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Original Saugus Cafe
Oldest Restaurant in Los Angeles County

The Original Saugus Cafe, Santa Clarita

The Original Saugus Cafe, Santa Clarita. Photo from Google Maps, Copyright 2017 Google.

The Original Saugus Cafe is the longest operating restaurant in Los Angeles County. It was opened in 1886 by James Herbert Tolfree as “Saugus Eating House,” located at the north end of the Saugus Rail Depot. The train station served as a stop on the vital Southern Pacific rail line connecting Los Angeles with San Francisco. The cafe provided a place for rail passengers and workers to get a bite to eat along the way. The station itself was named after Saugus, Massachusetts, birthplace of local developer Henry Newhall. The cafe simply adopted the station’s name.

Two U.S. presidents, Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt, dined at the cafe (1891 and 1903, respectively). President Roosevelt was said to have enjoyed a New York steak there. Los Angeles Aqueduct builder William Mulholland and Los Angeles Mayor Fred Eaton stopped at the cafe to eat.

In 1916, the cafe moved across the street from the rail station to approximately where it now stands. When Hollywood brought filmmaking to the Santa Clarita Valley (especially western films), the cafe became a place for movie people to gather off the set. Among film notables that spent time at the cafe were D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Tom Mix, John Ford, Clark Gable, John Hart, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper and John Wayne.

By 1940, Saugus Cafe had become the best-known eatery in northern Los Angeles County. However, that year, highway traffic was re-routed away from the cafe's vicinity, causing a drop in receipts. Additional hardships brought on by World War II added to its woes. In 1943, to the heartbreak of its community, the cafe was closed. It had been open 24/7 until then and the closure required, for the first time, that its doors be locked. The closure didn't last long, however. Little more than a year later, in 1943, Saugus Cafe was reopened under a new owner.

Today, the cafe is known as The Original Saugus Cafe. On the surface, it doesn’t appear more noteworthy than any other eating establishment. Yet, it has hosted presidents and a stream of movie luminaries and, since 1886, seen more years of serving diners than any other eating establishment in Los Angeles County.

Sources: Tales of the Saugus Cafe, LA's Oldest Restaurant Keeps a 130-Year Diner Tradition Alive, and archived newspaper stories from the Newhall Signal & Saugus Enterprise.

The Original Saugus Cafe
25861 Railroad Ave, Santa Clarita

The Original Saugus Cafe, Circa 1890

The Saugus Cafe at the Saugus Rail Depot, circa 1890. Photo from Santa Clarita Historical Society.

Also see:
-- Oldest Surviving Restaurants in Los Angeles County
-- Origins of Some Local Food Empires in Los Angeles County