Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug at age nine, while working in her uncle’s corner grocery store, Jewel Thais-Williams spent the early years of her adult life working her way out of a job. After serving as a maid, customer service representative, recreation director, probation attendant and deputy sheriff, Jewel turned her eyes toward working around her own schedule while completing a bachelors degree at UCLA.
“After many years of going to school part-time and working various and sundry jobs, I decided I wanted to complete college,” Jewel explains. ”In order to finish at UCLA I had to attend class during the day. Therefore, I had to find some way to make a living around my going to school. Self- employment was the answer for me. It also was a dream come true.”
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Her first business, a women’s clothing boutique went all right until the early 1970s recession hit. “When economic times are bad, women stop buying things for themselves, so I started looking for a recession proof business,” Jewel commented. “My brother suggested I buy a liquor store, but that was too impersonal for me,” she added. Then she saw an advertisement that a local bar was for sale.
Ironically, Jewel had worked across the street from the bar in the past and knew it catered only to white patrons. In addition to having no bartending or bar business skills, her situation was further exacerbated by the fact that in 1973, California laws banned women from tending bar. Borrowing money and hocking personal possessions, Jewel bought the bar anyway. The rest, as they say, is history. And, what a rich and interesting history it has been.
First taking over one room, then the entire building, then the building next door, Jewel has occupied the corner of Pico and Norton Ave., for these 40 years. The Catch has served as a haven for entertainers, artists, progressives, gays and people who appreciated diversity including Sammy Davis Jr., Warren Beatty, Melba Moore, Phyllis Hyman, Freda Payne, Chaka Khan, Sylvester, Weather Girls, Rick James, and Esther Phillips, to name a few. Madonna held an album release party at The Catch. Scenes from the movies “Pretty Woman” and the Wayans’ “I’m Gonna Git You Sucker,” have been shot there, as well as an episode from the popular television series, “Cold Case,” among many others.
After a negative experience with a “culturally incompetent” doctor, Jewel had an epiphany that sent her back to school. “So many of the illnesses African Americans get – like hypertension and diabetes – are preventable. But instead of helping us with prevention education, the medical profession treats us with pills and cuts us open,” she said.
Jewel went to back to school to study traditional Chinese medicine and to learn safe alternative medical treatments. She even traveled to China as part of a work-study group. In 1998, at age 60, Jewel earned a Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine from Samra University. In 2001, she opened the Village Health Foundation, a non-profit specializing in nutrition, lifestyle changes and diseases with high incidents in the African American community including HIV/AIDS, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and upper respiratory infections.
Operating on a donation-based or sliding pay scale, the Foundation also offers acupuncture/acupressure, traditional Chinese medicine, yoga, meditation, massages, strength training, zumba, jazz dance, tai-chi, drumming and much more. In addition, emotional counseling, abuse treatment, individual, family and group counseling, as well as medication therapy and management are offered.
Jewel also has done her fair share of community service having co-founded the Minority AIDS Project and the Imani Unidos Food Pantry in South Los Angeles. She also served as a Board member of the AIDS Project of Los Angeles. In addition, she co-founded Rue’s House, the first housing facility for women with AIDS and their children in the United States
Jewel Thais-Williams, and Rue Thais-Williams (b. 1940) are both black and introduced themselves as “spouses” and partners since 1988. They own the world-famous Catch One Disco, in Los Angeles.
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