Wednesday, July 23, 2014

They've closed WHAT?

Are there support groups for people who have lost restaurants? If so, I need to join one. Yes, I know, it seems silly to mourn the closing of a KooKooRoo but local eateries almost become like friends. You seek them out for comfort, familiarity, nourishment, and they generally cost you money. And it’s gratifying to know they’ll always be there – welcoming you in until 10 on weeknights, validating your parking, and serving that special corned beef hash that is so good you forget it’s out of a can. Think CHEERS with patty melts.

Lately, a number of reliable local establishments have closed their doors for good and it has totally bummed me out. In some cases, I never even loved their food, but loved that they were always there. And unlike favorite cancelled TV show that you can just watch again on DVD or Netflix, there’s no LaBarbera’s pizza On-Demand, or Anna’s minestrone soup, or Kelbo’s Hawaiian ribs (although those would probably kill me today).

What’s even sadder is that most of these restaurants have gone under because their landlords have squeezed them out with unreasonable lease increases. Many of these establishments have long histories. Some of your all-time favorite stars have gotten drunk or been thrown out of these iconic eateries.

Among the recent fallen:

Kate Matallini’s – for over twenty years this spacious upscale comfort food diner has been an LA staple at Wilshire and Doheny. Lots of tables, high ceiling, giant photos of MAD MEN, walking distance to the WGA theatre and my car mechanic, and for years it was open late, which for Los Angeles means after 9 PM. Cause of death: Jacked up rent.
Hamburger Hamlet – This was a killer because it’s a part of my childhood snuffed out. At one time this popular chain had locations all over the city. In addition to burgers, they were famous for their Lobster Bisque, which was probably 7,000 calories a spoonful. I used to like their fried chicken wings appetizer back when fried meant "tasty" not "heart attack." A couple of years ago their Sunset Strip location closed. It was there that Dean Martin and Bette Davis used to hold court, and David Isaacs and I formed our writing partnership. Since the Hamlet’s 50 year run there it’s been a failed nightclub, failed high end Chinese restaurant, and soon to be another Chinese restaurant.

KooKooRoo Santa Monica – I don’t get it. A few years ago KooKooRoo was the biggest thing. They were the Starbucks of fowl. People suddenly stopped eating chicken?

The Daily Grill Brentwood – Couldn’t pay the new lease. At one time you had to know someone to get a booth there. You’d be standing in its entrance waiting for tables along with Neil Simon, Bob Newhart, and Dustin Hoffman. You’d still be standing there after they had all been seated but still.
Asuka Westwood – It stood for over thirty years -- the sushi place next door to the glorious Crest Theatre, which also closed. Instead of super-cool hipsters, Mel Brooks was usually in a booth. They proudly posted a signed headshot of some beauty queen named Porntip. If you ordered teriyaki chicken they charged more for white meat. So by all rights, they should have made a lot of money.

Part of what makes any area unique is it’s long-standing restaurants. I’m sure wherever you live you’re missing a few of your once favorite hangouts. Here in Los Angeles you’ll see restaurants with signs that proudly proclaim “Established 1998.” Sadly, in this town, that is a big accomplishment.

52 comments:

HikenFan said...

Mel Brooks's obituary for Kate Mantilini's is here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/mel-brooks-laments-kate-mantilinis-706023

bill said...

This reminds me of the old China Grill in Manhattan, which used to be located next to the Ed Sullivan Theater, now the Dave Letterman Theater. For decades it was host to every musician in union. My ex father in law , a club date musician for his entire career, would describe it: weds was the day all the musicians would head down to the union hall which was right around the corner. Band leaders would come down to the hall on wednsdays to book musicians for the weekend gigs. After that the musicians would all head to the china grill. My ex wife has fond memories of being taken there as a child and sitting at the bar with her dad. So many traditions lost by changing real estate!

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

A group of high school friends and I had been using the Brentwood Daily Grill as our centrally located meetup spot for years and years. We probably went there once or twice a year for close to the 25 years it was open as we had scattered around the Southland. As luck would have it, we unwittingly had a reservation the final night which turned out to be a good thing, because it was packed (it hadn't been in recent years). Sad to see it go. Nothing better happen to the Cheesecake Factory in the Marina!

Pat Reeder said...

What I never understood is why some restaurants with clearly superior food go under while others with the same type of food only mediocre-to-lousy thrive. Here in Dallas, I used to go to a little Chinese place called Sing's with the most incredible food made by the Chinese family that owned it. I was usually the only one there. They struggled to survive and eventually closed. One block away was a fancier Chinese place that always had a line outside. Ate there once after Sing's closed. Food cost twice as much and was inedible.

Same story with a favorite family Italian place that had amazing food and hardly any customers, one block from a hot Italian restaurant/bar that cost twice as much and was always SRO with hip young singles. I was dragged there once for a business dinner. After a two-hour wait for a table, I surveyed everyone at our table to ask, "Did you honestly like your food?" One person out of eight did. How can anyone make Italian food that tastes that bad? I didn't think it was possible. I couldn't help thinking of "Big Night," and the restaurant with the genius chef going under while the place that served spaghetti with sparklers in it was always packed. Obviously, those of us who choose restaurants for the quality of the food are in the minority.

Terrence Moss said...

Capitalism is killing this country. I don't understand why landowners would let a space be vacant in hopes of being able to charge more rent to new tenants who will only stay a few years instead of holding on to good, longstanding tenants. It's idiocy to me.

Larry Morgan said...

For me its the old Campanile on La Brea - still mourning that one. Such a great place in a historic space. (Even though I do enjoy Republique that has taken its place, but still...) *sigh*

Dan Ball said...

Like Norm lamenting the demise of the Hungry Heifer, I think this is one of the things that makes us most human.

I'm mourning the recent loss of a Fazoli's Italian fast food restaurant that served bottomless spaghetti and fettucini alfredo. My dad used to get that without fail when I was little and we'd go to Fazoli's every week. Mom and I would get something different, but Dad always ordered bottomless spaghetti and meat sauce. Eventually, the chain did away with bottomless, but occasionally brought it back. Then I moved to Louisville and found a restaurant that still did it, so I got Dad a free bottomless card for his birthday to use when he came up to visit. Sadly, he didn't get to use it.

Fazoli's suffered the same fate as Mantallini's: jacked-up rent. Kroger's redone the whole shopping center in addition to expanding its own space and I guess Fazoli's kind just wasn't welcome anymore.

Shopping centers and property owners are the same in Louisville as LA. They'd rather have an entirely vacant complex with high rent than keep their loyal tenants at a reasonable rate. In fact, I wonder that about any good or service. Why would you markup an item so much that it doesn't sell instead of pricing it reasonably so that you move a lot of it? Some sales are better than none. I think if people took more pride in what they're giving people than what they're earning for it, our economy might improve a tad.

ODJennings said...

I drove the lengths of LA recently, and it reminded me of a chase scene in one of those old Hanna-Barbara cartoons where the background repeats every 6 seconds.

You spot a Home Depot, so you know that there's a PetsMart coming up. The PetsMart will be followed by an Office Depot, an Applebee's, an Olive Garden, and a FedEx Store, with countless Starbuck's, Subway's and McDonalds as filler. Ten stoplights later and it's time for the cycle to repeat. It doesn't matter if you're in LA or Nashville, every town is the same these days.

mmryan314 said...

Ken- Friday question. I realize that confidentiality agreements abound in celebrity world. How constrained are you from writing about stars and others that you have personally worked with on shows?

Doug Herman said...

In the early '70s I was commuting via PSA almost daily from San Diego to Pasadena on a radio station project and practically lived at the Hamburger Hamlet, as well as frequent visits to The Chronicle (the former restaurant, now a wine shop) in Pasadena. Two old favorites that have fallen by the wayside, along with PSA, my daily airline "ride".

emily said...

All these years later, I'm still missing Martoni's on Cahuenga.

David said...

Remember the Wiener Factory in Sherman Oaks, Ken? I couldn't get enough of that place growing up: best hot dogs around, and hysterical graffiti jokes all over the walls (love reading while I eat). It closed about seven years ago, supposedly to make room for a Pinkberry... which never opened. It's now a cafe and hookah lounge with a forbidding brick facade and, according to online reviews, terrible service. Meanwhile, the Wiener Factory guys tried to keep it going as a food truck, but that didn't last long. Sigh. I don't eat hot dogs anymore, but I still miss that place.

Paul Levine said...

i leave town and Kate Mantalini's closes! An institution. And you're right, very convenient for any event at WGA theater. Sad.

The Other Phil Rosenthal said...

I blame myself and my move from L.A. But at least we'll always have this to remember the old Hamlet on Sunset: http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/456599/Modern-Romance-Movie-Clip-I-Don-t-Feel-Real-Good.html

Richard said...

The Hamburger Hamlet in Pasadena has even "closed", although what that really means is that it was bought by DuPar's and turned into a DuPar's.

Which, so far, is not terribly different than the Hamburger Hamlet, as far as I can tell. It's weird.

Michael said...

Friday question: Do writers get the same residual payment each time a rerun airs or is the payment reduced based on number of airings? Curious because of the non-stop THE BIG BANG THEORY repeats airing these days. Also are the payments different if the rerun is shown on TBS during prime time vs. 2:00 AM on TV GUIDE channel?

Don Jennett said...

Although it has been more than 25 years since it closed, the one I miss most is The Chatham in Westwood Village.

Anonymous said...

I'm with ya on KooKooRoo. One KKR I frequented is now The Counter, the other closed.

Wednesday question (you need a day for the more meaningless questions) what do you think of Zankou?

-MK

chuckcd said...

Had the same thing happen in my neighborhood to my favorite Italian restaurant. Nice little mom and pop place, great food, reasonable prices. Closed because the lease went up too high.

Another place that closed was the Boston Market. It was only ok, but was always packed. One day it just closed. They tore the building down and now its a Walgreen's.

Donald Sterling said...

I miss Sambo's.

MikeN said...

Three things:

Family run restaurants are not as well run, since the expertise is on food quality. How many people will know how to do a payroll, workers comp insurance, etc? George McGovern ran a bed and breakfast after he left office, and said if he'd known then what he knew now, he wouldn't have pushed for so many regulations.

Estate taxes will then tend to make these family run establishments get sold to bigger corporations just to pay the tax bill, and since it is a must sell, it is a cheap price too. The corporations will be better at running the business, but not so good at the food quality and focused more on profits.

ObamaCare is crippling restaurants. Companies that do not provide health insurance and have at least 50 employees are required to pay a $2000 fine per employee. And that is a total across all companies owned by the same person, so multiple locations will definitely put you across the 50 person threshold. So now you are faced with at least a 40,000 penalty. The result is lots of shifting to part time workers below 30 hours a week. Now we have people who worked full time at McDonalds, working 20 hours there and 20 hours at the Burger King across the street.

H Johnson said...

I don't know if it's just our generation going through a normal right of passage but the changes seem to be coming faster and faster. Here in Hawaii it's the same thing. A record store in Kailua that I had been going to since high school in the 70s closed it's doors last week because of landlord greed. It's hard to find any store or restaurant that's older than my effin' laptop nowadays.

But since the topic is LA, I still mourn the passing of the Green Burrito out in La Puente. It was a reason to head into the valley all by itself.

Sorry you lost your favorite digs.

Aloha

Bubba Gurney said...

FRIAR TUCK'S diner/coffee shop/restaurant in Santa Monica circa 1959. While eating a giant slice of fresh strawberry pie I was served by a waitress in her Maid Marion low cut costume and was instantly transported into puberty.

Dave "Loosehead" Gordon said...

So I'm guessing these places are closing not because they aren't profitable, or that the food isn't great. They're closing because they are sitting on valuable real-estate. Surely if there's enough customers sad to see them go, there's enough people for a KickStarter campaign to find new, cheaper premises.

Wayne said...

Also gone but not forgotten.

SPORTSMAN LODGE Ventura Blvd, Studio City

Had its own duck pond.

You can see it on old Columbos.

TINY NAYLOR'S Sunset & LaBrea

Sometimes saw giant white limos getting car takeout

Wayne said...

CHASEN'S

SCHWABB'S

Cap'n Bob said...

There was a Shari's two miles up the road. Every Friday my wife took her mother there for dinner. It closed because the rent went up too high. My wife and her mother took their trade to another Shari's further away. After six months their rent went up and they closed.

A Skipper's near the first Shari's closed and remained vacant for at least ten years because of jacked up rent. Finally, a family dentist took over the space. I can't believe it benefited the property owner to let the place lie vacant for so long.

Phil In Phoenix said...

Ken, your pal Mark Evanier has a nice site of LA restaurants that have disappeared:

http://www.oldlarestaurants.com/

It seems Woody's Smorgasburger is the talk of the site.

I'm going to really miss the International Marketplace in Honolulu. Yes, it could be a little cheesy. But it was a great place to people-watch, pick up some fun trinkets, and wheel and deal on those trinkets. And the food court actually had some inexpensive gems without the chain eateries.

It was a fun place. And an institution.

In its place...another high-end mall...just like here in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Las Vegas, LA, etc.

Margo Guryan said...

So many of our favorite restaurants have closed. The Mandarin in BH, Muse on Bev. Blvd., Em (where Corky held forth and occasionally played) and now Kate's (where we dined every Wednesday night for years and years).

It's awful...trying to find another place where the food is good and you meet lots of friends (not to mention the wait-people who become friends).

Margo Guryan said...

Margo Guryan

Shirley said...

It's not only restaurants that suffer this fate. I worked for a major retail store and am out of work thanks to a greedy landlord.

Shirley said...

It's not only restaurants that suffer this fate. I worked for a major retail store and am out of work thanks to a greedy landlord.

Canda said...

KooKooRoo's top management must have screwed this up financially, because some of the locations, like the one in Hancock Park, were always crowded.

I noticed some changes in the looks of some of the KooKooRoo restaurants, which did nothing to enhance them, and a friend of mine said the chicken was getting smaller.

Wish someone could give me the final reason they all closed. I thought they were going to franchise these all over the country. They had an incredible product.

Mike Barer said...

Well said, Ken

VP81955 said...

Canda, I don't know if KooKooRoo was "franchised all over the country," but about 1999 or so, we had one in Westfield, NJ, a rather upscale railroad commuter suburb about 15 miles southwest of the Holland Tunnel. (It doubled as the Ohio town on the NBC series "Ed"; you can see Westfield's quaint downtown in the opening credits.) I liked their chicken very much and regularly patronized the place, but little over a year after it opened, it vanished without a trace. Now that I've moved to Los Angeles (I'm clearing out my Virginia apartment and will fly west for good Saturday), I hope there's a KKR somewhere; it'd be like meeting up with an old friend.

RCP said...

There's still Musso & Frank on Hollywood Blvd., which has been around since the days of Chaplin (as have some of its waiters). The open-faced hot turkey sandwich is delicious.

Keith said...

Scary post.

Thank God, Pink's carries on!

YEKIMI said...

Same thing has happened where I grew up in Florida in Pinellas county. In the 60s I used to pedal my bike to a dead end street near my house, trundle through the woods till I got to US 19 and meet my grandma at the Kash & Karry where she worked, she'd get me a Coke out of the machine for 10 cents and then we would go have lunch at the little boxcar diner next to the store. While the building is still there the the food part is long gone and it's now a payday loan place. [The Kash & Karry, just like my grandma, has been gone a number of years also] And the barbecue joint [Smalleys] that my parents always took us kids out to once a month is gone but have no idea when they closed. I know it was still there when I went down and visited my dad in the mid 90s...although it had been enlarged a bit their decor looked just about the same. Used to be I could go out and get lost in the woods nearby for a whole day, I've heard that there is only 5 square miles of wooded "wild" land left in the county but they do have a large park system. Thank goodness for Google maps; I can at least go online and check out my old childhood stomping grounds and see how much they've changed.

Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks for the spam, Syed.

Archie Bunker said...

Obamacare isn't crippling anything. Matter of fact, some cripples are no longer crippled because of Obamacare. Greed is killing the family own restaurant. Unregulated greed.

Pat Reeder said...

If you seriously think Obamacare isn't crippling job creation, are you sure you're Archie Bunker and not Meathead?

MikeN is spot-on. I have a close relative who is a manager in a store that's part of a major department store chain (one of the big ones that anchors malls). She was recently called into her supervisor's office and reamed out for letting a part-time employee who needed some extra pay work over 30 hours in a week. It was made brutally clear to her that no part-timer is allowed to put in over 29 hours anymore. They didn't say why, but I think we all know. And they are just one employer among many, large and small. They have to keep it quiet because if it got out, they'd be boycotted by all the Obama supporters who have difficulty accepting reality and prefer to live in Fantasy Land.

As for what's killing the family restaurant, it's not unregulated greed, it's over-regulation by government. I have a young in-law who used to be a happy-go-lucky liberal until he stopped being a sole contractor and launched his own business with a few employees. He's staggered by the crushing amounts of pointless paperwork, impenetrable regulations and endless fees he's expected to comply with. He now wonders how anyone can possibly start a business anymore. I give him another six weeks tops before he becomes a born-again conservative, or at the very least, a strident Libertarian.

thomas tucker said...

And there's still Dan Tana's. But to go to the Brown Derby, you have to go to the DisneyWorld recreation/ And how I miss Horace Heidt's Java TIme, where I had my first ever cocktail at the age of 16.

Janice said...

Eddie Saul's in Encino. What I would give right now for a scoop of their shrimp salad...

chuckcd said...

I miss Naugles.

Johnny Walker said...

I haven't read every comment, but I hope someone pointed out that here in London we have pubs that are older than America itself. Lots of them, in fact.

LA's fear of getting old is such a shame.

Johnny Walker said...

Ugh. I read some of the comments.

I'm sure the death of family restaurants has everything to do with ObamaCare, and nothing whatsoever to do with the financial crisis... Everyone knows that restaurants boom during recessions.

cadavra said...

No mention of Cassell's, the world's greatest hamburger joint? (Yes, they're supposed to reopen
"soon," but that's been a two-year promise now...)

mike said...

Ah, the old 'blame Obamacare for everything!' trope! It's nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act and everything to do with unfettered greed and the fact that Americans are not allowed national health like the rest of the world because profits come first. Hell, ask business owners what is hurting business and nine out of ten will say a lack of customers and not 'regulation.' And that one out of ten who can't figure out how to fill out forms will invariably be a 'get off my lawn' type. We get it, starting & running a business is difficult but if you want to start spreading blame, it's clear that much of industry simply can't be trusted not to rape the environment, screw their employees, cheat the government and the like, hence, regulations that protect the consumer from these predators.

Floridan said...

I know a little something about the restaurant business (both of my children are in the food business). My son's Greenwich Village restaurant was paying monthly rent of $17,000/month. When it recently came time to renew the lease, the landlord wanted to raise it $20,000 -- not to $20,000, but by twenty grand. Needless to say, they are looking for a new location.

By the way, the ACA had no real effect on the profitability of the restaurant -- it already provided health insurance.

VP81955 said...

My new apartment in Los Angeles is only a few blocks from the Original Tommy's at Rampart and Beverly.

Liggie said...

Not just family restaurants. In the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, a long-standing Denny's lost its lease in favor of an overbidding ... Chick-Fil-A,

Lateral move?

john driscoll Voice Over America said...

Loved Loves on San Vincente, Hamlet Brentwood and Sherman Oaks, Will Rights, Nicky Blair's,Friars on Wilshire , koo koo Aroo too , Tiny Naylors , Ships , Delores , Chasens chili .