Irv's Burgers Faces a Life-Saving Challenge

By Rosanna Mah, The Independent Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Independent
October 6, 2004

Although known for serving the best burgers in town for over half a century, the classic and popular Irv’s Burgers in West Hollywood might be forced to close down for good.

According to the owners of Irv’s Burgers, Encino-based developer TW Layman Associates plans to demolish their tiny 1,300-square-foot shop and open a ubiquitous Peets Coffee and Tea store in its stead.

Owner Sonia Hong, who runs Irv’s Burgers with her mother and older brother, said that she has been unable to renew her five-year rental lease, except on a month-to month basis, since it ended on June 30.

According to Hong, the property owner Irving Gendis — also the original Irv’s Burgers founder — had delayed signing a long-term contract with the promise to relocate the burger stand within the same block after remodeling a neighboring vacant lot.

“I always [believed] this guy was going to give us a lease … if he kicks us out without anything, we have nothing left,” Hong said.

Calls made to Gendis, through his real estate management company Seltzer Commercial Real Estate, for a comment were not returned by press time.

According to Susan Healy Keene, city Planning Manager, an August proposal submitted by the developer calls for a 1,400-square-foot commercial structure with parking and an outdoor patio that will house a Peets Coffee and Tea store.

“I don’t see the need for yet another coffee shop around town,” said Doug Westen, 47, who has eaten at Irv’s at least twice a week for over 17 years. “Granted this place is old, it has a lot of character to it.”

Meanwhile, the Hongs have started a letter-writing campaign and collected over 1,400 signatures to save Irv’s Burgers from demolition. Hundreds of concerned residents flooded City Hall with passionate letters with pleas to save the vintage hamburger establishment, but city officials say that even their hands are tied.

Mayor John Duran said that there is “very little” the city can do except to try to persuade Gendis and the developer to accommodate Hong and her family.

“I go to Irv’s, I eat at Irv’s, if i could preserve Irv’s I would do it,” said Duran. “We’re working our hardest to convince Irv not to destroy his hamburger stand.”

Since 1950, local politicians, celebrities and tourists have patronized the homely burger stand — located at 8289 Santa Monica Blvd. — renowned for its inexpensive cheeseburgers and french fries for 54 years.

While famed Pinks on La Brea Avenue has the monopoly for best hot dogs, Irv’s Burgers is known as the No. 1 burger joint in Los Angeles.

But in recent years, regulars at Irv’s Burgers have come to love the unpretentious burger joint not only for its food but especially for the friendly Korean-American owners and quality service.

No frozen foods here, said Hong, 35, with detectable pride in her voice.

Meat patties are made from scratch, so are the crisp French fries that have to be cut and peeled by hand, she adds.

People who love the inviting burger joint claim it is one of the few places where the owners know your name and care to remember how you like your food cooked.

Who can ever forget Hong, with her bright smile and cheery voice that greets customers in a sing-song fashion? Or the personalized plates and to-go bags where special messages are sometimes written for favorite regulars?

“She greets all that passes by and truly serves her meals with love,” wrote West Hollywood resident Jennifer Broussard in a letter to Councilman Jeffrey Prang. “This community would not be the same without her and Irv’s.”

“Sonia is the nicest lady in the world,” agrees Josh Kurpies, Prang’s deputy.

Then there is the 67-year-old family matriarch whom everyone affectionately refers to as “Mama Soon.”

Around five years ago, the Hong family pooled together $100,000 of their life savings to buy Irv’s Burgers, hoping to turn it into a success — something which every immigrant believes of the American Dream.

For those five years, the new owners of Irv’s Burgers made history once again, turning the street stand into a popular hangout. Even Michael Berman, owner of O-Bar restaurant, brought his staff to Irv’s to learn their secret of customer service.

However, those days might soon be over.

Mama Soon who had plans to retire in the near future now believes her dream of retirement is a remote possibility.
“If we move out, we will be back to nothing, where started 10 to 15 years ago,” said Sean Hong.

For the Hong family losing Irv’s Burgers is tantamount to losing their much sought-after American Dream.

For his customers, it would be the end to a great American tradition.


IRV'S BURGERS Since 1950
8289 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90046

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