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Rae's Diner Serves Up Bustle With Its Breakfast Biscuits

July 25, 1987|IRIS SCHNEIDER

It's best to stand back while waiting for a booth at Rae's, the Santa Monica diner that's an ode to naugahyde and chrome. Getting in the way of the waitresses hurrying back and forth with steaming pots of coffee and platefuls of the club breakfast (two eggs, any style, with ham, bacon or sausage, tomato juice or potatoes, toast or biscuits, $2.89, gravy 10 cents extra) could be dangerous to your health.

But according to 20-year patron Paul Black, no one interested in good health would go to Rae's in the first place. "Everybody's into non-fat food these days, but here the food is cooked in real grease," Black said, awaiting his eggs and home fries with obvious anticipation.

Rae's other specialties, like chipped beef (served Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 5:30 a.m.) and biscuits with gravy, also have their avid fans, and they come in droves--be it breakfast, lunchtime or in between. "Sometimes I drive by in the middle of the day and see a line out the door," said Black, whose business is in the neighborhood. "Doesn't anybody work around here?"

Biscuit Lover

Rich Masi, who was sitting with two friends at one of the orange naugahyde booths on a recent morning, made it obvious that he would wait on line for Rae's biscuits anytime. As the plate arrived at the table, he described the biscuits lovingly: "They're very heavy, have no nutritional value, and not a lot of taste. They're like liquid cement, but sometimes you've just got to have them. Then you take the rest of the day to work them off."

An Eclectic Mix

While some, like Masi, come to Rae's for the food, others come for the atmosphere. "This place is totally without pretense, and has the most eclectic mix of people," said Dick Schneiderman as Eloise, the waitress with the long, blond ponytail and amazing green eyes, stopped by to add a hot splash of coffee to his cup.

There is no Rae responsible for the homey atmosphere. Eloise volunteered that the name is derived from a combination of letters her parents put together when they opened the restaurant in 1958. "My father Ralph, supplied the R , my mother Alphonsine was the A , and I was the E and the S comes from Shipman, our last name." Then, in 1962, her little sister was born. "We tell her that she's the apostrophe," Eloise said.

"We work like a family," said short-order cook Abe Vasquez, although none of the Shipman family members work in the diner now, except for Eloise who is there only on a short-term basis. Vasquez started at the restaurant 21 years ago.

"I'm a fixture," said Lisa Zuro, who started working at Rae's when she was 17, back in 1968. She kept quitting to rear her family, but always found herself back at work as each of her four children grew old enough to be on their own.

Rae's is open for breakfast, ("come alive with chilled juice or fruit" suggests the menu), lunch and dinner. They begin serving at 5:30 a.m. and the place is already bustling before the first batch of biscuits is out of the oven.

Rae's Restaurant, 2901 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (213) 828-7937.

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