After 38 years, Young Rhea is turning the keys over to City Hall Café.
By Mary O’KEEFE
So you’re working in an accountant’s office and happen to see a notice in the newspaper of a restaurant for sale in your hometown. What do you do? If you’re Young Rhea, you think, “Sure, why not own a restaurant?” That was 38 years ago and now Rhea has decided it is time to retire. The City Hall Café will close on Sunday and a Chinese restaurant will move in.
“It wasn’t easy in the beginning,” Rhea said.
It may not have become easier over the years, but it did become successful. Rhea has been at the counter of City Hall Café at 2327 Honolulu Ave., greeting people as they come in, placing coffee cups belonging to regulars on the restaurant’s cup rack and hanging so many college pendants.
The hometown-style coffee shop opened in the 1960s, Rhea said, and had two other owners before Rhea saw that ad in 1978.
“We were very busy (right from) the start. There were not many restaurants here at the time,” she said. “Next door, [Montrose] Bakery was still only a bakery.”
Montrose Bakery later expanded to include a restaurant. (Note: Montrose Bakery has also closed its doors and will reopen as Café Rose.)
Rhea said she inherited a legacy with a waitress named Wanda Bergstrom.
“Her mother (Eleanor) worked here first full time and Wanda was part time,” Rhea said.
In those early days and continuing until the present, Rhea worked the front of the restaurant helping with customers and working the cash register, but during those first years she worked everywhere.
“I was working with the cook,” Rhea said. “I had never worked at a restaurant before.”
For ten years prior to owning City Hall Café Rhea had worked at an accounting office. She really did see the ad for the restaurant’s sale and made a call.
“I don’t know why I bought it,” she said.
But it was a purchase that has paid off, especially in loyal customers.
“It has been great. Great people here, great customers,” she added.
Rhea has seen generations go through her café.
“I have seen babies grow up and bring in their own babies,” she said.
Regular customers bring their own coffee mugs to be placed on the cup rack on the wall, so every time they come in it’s like having a cup of coffee at home.
Pennants also line the walls. The tradition of hanging pennants was started by Bergstrom, a loyal Dodgers fan, who put a pennant up on the wall one day. Soon after a customer asked if she could put up her Ohio State pennant and from there a tradition was born. Rhea said the Chinese restaurant coming in will not be keeping the pennants, so she invites anyone who has brought in a pennant of their college or team and would like it back to stop by, say goodbye to Rhea and her staff and take their pennant.
For Rhea, she will miss her customers and her “wonderful” staff but plans on taking full advantage of her retirement.
“I am going to miss everyone. I couldn’t [be here 38 years] without my workers and customers. Everybody has been so nice,” she said. “But now I plan on traveling to places I have never been before.”