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A Favorite of Movie Stars : Chatam Restaurant, a Westwood Landmark, to Close Doors

October 15, 1987|PHILIPP GOLLNER | Times Staff Writer

The last Chatam special, a dieter's nightmare of turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing on rye bread, will be served in Westwood's oldest restaurant on Oct. 30.

The Weyburn Avenue eatery, surrounded by fast-food stands and trendy T-shirt boutiques, is closing its doors after 48 years.

During that time, the Chatam special has put pounds on millions of customers from secretaries to movie stars who patronized the Weyburn Avenue restaurant.

Its regular clientele has included such entertainment greats as Edgar Bergen, Doris Day, Johnny Mercer and Groucho Marx, according to Carole Andersen Travis, Chatam owner and daughter of founder Carl Andersen.

In more recent years, the restaurant has served Peter Ustinov, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Wagner, Karl Malden and conductor Zubin Mehta, she said.

Other customers, she said, included actors Bob Newhart, Michael Caine, Jack Lemmon, Carol Burnett, John Ritter, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Natalie Wood as well as comedian George Carlin and novelist Truman Capote.

Brief Encounter

Customers got a double thrill once when Dom DeLuise sat at a table next to one occupied by Jane Wyman, Travis wrote in a brief history of the restaurant entitled, "Star Food." Although DeLuise was initially embarrassed at the chance encounter, Wyman broke the ice and the two talked for hours.

"Because most of our customers are either in the movie industry or neighbors of those who are, there is no autograph seeking," Travis wrote. "Even the famous have to have a place to go where they can have a great meal without being harassed."

Although many stars still visit the restaurant, Chatam's customers also come from UCLA and nearby businesses and offices.

Last Monday, for example, the entire staff of the UCLA Medical Center's Nursing Education Department had lunch at the Chatam to celebrate the birthday of one of its members.

Many other patrons have been coming to the restaurant since the early days of Westwood.

"I'm 53 and I've been eating here since I was 12," said Sue Mathews. "You know, there will never be a place with desserts like this in all of Westwood. It's very sad."

Her husband, Gene, said they came to the Chatam on dates before they were married. He said they later brought their four children to the restaurant when the youngsters were growing up in the family's Westwood home.

Dr. A. J. Steen, a retired UCLA engineer, said he and two friends have been eating lunch at the Chatam almost every weekday since 1949.

"It breaks my heart to see it leave," he said.

Faithful Employees

Like its core of regular customers, the Chatam's employees have stayed faithful to the restaurant. Some have worked there as long as 28 years, Travis said.

"It's like a family," she said. "We've had several people who've worked here until they passed away. Everyone around here is terribly capable."

Travis herself spent 25 years helping her parents run the business before she moved to Wyoming in 1975. She has been shuttling between Westwood and her home in Jackson since her mother died last year, leaving the day-to-day operation of the restaurant in the hands of manager Sandy Richards.

Her father, Chatam founder and owner Carl F. C. Andersen, died in 1983.

Travis said her parents' deaths inevitably meant the end of the restaurant, since there is no one to train the chefs and ensure that the operation meets her father's high standards.

Her father was trained in the Den Kongelige Skydebane cooking academy across from the royal castle in Copenhagen. While undergoing his apprenticeship there, he prepared meals for the Danish king, Travis said.

He later left Denmark for the United States to start his own restaurant and to pursue hobbies in painting, drawing and jewelry-making.

"He was an artist both in his profession and at home," she said.

Travis said she is closing the restaurant to devote more time to writing cook books at her home in Jackson, Wyo., and to pay inheritance taxes slapped on the business following her father's death.

"I can't run a business from a distance," She said. "I have to move on. I'd rather close it down while all the food is still good and the memories are still wonderful."

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