of the Simpson jurors every day. When the criminal
trial was over, the Hindoyans fed the Simpson civil trial jurors.

They fed the juries who decided the fates of actor Robert Blake
(not guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend), the Menendez brothers
(convicted of murdering their parents in Beverly Hills) and Reginald
Denny’s attackers (most found not guilty of attempted murder for
beating the truck driver during the 1992 L.A. riots).

The employees of the downtown Los Angeles criminal courthouse
love the Hindoyans’ food. Judge’s birthday? Call Gary. Prosecutor
retiring? Order the chicken. Don’t want jurors wandering the streets
at lunch, where unscrupulous news reporters could pounce, tainting the
eventual verdict? For $12 to $15 per person per meal, the Hindoyans
take care of it all.

"We know exactly where the elevators are, where to enter, which floor
to go to, where the jury room is behind the bench," Harry Hindoyan
says. They’ve been catering for juries for almost 20 years.

It started with former district attorney Ira Reiner’s wife, Hindoyan
recalls. She liked their food. So did a lot of local lawyers, who
hung out at the Hindoyans’ Middle Eastern/American restaurant.

The court catering gigs took off after the Denny case. Feeding jurors
lunch is cheaper than sequestering them and still keeps them away
from the media, court spokesman Allan Parachini says. The Hindoyans
are convenient and cost-effective, and they know the drill.

On a recent morning Harry Hindoyan sits at a front table at Burger
Continental, which he owns with his brother. The place is a narrow
brick cave with a few tables on the sidewalk and wait staff who know
the customers; it offers belly-dancing at night, and a lunch buffet.

Hindoyan’s chef jacket bears stains from meals long past but looks
freshly laundered.

He is struggling now to come up with interesting food for Phil
Spector’s murder trial jurors. For those losing track of Celebrities
in Very Big Trouble, Spector is the record producer known for his
"wall of sound" technique and his work with the Beatles and 1960s
girl groups; he is accused of murdering Lana Clarkson, a B-movie
actress he picked up at a Sunset Strip nightclub.

The case has plodded along since April; the defense announced Wednesday
it’s close to resting. As the trial enters its fourth month, it’s
tough for the Hindoyans to provide variety.

Hindoyan lists recent lunches: "Chicken kebabs; beef shish kebabs;
shrimp brochettes; lamb chops; our signature plates, Chicken Erotica
and Seven Veils Chicken."

Chicken Erotica? Do tell.

"Our specialty," he says. Chicken breast stuffed with jumbo shrimp and
wrapped in bacon. "Plus Greek salad, hummus, tabbouleh. And American
versions, like veggie wraps. Rice pilaf. And dessert, nice things:
eclairs, fruit tarts, tiramisu, baklavas."

"Oh, I remember it being darn good," Carrie Bess, 53, says by telephone
as she reflects on the chow during her Simpson trial days.

"Like I told you, I gained 50 pounds. Everybody gained weight."

The Hindoyans, Armenian immigrants from Lebanon, bought the restaurant
in 1971 after Harry Hindoyan had waited tables there for several
years. He once thought he might be a lawyer, but the restaurant was
good to him. "I just stuck, stuck, stuck, and the rest is history,"
he says.

He likes the insider view of court cases. He got friendly with
Simpson’s criminal trial judge, Lance Ito, and sat in court to watch
the cast of characters enter in the morning before the reporters came
in to snap up all the seats. "You get mesmerized, sitting there. Here
comes O.J. Here comes Shapiro. It’s like Jay Leno saying, ‘Our guest
tonight is Johnnie Cochran.’ "

So O.J. – did he do it? "My gut feeling is, probably, yes, he did
it," Hindoyan says. Many of the lawyers came around his restaurant,
and he got to know prosecutors Marcia Clark and William Hodgman.

"They were spilling their guts out as to how guilty this guy was."

Simpson was charismatic, Hindoyan says, but "Spector’s different. The
guy looks weird, or eerie, from the outside. He’s got bodyguards all
around him the whole time."

Back to those hungry jurors. What to cook? "Even though we’re not
supposed to talk to the jurors at all, we asked the sheriff, what
do they want to eat?" Hindoyan says. The bland-ish answer: Grilled
cheese sandwiches. BLTs.

"You want to impress the jury and judge," Hindoyan says. "But when
they say BLT sandwiches, turkey sandwiches – perfect. That was a
great alternative that we can go that route."

Despite weeks of testimony about blood spatter – a gun went off in
Clarkson’s mouth – Spector’s jurors have been clean-plate-club kids.

"They devour everything," Hindoyan says. "Everything is gone.

Whatever’s left over, the sheriffs come in and graze the whole thing."