Irv’s Burgers, the little shack that could, is officially back

One of LA’s most beloved burger joints is back. The space is new, the branding has been refreshed and the scribbles are signed by former owner Sonia Hong and the slogan “Just for you!” now appear printed on paper positions, as opposed to always being sketched by Hong by hand on paper plates.

But as things change, Irv’s Burgers remains the same.

The little burger joint probably first opened in West Hollywood in 1946 on 66th Street and has lived like a roadside bar under many names and owners, none of which are beloved by the local community. than Hong, who bought Irv’s Burgers in 2000 with her mother. , Mamma-Soon Hong, and her brother, Sean Hong.

A trio of customers stood at the window ordering Irv's Burgers, with their backs to the camera.

On the opening day, the line of diners crowded from the corner of the restaurant down the block.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A woman in a red t-shirt and headscarf smiles at guests from behind the register at the hamburger stand.

Former – and still bewildered – Sonia Hong, all smiles, stood at the registration counter of the new Irv’s Burgers, taking orders and chatting with guests on opening day.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Having undergone a series of challenges – death in the family, relocation, land development conflicts and even a 2018 closure that is intended to be permanent – Hongs’ dedicated customers have rallied around shack. And thanks to new ownership from restaurateur and fan of Irv, Lawrence Longo (also owner of Burgers Never Say Die), that support saved the business and brought Hong back to the counter with the project. Newspapers will reopen on July 1st.

The new location is just down the block from where it all started 76 years ago.

Irv’s is more than just a destination for flat fares; it started as part of history. The original shack is a relic of post-World War II food stalls that sprung up across the country in the 1940s and needed little more than wartime scraps of aluminum to build. It was previously closed at 8289 Santa Monica Blvd., then moved about half a mile east in 2014. Today, the new space – includes an opening window, limited indoor seating, standing counter and outdoor table – located next to the second location of the restaurant.

On opening day, a line of customers stretched around the corner of the glass room dining room and along the block, all eager to taste the food again.

“I think we did pretty well, didn’t we?” Hong laughed just before opening the door again. “There’s not much I can do, but somehow every time I’m in trouble, God says to me, ‘Every time I send someone really special.’

Hong’s help has come in the form of fans and customers, who have provided professional publicity services; jumping behind the counter to take orders when the family is overwhelmed; and wrote to real estate developers, a coffee corporation and city officials in an effort to prevent relocation or closure. Support for Irv’s has been huge since Hongs took power in 2000 from Irv Gendis, who bought the company in 1970 and gave it its present-day moniker. The support has never waned, Hong said, but the difficulties with her landlord only started a few years after owning the restaurant.

A popular from Irv's Burgers: regular fries and chili cheese, Irv's double, Irv's chili dog, and Just for You burgers.

A popular from Irv’s Burgers: regular fries and chili cheese, Irv’s double, Irv’s chili dog, and Just for You burgers.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A chili dog, fries, an Irv's Double burger and a frozen cookie with colorful sprinkles.

Irv’s Double stands out among other items on the menu, including birthday cookies, chili dogs, and the usual fries.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

“Things got difficult because of the people from Peet’s Coffee [were] Hong said. “All my clients write to the head office in [the Bay Area] and City Hall for the whole year, every day. It’s not easy. “

Their efforts paid off: Representatives from Peet’s Coffee agreed to meet with Hongs about property development, and eventually, the company walked away from the agreement with Hong’s landlord, Standard Oil Investment Group. From there, she said, after her lease ended, Irv went month after month but they could stay in the space for years.

Around that time, she contacted the restaurant’s former owner, who provided Hongs with photos of the original space in an effort to establish Irv’s as a sort of historic landmark, which they hoped would delay further development tenders. That also works – for a while.

In 2005, West Hollywood designated Irv’s a cultural resourcebut the Hongs said that their landlord asked the restaurant owners to fix their roof, which was beyond their budget, and in 2013 Hongs was forced to close at that location. The community came together to support Irv’s again, raising thousands of dollars to help relocate the family down the street, and in early 2014 the Hongs reopens at 7998 Santa Monica Blvd. The restaurant remained there until Irv most recently closed, intending to allow the family to leave the business permanently. .

A bearded man in a T-shirt and ball cap stands next to a dressed woman sitting on a counter outside the hamburger stand.

Lawrence Longo, left, approaches Irv’s former owner Sonia Hong with an offer to help her reopen the business. She would only return if she wasn’t the owner, she told him.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

In 2017, Hong’s brother, Sean, died of a stroke; That prompted Hong and their mother – a beloved character in her own right – to take on more work and finally think about the future of the business. Soon after, a chef who had worked at Irv’s for nearly 16 years left. Their workload fell on the remaining Hongs, which proved unsustainable – especially for Mamma-Soon, then well over 80 years old. “Mom really worked so hard for us,” Hong said. “Mamma didn’t want to stay there even though when my brother passed away, so I said, ‘OK, Mamma, we’ve been there long enough, we’ll end it and then we can close the door. .’

Some customers started working there, simply to help keep the restaurant afloat until it closed, taking orders from behind the counter for months. They said it would be a pity to lose not only the burger but also to visit with Sonia Hong herself.

Her clean demeanor, combined with her whimsical cartoon sketches of her clients’ round, smiling faces – as well as pets, friends, clothes and food orders their food – has made for many a memorable, if not special, experience. Hong knew she would miss those clients, but she also knew she needed to recover from the loss of her brother.

Hong says stepping out of restaurant ownership is liberating. For about a year after closing, she worked at another West Hollywood burger establishment, Hamburger Mary’s, although she didn’t roast beef. Hong mainly takes orders and prepares drinks behind the bar. (“I was making some cocktails—not good,” she laughs.)

She gave up her idea of ​​owning a restaurant again, but another special person came into her life.

Longo, a restaurant investor and founder of the Off the Menu app, visited Irv’s while trying to eat 365 burgers in a year, and he loved not only the product but also Hong. and her connection to the community. He contributed to the restaurant’s online fundraising. He stopped by Irv several times to tell Hong that he would help her in some way, but she didn’t take him seriously and didn’t want to either.

The only way for her to come back, she told him, is if she didn’t have to own it herself – she simply wanted to get back to her customers, many of whom she considers friends. Dear.

A handwritten photo "July 1 Congratulations on the Grand Opening of Irv" on a wooden table.

Customers and employees alike wrote welcome back messages on the restaurant’s outdoor tables on opening day.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A photo of a hand squeezing a bottle of homemade sauce on top of a burger.

With advice from local chef Armen Piskoulian, Irv’s has reopened with upgraded versions of all of Irv’s classics, plus some new items.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

“She said, ‘Lawrence, I don’t want to own the business. You buy business from me. I will work. I will work for you. I don’t want a headache over that,” Longo said.

Soon after, a fall leaves Mamma-Soon in the hospital for nearly five months, which causes Hong to stay home more to care for her; these days, Hong wakes up early to make breakfast for her mother, then prepares lunch and goes to Irv’s to finish her shift helping customers and bring burgers and sketches again. After work, she comes home to prepare Mamma-Soon’s dinner, but she knows that once Mamma feels better, she’ll want to be right back with Irv, possibly without the cooking, standard clean and tidy like she used to but welcome customers back to their family business.

Customers can trace the lineage not only through visits with Hong but also by viewing the walls of the new space. Longo wanted to incorporate all of Irv’s history into the decor, hanging photographs and menus showing its evolution from the founding of the roadside bar to a neighborhood icon years later, preserved. kept in previous signage, brilliant reviews and photos of celebrities like Clash, Seth Rogen and Mike Myers and Dana Carvey dressed up as their characters from “Wayne’s World”.

“It’s COVID-proof, it’s very safe, you can open late and close it, and that’s what it was in the beginning: It was a burger stand,” Longo said. “I felt like, ‘No, this can’t die. That is American history. ‘”

He called Oui Melrose’s chef Armen Piskoulian for a consultation, which meant chopping up dishes and reworking the ingredients: Many of Irv’s recipes remained the same, but the ingredients were more premium. . Cakes are now made to order. There are milkshakes and confetti and a vegetarian option, plus a new secret sauce. Longo said the prices of some menu items have increased, mainly to make up for the change in ingredients, but the restaurant offers a simple $4 burger for those who still want to steal.

Ultimately, Longo said, he hopes the new, streamlined menu and brand can expand for Irv’s, bringing the flavors of West Hollywood’s iconic burger joint to neighborhoods. other in LA and states outside of California.

Of course, Sonia Hong couldn’t stand behind the counter. For that, if and when that day comes, visitors will have to stop by the original to wave, a sign of interest and, if not too busy, maybe even a custom doodle from the owner old – has now become a local legend in its own right.

A small white dog sits next to its owner, who is gesturing over a meal of burgers, fries and soft drinks

Mercer waited patiently as owners Dovie Mamikunian and Laurent Suchel enjoyed their meal from Irv’s Burgers.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times) Irv’s Burgers, the little shack that could, is officially back

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