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Du-par's Changing Hands but Not Heart or Soul

The Farmers Market institution is being sold, but the new owner promises not to alter its recipe for success.

June 24, 2004|Patricia Ward Biederman | Times Staff Writer

"Today's egg day," Erwin Abrams explained Wednesday, savoring a lunch-hour order of fried eggs, with a side of mashed potatoes, at the original Du-par's in the Farmers Market.

Abrams, 80, has been coming to the eatery at 3rd Street and Fairfax for 54 years.

"Tomorrow's fried-chicken day, and I'll probably be in on Friday and have some macaroni and cheese," said Abrams.

Like dozens of other regulars at the first Du-par's, Abrams was relieved to learn that the 66-year-old institution will continue, its name and hot cakes unchanged, after its sale to the Naylor Establishment.

The sale of the three Du-par's (the others are in Studio City and Thousand Oaks) was announced Wednesday by Shirley Oberst Kauffman, whose family has owned the restaurants since 1984, and W.W. "Biff" Naylor, whose family started Biff's Drive-In and the Tiny Naylor's chain of diners in Los Angeles.

The financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but the assets included Du-par's recipes, Kauffman and Naylor said.

Abrams cites "the excellent coffee" and sourdough French toast and the accommodating staff as reasons he makes Du-par's a near-daily ritual. But Kauffman, who has a doctorate in psychology, thinks tradition is an important part of the venerable chain's appeal.

"It's a very homey place," she said. "We've tried to keep the menu current by putting on new items without taking off the old favorites."

Many of the regulars began visiting Du-par's decades ago, in a more innocent time when people worried less about the state of their arteries than about pleasing their taste buds. Many patrons acquired a taste for such retro staples as buttermilk hot cakes with boysenberry topping, steak-and-kidney pie, and banana splits.

Even most regulars don't know that the restaurant was named for founders James Dune and Edward Parsons.

Kauffman said selling the business was bittersweet, but she was confident it would thrive under its new ownership.

Naylor has known Kauffman and her family since she was a child and said he was eager to keep the Du-par's tradition alive.

"I come from the old school too," said Naylor, who likes to say he was the only one in his grade school to have a restaurant named after him (Biff's Drive-In).

He said he planned to renovate the Farmers Market location, adding a patio and other amenities, but the ambience and the menu would remain largely the same.

"I'm already a walking advertisement for the blueberry cream cheese pie," Naylor said.

"And years ago, I stole their date-nut bread recipe and had it in the 39 Tiny Naylor's restaurants we had. We sold a lot more of it than they do."

All three locations will temporarily shut their doors at the end of August when escrow closes, Kauffman said. The Farmers Market location will remain closed for two months or more for renovation. The others will reopen in a week or two.

All 105 employees will need to reapply for jobs with the new owner, including Leathon Lacy, 68, who has been baking pies at the Farmers Market Du-par's for 48 years.

September and October aren't going to be easy for Joe and Edith Willins, who have been regulars for 40 years and now eat there twice a day. He's 85; she is 91.

"If they don't come in, we worry about them," Kauffman said.

Customer Jorge Perez has been coming to Du-par's since 1967 when his sister introduced him to its breakfasts.

Now 55, he drives down from Shadow Hills in the San Fernando Valley for hot cakes with boysenberry compote. His wife, Giovanna, 34, likes the Ortega chile omelet.

Having pancakes at Du-par's is something of a busman's holiday for Perez. He manages an IHOP in Pasadena.

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