Remembering Stinkey’s Cafe

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Photo from the 1958 CMC yearbook, The Ayer

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We’ve talked about Stinkey’s here before, a still fondly remembered burger joint on the northwest corner of Foothill and Mountain back in the day. You can read those comments here.

Kelly Zackmann of the Ontario Library reports that, according to city directories, Stinky’s first appeared in 1948, at 1214 W. Foothill Blvd. The later directories spelled it Stinkey’s. There are no listings beyond 1968. It was owned by Jack A. Kermott.

Here’s a fresh comment from Larry Hernandez, who e-mailed in response to my column on RoVal’s to reminisce about Stinky’s/Stinkey’s:

“I loved the story on long-gone eating places that readers remember very fondly. This brings to my mind very vague, almost lost memories of a diner called Stinky’s that used to be on Foothill Boulevard in Upland, west of Euclid.

“I cannot remember very much about the place but I can vividly recall how tasty and wonderfully smelly the hamburgers were when they came right off the grill. Being 51 years of age, I was a mere boy, perhaps 5 or 6, when my dad or mom stopped by to pick up a quick takeout dinner. I think we ate in the parking lot. My dad and mom never ate inside, perhaps a holdover from earlier times when Mexican-Americans hesitated to overstay their welcome in many local establishments, like the Ford Diner that used to sit on the southeast corner of Holt and Euclid.

“The place must have shut down shortly thereafter, because I cannot recall it being there when I passed by the spot in the late ’60s and beyond.

“What I recall is a smallish diner, set back from the road, with lots of empty fields around it, and huge old eucalyptus tree windbreaks still in the vicinity, probably bordered with piles of ‘Upland potatoes.’ The parking lot may have been unpaved. I think it was on the northwest corner of Mountain and Foothill.

“What I cannot forget is the feel and taste of toasted buns off of the grill and the pungent odor and taste of the onions the cook placed over the beef patty. Stinky’s hamburgers set the standard by which all other burgers are still judged in my mind. I don’t know what the cook did with those onions, but I have never encountered the same again.

“Could you give a shout-out to other readers about their memories of Stinky’s? Perhaps the secrets are hidden away in the papers of some family that had a connection to the owner or the cooks.”

Wasn’t that nice? I’ve alerted Larry that he really ought to visit this blog. But if anyone has anything to add about Stinkey’s, feel free to post a comment below.

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  • Dennis Sampson

    I’ve only been to Stinky’s a time or two, the last time being around 1964. I remember the juicy burgers came with a small bag of potato chips.

    Dennis (I’m a vegetarian now, although not because of Stinky’s)

  • Derek Christensen

    Though I don’t personally recall Stinky’s (must have ridden past as a small child in the ’60s) Marilyn Anderson of Upland’s Cooper Museum once told me about it.

    She said during winter months, Stinky’s was a regular meeting spot for crews of high school / college students that spent nights/early-mornings in local citrus groves, placing/lighting/refilling Smudge-Pots (Orchard Heaters).

    I DO remember when there used to be a Mr. Steak restaurant located at the same intersection (Foothill at Mountain), but slightly farther north on the east side of Mountain.

    With all this talk about burgers and places-no-longer-here, I suddenly remembered Frosty Freeze. It was a soft-serve ice cream and take-out place, located across Foothill, north of Upland Memorial Park. The former location is today an Arby’s parking lot. They served burgers there too.

    [Ah, the Yum Yum Frostie Freeze. Joe Wambaugh used to go there when he was a Chaffey High student in the '50s. -- DA]

  • Marlene

    David,

    What about Burger Bandit? It was located on Grove Ave., north of 4th St. and just north of the 10 freeway overpass. Does anyone else remember this old burger drive thru?

    RoVal’s? I remember RoVal’s! Didn’t it turn into a horrible strip joint?

    [Yes. -- DA]

  • Derek Christensen

    Yes, I (also) remember Burger Bandit.

    Didn’t a catering truck company operate from that Burger Bandit location as well? IIRC, It was immediately north of Interstate 10, on the east side of Grove Avenue.

  • Monty Seay

    Hello David: My father, retired police captain of the Upland police, when he was a young patrolman in the early ’60s, used to stop at Stinky’s quite often for the greasy hamburgers. I still remember the rock facade of the building. It was quite rustic with a dirt parking lot. But according to my father they were the best hamburgers that he had ever had!

    Also the Mr. Steak across the street went in the early ’70s. I know that because my aunt and uncle, the Brittans, owned the restaurant. That was my first job busing tables at age 13 in 1972. I could only work one night a week and on the weekends.

    Mr. Steak was a chain of franchise restaurants based in the Denver, Colo., area (I think it was Littleton?) but they peaked in popularity in the mid ’70s and went down from there. My aunt and uncle sold out in the early ’80s and retired to Red Bluff Ca.

    Monty Seay

  • Charles Bentley

    GREETINGS:

    Burger Bandit was located on the SE corner of Grove Ave. and 5th Street in Ontario, just north of the I-10 underpass. They made good burgers, very good roast beef sandwiches and tasty french fries. The building design was somewhat similar to the EZ Take Out Burger on Central & Foothill in Upland. If I recall correctly, their logo was a man in a convict-striped outfit wearing a lone ranger-style mask and carrying a swag bag filled with burgers.

    I don’t recall if the catering business started at the same time as the burger stand, but it definitely worked out of the same location. In fact, I believe it remained active well after the fast food operation closed down.

    I remember riding my bike to Burger Bandit during the summer months to buy lunch there, and of riding past it on my way to high school. If memory serves, Burger Bandit was in operation before the McDonald’s went in on 4th street across from John Galvin Park. Only Mr. Taco, Jack-in-the-Box and All-State Frosty predated it as “fast food” outlets in that part of Ontario.

    I believe there was another Burger Bandit located in Chino. Anyone remember it? There was a chain of the same name in Utah, but I don’t believe it was connected with the local operation.

    [It sounds as though the Burger Bandit also stole some commenters' hearts. Thanks, Charles. -- DA]

  • Fred Henderson

    Oh, do I remember Stinkey’s (and Mr. Steak).

    My first visit was probably around 1959. Best hamburgers and chili in town. It was built around 1923 and torn down in 1966. Spent many an evening there after Upland High football games and, of course the Claremont College crowd was there also. Sometime the floor show moved out back when fights sometimes broke out — fists only. Ah those were the days.

    There was a row of stools at the counter — some without backs, a row of picnic tables down the middle and booths on the south wall. The chili simmered all day from early morning, and the rib-eye steak hung over the edge of the plate (it was $1.98). Two cheeseburgers, a bowl of chili and a Dr Pepper was my limit. Only thing I can’t remember if they were open 24 hours or not. I know they were there by 6am or earlier and closed after midnight. Thanks for the wonderful memories.

    Fred Henderson
    Everett, WA

    [No, thank you, Fred. -- DA]

  • Dennis Sampson

    Hi David,

    I wonder how many readers remember that, prior to the Burger Bandit being on that corner, there was a small building there that housed a butcher shop. This was probably in the mid to late ’50s. I remember going there with my mother when I was a little kid.

    Dennis

  • Carol Bednarz

    So funny to find all this inquiry about Stinkys. Jack Kermott was my uncle; his wife, Renee, was my dad’s sister. My grandmother, Eva Garrison, also worked there as well as my dad, Les Garrison.

    Yes, the burgers are unforgettable. We just had a family reunion and talked about the burgers, and the day-old donuts my grandma use to bring to the house for us kids.

    The little bar and grill was named Stinkys because of all the skunks that lived in the orange groves back then. I have pictures of the old place, my dad with some of the Claremont students. I recently found an old key chain with a picture on it.

    My Uncle Jack sold the land and moved to Arizona. He and his wife Renee have since passed. As for a recipe, I don’t think there was ever one written down. I just remember how juicy they were, and the buns crispy from the greasy skillets.

    I will talk to my sisters and see what information they have.

  • Bob House

    Hi Carol Bednarz — a good number of people would be thrilled if you could post one or more of your Stinky’s pictures. I’m sure Mr. Allen would be happy to advise you how to get the picture(s) to him.

    [I sent her a private note to that effect, too! -- DA]

  • Linda Frost

    Id love to see pictures of Stinkys. It was an old college hangout for my group in the 1960s. I remember Les the cook and Ann the waitress. She knew all of us kids by name. The hamburgers were great. I was sad to see it go; a part of our past and a simpler life went with it.

  • Frank Donald Whitehead

    What a pleasant surprise to see other people’s memories coincide with ours.

    My wife, Helen, our kids and I frequented “Stinkeys” on a regular basis. Our kids, of course, were a lot younger then. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember the hamburgers as much as I do the chili size, smothered with onions and cheese. It was a real treat!

    It’s been a long time, so my memory is not that good; but I do remember the
    owner dressed in his usual one-piece jumpsuit, with the largest “stogie” (cigar) he could buy lodged in his mouth. His wife “Honey” was good-looking and a great cook. Men and boys had to be careful what they said about “Honey” because he was jealous as hell.

    In our many discussions, he told me how he got the money to start “Stinkeys”. For many years he searched, dug, found and sold gold. He called his findings “pocket gold”. These pockets of gold were located in northern California. I know he told me where in California it was located, but it has left me.

    As I remember, gold at that time went for $35 an ounce, so it took him some time to accumulate enough capital to start “Stinkeys”. But it was worth it!

    Over the years I have heard people call “Stinkeys” a “greasy spoon”. I guess I
    must agree; however, I have never heard of anyone getting sick; only how great the food was. What fond memories!

    Frank “Don” Whitehead (83 years young)

    [You added a lot to our collective knowledge about Stinkey's. Thank you! -- DA]

  • Tom Maddux

    I was stationed at Mira Loma Air Force Station on Etiwanda Avenue in 1963. A friend introduced me to a young lady who lived on Alta Avenue across from Upland Memorial Park. As I write she is busy in the kitchen now 48 years later. Married 47 of them.

    When we were dating we would stop at Stinky’s after a date at the drive-in theater on Foothill and at other times. I took her to her senior prom at Upland High School. After the prom we ate at the Stuffed Shirt near Euclid Avenue, and then hung out with some friends for a while. Finally we ended up at Stinky’s well after midnight. We both had the chili size, their specialty. We went there many, many times. A few more memories:

    They sold beer in bottles. When they picked up the bottles they threw them into a barrel near the door with a big crash.

    They had picnic tables and benches. Kids were allowed to carve things on the tables. Every now and then they would plane off the carvings and paint them, allowing a new crop of carving, especially by the Claremont Colleges crowd who hung out there.

    According to my in-laws, who had been in the area since the 1930′s, it was a roadside burger stand and gas station along the early route 66. It was made of stone and had a counter along the street side closed off by a window that lifted up for service. In the 60′s they had added a sort of lean-to to expand the interior seating. The old gas station was closed but the stone office was used for storage.

    There was a juke-box inside. My wife and I would sit and drink tea, and plan our future together as we listened to Green Onions by Booker T. and M.G.’s.

    We often reminisce about those days of new love, dreams, and fun. Stinky’s was an important part of our courtship. We always comment, “There’s Stinky’s” when we drive past the corner of Foothill and Mountain.

    Tom

    [Tom, thanks for the warm memories. -- DA]

  • Bob House

    Hi David – I’m reading “Golden Dreams,” the seventh book in Kevin Starr’s outstanding series of California histories. In the section on the last wave of the “Silent Generation” going to college in the late ’50s, he mentions Stinky’s by name! Writing about it that, “CMC undergrads had recourse to a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week jukebox, pinball and hamburger joint.” Page 366 in the “uncorrected advance reading copy” I bought cheap online.

    [Wow! You just caused me to pull out my copy of "Claremont McKenna College: The First 50 Years," also by Starr, and by golly if the index doesn't have three citations for Stinky's, including the quote you used, plus an interior photo! He says the restaurant opened in 1946 and closed in 1968. -- DA]

  • barbara f

    Great find! So, Dave, where’s the interior shot? Will we ever get to see it … maybe with a future paragraph or two (just hoping).

    [You're right, I should scan that. Stay tuned. -- DA]