Anniversary: The Day The “We Never Close” Pantry Was Closed

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Love it or leave it, the Pantry is an L.A. institution that opened in 1924 a couple blocks east of its present Fig and 9th location and claims that since that day the 24-hour eatery has continually been slinging hash to an endless stream of customers. To illustrate such nonstoppedness on the history page of The Pantry’s website, the restaurant points to the day of its move in 1950 out of the path of progress in the form of the 110 Freeway being built then.

“As the business grew, so did the city, and our property was acquired by the state for a freeway ramp. So, in 1950 The Pantry moved into its present location at the corner of 9th and Figueroa streets. The day we moved lunch was served at the old location and dinner in the new, with no loss of customers.”

Whether that’s entirely true or not I can’t say. But I certainly can dispute the last statement at the bottom of that same page as untrue: “As The Pantry’s current owner, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan likes to boast, ‘We never close. We’re never without a customer.'” Oh really, Dick? Because there are those of us that remember a certain episode that occurred 10 years ago today that leaves us thinking that if you’re going to continue to blow that horn there should be an asterisk at the end of it.

November 26, 1997: On that infamous day that Riordan has conveniently (and actually quite understandably) chosen not to acknowledge, the venerable landmark was closed for the first time in its then 73-year history following a 12:30 p.m. inspection by health officials the day before, which reportedly resulted in the place being cited for 36 items, 30 of them equipment related; some of them gross.

From a Daily News article that ran the day of the closure:

According to KCBS-TV (Channel 2), which recently has used hidden cameras to expose health code violations at restaurants throughout Los Angeles, the Pantry received a failing score of 52 out of a possible 100 points. Among problems the station said the eatery was cited for was storing some food at improper temperatures, storing beef on the floor and allowing cooked beef to be stored with raw beef. The station reported that 60 pounds of beef had to be thrown out.

In the article, Noelia Rodriguez, Riordan’s press secretary, responds by countering that the violations were overblown and that “There were no citations regarding the sanitation of the food. There were no infestations, no vermin, no roaches.” As to the allegation of meat being kept on the floor, Rodriguez said it was “strictly fatty trimmings ordinarily thrown away and not served to customers.”

There’s the sense that given the high profile of the eatery’s owner, the inspection during the eatery’s busiest time and two days before Thanksgiving was politically motivated and designed to put a ding in Riordan’s mayoral armor. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true, but nevertheless the end result was that the restaurant that maintains 10 years after the fact to never close and never be without a customer had its lockless doors barred and was indeed closed and customerless November 26 while some 40 employees toiled that day to get the place spic, span and reopened — which it was the next day.

Daily News articles on the subject were found archived here and here at thefreelibrary.com.

4 Replies to “Anniversary: The Day The “We Never Close” Pantry Was Closed”

  1. I seem to remember the Pantry closing its doors, at least temporarily, during the 2000 Democratic National Convention fracas. Of course, I could have been too busy dodging pepper spray, out of control horses and rubber bullets to completely verify that.

  2. Marshall, I wouldn’t be surprised if they battened the hatches during that localized nightmare, but on a similar riot note I remember the Pantry stayed open during the length of the citywide riots of 1992.

  3. The reason I seem to remember them being closed (although briefly) was that the demonstration was practically right on their front door. When things got out of control, there were literally people running from cops right in front of the Pantry. The underpass just past the restaurant is where a whole bunch of protesters were cornered by the LAPD, where, under the cover of the overpass, the cops laid into the protesters with the rubber bullets.

    I think they may have closed only briefly when the shit hit the fan, but again, I could be wrong. I know they were open earlier in the day, though.

  4. I was there both days. When the city handed Riordan an “F” (as a number; the good grades – A, B and C – get lettres, whereas the Ds and Fs get numbers), Dick showed up quickly to have it re-opened despite the failing grade. (No, I do not recall the exact number.) I usta live round the corner on Hartford and happened to be in the area. (Too, I frequently went there, as it was the only place open at that time, which was well before Denny’s was installed up the street.)
    The second closure was done as an emergency measure. (I believe it was closed on Tuesday, too.) Radio station KFI had their famous banner fluttering atop the Pantry: “Don’t Shoot! We’re the media” (I have loads of photos, but I might not have the banner phrase correct.) The problem was that the LAPD had set up concrete dividers in the intersection for what was obviously an easy-kill zone.
    When the order for dispersal was given, there were approximately four tiny slots through which several thousand people were supposed to immediately leave. As only two people could get through, and the surge rammed the crowd up against the barriers, LAPD took this as a refusal to depart, and started firing rubber batons. Former Domes owner Ted Hayes, schmuck that he is, took the opportunity to present himself as a target, and got hit a few times. I got hit once with a rubber baton, and probably a few times with the swing baton. But I managed to protect my camera, and the resulting photos helped with my settlement.
    It was kinda like having to eat at The Pantry out of there being no other place to go: the pain came in the morning.

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