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.