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The History of Eating Out in Los Angeles
Origins of Some Local Food
The Denny's Restaurant chain, now found nationwide, was founded by Harold Butler in 1953 in Lakewood and first opened as a single donut shop named Danny’s Donuts. Butler added more shops during the following year and also added sandwiches and other entrees to the menu. The shops were renamed Danny's Coffee Shops. By 1959, the chain had expanded to 20 restaurants and was renamed Denny's.
"Alpha Beta" began as a merchandising concept rather than as a store name. Albert and Hugh Gerrard had been operating food stores in Southern California since 1900 and had been early adopters of a self-service system in 1914. Their Triangle Grocerteria (at 329 West Second Street, Pasadena) began arranging groceries alphabetically in 1915, the beginning of the "Alpha Beta system". The Alpha Beta name was first used for the Pomona store in 1917. By the next year, seven stores were operating under this name. Alpha Beta Food Markets incorporated in 1929 (source: http://www.groceteria.net/alphabeta/history.html)
In 1946, Burton Baskins opened an ice cream shop in Pasadena and his brother-in-law, Irvine Robbins, opened another in Glendale that same year. Baskins had learned to make ice cream while in the Navy in the South Pacific. Robbins learned to do so while in Tacoma, Washington. By 1947, the brothers-in-law decided to combined their ice cream businesses to form Baskin-Robbins.
Culinary Invention Claims From the L.A. Area
The French Dip Sandwich - by Phillipe Mathieu (Phillipe Restaurant, L.A., 1918)
The Cheeseburger - Lionel Sternberger (Rite Spot Restaurant, Pasadena, 1924)
The Hot Fudge Sundae - at C.C. Brown's (Hollywood)
The Shirley Temple & the Cobb Salad - at L.A.'s Original Brown Derby (Hollywood)
Farmers Market, located at the corner of Fairfax and Third Street in Los Angeles, opened in 1934 at what was then known as the Gilmore Ranch. 18 farmers parked their trucks on the corner and began selling produce from their tailgates. The Market now features almost 100 shops visited by an estimated 3 million people visit each year (approximately one-third of which are tourists). Vendors at The Market speak about 23 different languages. In 2003, The Grove opened adjacent to the Market and has become an enormously popular shopping, dining and entertainment destination. Click here for 63 other interesting Farmers Market facts.
At one time, not long ago, a fleet of 300 Helms Bakery vans cruised the neighborhoods of the Los Angeles area summoning people with their distinctive whistles to purchase bread and pastries. The center of this operation was the Helms Bakery building on Venice Boulevard in Culver City (still located there with original Helms logo). The company, founded by Paul Helms in 1931, eventually succumbed to competition from emerging supermarkets and closed in 1969. Still today, an independently operated former Helms Bakery truck, perhaps the last, cruises the neighborhoods of Montebello, tooting its whistle and offering bread and pastries. Source: Los Angeles A to Z by Leonard & Dale Pitt.
Although the origin of the fortune cookie is unclear and there is some evidence that its origin can be traced to early 20th century Japan, some give credit for fortune cookies to David Jung, an early 20th century Los Angeles noodle manufacturer (Hong Kong Noodle Co.). He was said to have invented the treat in 1918 with its encouraging messages for unemployed men who gathered on the streets. Some claim that his motivation was more for promotional purposes than for social concern. There remains, however, no documentation as to how he actually came up with the idea.
The restaurant Philippe The Original is perhaps one of the most beloved restaurants in Los Angeles. It was established by Philippe Mathieu in 1908 and claims the distinction (disputed by PE Cole's Buffet across town - see following paragraph) of having invented the "French Dipped Sandwich." The story goes that, one day in 1918, while making a sandwich, Mathieu inadvertently dropped a sliced French roll into a roasting pan filled with hot juice. His customer, a police officer, asked for the sandwich anyway and returned with friends the next day for more. Thus was born the "French Dipped Sandwich." The restaurant was later sold to Harry, Dave,and Frank Martin in 1927. It is still owned by their descendants. Located at 1001 North Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles.
In 1908, Henry Cole opened PE Cole's Buffet (PE for Pacific Electric - a throwback to catering to Pacific Electric commuters in its early days), now known as the oldest continuously-operated restaurant and bar in Los Angeles. Cole's also advertises itself as the originator of the French Dip sandwich, a claim disputed by Phillipe The Original across town (see preceding paragraph). Cole's story is that, in the summer of 1908, a customer asked chef Jack Garlinghouse to dip a sandwich bun in the meat juice, explaining that the buns were hard on his gums. Soon, others began asking for the "'Dip Sandwich." Incidentally, some years later, Henry Cole also established the first check cashing service in Los Angeles.
Bob's Big Boy #6 located at 4211 West Riverside Drive in Burbank is the oldest surviving Bob's Big Boy restaurant. It was built in 1949, with an addition added in 1978.
In 1924, Mexican immigrant Consuelo de Bonzo opened La Misión Cafe on South Spring Street in Los Angeles. The restaurant became popular with the rapidly growing local Mexican community and de Bonzo became well known among city movers and shakers. When the city decided to demolish the neighborhood in which the restaurant was located to make room for the new Los Angeles City Hall, de Bonzo was invited to open a restaurant as part of the new Olvera Street project. In April 1930, Olvera Street debuted with La Golondrina Cafe opening in the old Pelanconi House (the first fired-brick building in Los Angeles, circa 1855-1857). Still serving diners today at that location, the restaurant is touted as the first authentic Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles.
The oldest surviving McDonald's restaurant is located at the corner of Florence and Lakewood in Downey. It was opened in 1953, one of the first stands franchised by the McDonald brothers themselves. Over the years, the stand aged and grew less profitable and McDonald's planned to shut it down. In 1994, due to minor damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the company finally closed the stand. Widespread public supportfor saving the landmark, however, led to a restored stand opening in 1996, complete with many of its original 1950s characteristics. The location now also features an adjoining replica of the McDonald brothers' original San Bernardino stand containing a gift shop and museum.
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