Rocky Cola Café at Honolulu Avenue and Verdugo Boulevard is another of the many gems that make up the “treasures of the valley.”
The building Rocky Cola occupies was built in 1923 by the Belanger family as the Montrose Pharmacy. It was the iconic drug store/soda fountain combo that graced so many small town main streets in America. Its prominent corner façade has kept pace with the times architecturally, starting as Mission styling, then becoming Art Deco, and finishing out with a clean geometric façade, which it retains today.
In 1988 Wally Curry, a career manager for various restaurant chains, decided it was time to break out with his own ’50s style diner. He leased the building recently vacated by the Montrose Pharmacy and opened Rocky Cola Cafe. It was an instant hit, attracting the mix of families and teens that would have once frequented Bob’s Big Boy. Then, as now, Rocky Cola was the favored destination for kids’ birthday parties, soccer and baseball team celebrations, and family meals. The menu is strictly Americana, a wide-ranging mix of burgers, fries, and fountain treats.
My daughter Bonnie – the eatery’s weekend morning manager – tells me she enjoys the small town flavor. She has her regulars, who become friends as well as customers, and she says some of them come in at the same time, sit at the same booth, and order the same thing every day. She particularly enjoys the teenagers on their first dates who she thinks are “cute.”
Lucy Dimino joined Rocky Cola as a waitress back when it first opened and has been there ever since – now as general manager. Lucy is one of a triplet of girls; amazingly, all three of them work at Rocky Cola. Lucy and Antoinette are identical (and I mean really identical!) and Mary Ellen is fraternal. If you want to experience not double vision, but triple vision, come in on Tuesday night when all three of them have a shift together.
The Dimino clan is omnipresent at Rocky Cola, with two of Lucy’s grown sons working there, plus a son of Antoinette’s, in addition to one of the triplet’s brothers.
Lucy Dimino has recently become the “Mom” in the “Mom and Pop” of this business as she married owner Wally Curry two years ago.
Rocky Cola’s 15 minutes of fame came in June 1996 when then-President Clinton, after giving a speech at Glendale Community College, asked the crowd, “Where can I get a burger around here?”, to which “Rocky Cola in Montrose” was the enthusiastic reply.
He and his entourage sat in the corner booth by the stairs while the Secret Service manned the upper-level booth directly above where they could watch the entire restaurant. It’s reported that Clinton enjoyed the atmosphere (and I know what you’re thinking: No, he did not hit on any of the waitresses).
Rocky Cola hosts the Hollywood crowd as well, as it is a favored breakfast and lunch spot for film crews and cast members who regularly use Montrose as a location.
Several stars have eaten there over the years. One famous regular has been teen star Miley Cyrus, a La Cañada resident. She and her family, including famous daddy Billy Ray and even Grandma, have had several lunches there –much to the excitement of fans who happen to be there. My daughter Bonnie reports that Cyrus is always sweet and gracious as kids interrupt her family time for autographs. Bonnie also says she has, on a couple of occasions, had to eject the paparazzi plaguing Cyrus who then had to content themselves with skulking outside the windows of Rocky Cola. Cyrus likes Rocky Cola so much she even shows a quick shot of Rocky Cola during the intro sequence to her hit TV series “Hannah Montana.”
To me, Rocky Cola Café is a perfect microcosm of Montrose: very comfortable, a little retro, mom-and-pop owned and operated, and a place where you can regularly meet and greet your neighbors, and even some Hollywood stars. All this can be said of both Rocky Cola and the Montrose Shopping Park.
Mike Lawler is the president of the
Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.