By BARRY GOODRICH
Each year when the NFL season rolled around, John Arakaki felt like a stranger in a strange land.
Living and working in Los Angeles, the Parma native would wear his vintage Bernie Kosar jersey to bars that televised NFL games. One day he met another exiled Clevelander at a bar – Holy Name alum and Garfield Heights native Vince Tessmer. The two men had the same idea…a place where Browns fans could not only go to watch their favorite team’s games but where they could also experience a touch (and a taste) of Cleveland.
Arakaki and Tessmer founded the L.A./Hollywood Browns Backers in 2002 with just five members. Today the club has nearly 400 members and is still growing as one of the chapters of the massive Southern California Browns Backers (over 5,000 clubs). Game-day viewing parties are held at the Hollywood St. Felix restaurant, owned by Arakaki.
“I met Vince when I walked by him wearing the Kosar jersey I got at Goodwill for one dollar,” said Arakaki, who originally moved to L.A. to pursue a career in music. “The first year we started we only had a couple people and it took time to grow but I’m very proud of the fact we have the best (NFL) backers in all of Hollywood.”
Located in the heart of L.A.’s entertainment district, the St. Felix attracts its share of celebrities. But Arakaki keeps the focus on Cleveland with such menu items as Parma Pierogies, Cleveland Burgers and Dawg Pound Dogs with Bertman’s mustard.
“We’re looking to partner with a Cleveland-based brewery,” added Arakaki. “Everybody here wants to drink Cleveland beers.”
The St. Felix Hollywood also shows Indians and Cavs games and has become the official Ohio State Alumni Backers location for the area. “We host a lot of wrap parties for TV shows and films but the biggest crowd we ever had was for Game 7 of the NBA Finals when the Cavs won,” said Arakaki. “We must have had 600 people here that night.”
Arakaki is already planning for the new season and expects a new influx of Browns fans. “We’ve always had a core group of abut 50 people who have supported the team over the years, even when they went 0-16,” he said. “We’re already anticipating 500 for the season opener. I’m working on getting more TVs and putting in some patio seating.”
Browns Backers Worldwide is considered one of the largest organized fan clubs in all of professional sports. The organization has Browns Backers clubs in more than 30 countries, including Antarctica, Iceland and Taiwan. In Australia alone, there are four clubs.
But you won’t find a more fervid group of Browns’ fans than at the St. Felix, where two guys from Cleveland are keeping it real in the middle of La La Land.