By Mary O’KEEFE
“Just turn right onto Honolulu Avenue at Rocky Cola.” “I will meet you at Rocky Cola.” “Montrose? Oh yeah, that’s where that real diner is.”
Those who are longtime residents of Crescenta Valley and those who are visiting the area for the first time have spoken these phrases. Rocky Cola Café has been a meeting place – and a symbol of Montrose – for over 20 years. It has given the area that Mayberry-feel where having a burger and a shake can almost make time stand still.
Rocky Cola Café has survived floods, fires and a presidential visit, but as of Dec. 30 the well-known diner will close its doors – another victim of the economy and changing times.
“We can’t keep it open,” confirmed Lucy DiMino of Rocky Cola.
She added that to succeed the restaurant had to be busy and since the downturn in the economy, that hasn’t been the case. The owner is actively looking for a buyer to take the well-established diner over, but that has yet to happen.
The diner opened at 4 p.m. on Feb. 17, 1988.
“It was busy since we opened the doors,” DiMino said.
She was there when the restaurant opened and over the years has seen the changes in the restaurant and the community. For DiMino, the diner is more than just a business – it is part of her home, and her customers are like family.
“I have been here for so long and some of my best memories are seeing the teenagers that would come in after school and then watching them grow up,” DiMino said. “Even if they have moved away, they’d come back with their kids now. They will say, ‘See that booth? That is where I first met your mom.’”
DiMino has watched her community grow and change from her Rocky Cola vantage point. And she changed, too.
“I am a triplet. Everyone in town knows that,” she said. “People [at the restaurant] first would say, ‘Oh you are one of the triplets,’ then as time went on, I was known as [my kids’] mom. And now as a grandma,” she said.
Her sisters Mary Ellen and Antoinette worked at Rocky Cola as well, so it was truly a family tradition.
Over the years, Rocky Cola has been the scene of countless birthday parties, meeting places and first dates, but in 2007 it was a presidential visit that took center stage.
“President [Bill] Clinton was visiting Glendale Community College and he asked where the best place to get a burger was. He said everyone started yelling ‘Rocky Cola.’ So we got a call from someone [representing him],” DiMino said. “At first we thought it was a prank.”
They soon realized the person on the other end was serious. President Clinton was coming for a burger at Rocky Cola.
“No one could come in, people could leave if they wanted,” she said. “The President walked to every table and took pictures and talked to the [guests].”
She added that the Secret Service watched the cook prepare the meal.
“It was funny. The Secret Service ordered shakes so they were standing by the door, looking [very much] like Secret Service agents, drinking their shakes,” she added.
The president’s visit was a highlight but it is the community that DiMino said makes up the more meaningful memories.
In a recent Crescenta Valley Weekly article, a local U.S. Marine, Travis Scott, had mentioned that to him home included coming back to Rocky Cola. During tours he said he thought about coming back to his hometown restaurant. DiMino read that article and gave the Scott family several gift certificates to the restaurant so anytime Travis was home he could have a meal at Rocky Cola.
“He likes the breakfast. Last time he was here he ordered the kitchen sink omelet,” she said.
It is those types of memories that make DiMino melancholy for the closure of this restaurant that has been such a big part of her life.
When she began working there, her kids were 2 and 6 years old. Now they are 26 and 30 years old.
“It has been a lifetime of memories,” she said.
In 2007, DiMino married Rocky Cola owner Wally Curry, continuing the family atmosphere.
Recently the restaurant has become well known for its cupcakes. DiMino said that customers are coming in to stock up on the cakes before they close their doors.
“I want the community to know that as time went on, it wasn’t just people coming in for food. I felt it was friends coming to my house for dinner,” she said. “We got to know them by name. Children [greet us] with a hug. I would like to thank everyone for being so kind.”
Anyone interested in purchasing Rocky Cola in order to continue the diner’s presence in the area can stop by the restaurant at 2201 Honolulu Ave. or call (818) 249-2233.