Last summer Lou Shulkin, the owner and namesake of Lou's Quickie Grill in Hollywood, decided to retire, and he wanted to do something nice for Barbara Knox, a waitress who had started washing dishes for him 34 years earlier.
A gold watch didn't seem enough. So he decided to give her the Grill.
"I started praying every night: 'Lord make it true, grant me the Quickie Grill,' " Knox said. At the same time though, she worried: "I didn't think I could make it. I thought 'When Lou leaves, the customers will leave'. . ."
Instead, "the customers told me, you're gonna make it--we're gonna see that you make it."
Now, four months after the friendly takeover, the grill's doing even better than it did during the three decades Lou owned it.
The menu still boasts Skulkin's named-after-grandchildren items such as "the Mindy J Super Sandwich," (grilled ham, turkey and Swiss cheese) and "Nicky's Special Combo" (salami, pastrami, roast beef, and Swiss cheese on a Kaiser roll). And Weight Watchers should picket the still ridiculously large portions.
Some New Attractions
But Knox has added several specials, which her husband, Walter, who spent his life as a dining car waiter on the Southern Pacific, prepares in the small rear kitchen.
Customers who stepped into the small cafe after 1:30 on a recent afternoon, for instance, were greeted with the frustrating sight of earlier arrivals mopping up the last of the day's roast beef, mashed potatoes and brown gravy special. And the grill's once-a-month gumbo--the shrimp, crab, chicken, and sausage recipe passed down from Warren's grandmother in New Orleans--is such a hit that the regulars call in days early to reserve a portion.
Good as the food is, though--"it's the best in town," several regulars testified--the atmosphere is another reason customers come in for lunch as often as three or four times a week.
A Neon Sign
Knox has only made a few changes to the place itself. She replaced the dusty orange Lou's with a bright green neon Barb's on the Quickie Grill's window sign. She's painted the walls and added several landscapes and a seascape.
But the grill is still the kind of place where regulars ask the cook "Santa good to you?" the week after Christmas, and seem sincere in shouting "Happy New Year" as they leave.
Being the owner of a small business has its drawbacks, Knox said. "This is our life. You're here all day, then half the night, cleaning up doing your shopping . . . it's rough. I don't even make it to church every Sunday like I used to. I'm too tired.
"I don't get Christmas bonuses, I don't get paid vacations, and I don't get a regular paycheck," she added. Still, Knox said she loves her new role.
The Right Decision
All of which has convinced Lou Shulkin he made the right decision.
For a while, he would stop by the Grill on the weekends, when it was closed, and just look through the window. "It was like going to visit a dear old friend."
Now he limits himself to dropping by the grill now and then to grab a bite and say hello to the customers.
For the most part, he's thrilled with what Knox is doing with the Quickie.
He does have one complaint, though. "Now they put lettuce on the sandwiches, which I never did. I always thought lettuce was for rabbits. I still do."