Restaurant of the Week: Shakey’s Pizza, Montclair

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Photo: Marc Campos

Shakey’s Pizza, 5639 Holt Ave. (at Benson), Montclair.

A few weeks back I wrote about the new Shakey’s in Rancho Cucamonga and promised I’d revisit the one in Montclair. Pretty much the same food, obviously, but the Montclair Shakey’s holds a small place in my heart.

After all, it’s the oldest chain restaurant location in the Inland Valley still in operation. The Montclair location has been serving up pizza since 1961, nearly 50 years, without a break. Any other chains that arrived earlier have closed.

The enormous paddle-like sign out front is clearly original, as sign codes today would never allow a sign as large as a tennis court, and the exterior is basically unchanged too. The interior is revamped, however, other than a few lamps.

But I like this Shakey’s anyway. The food’s fine and they do the Bunch of Lunch all-you-can-eat special from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays ($7.50, drink extra). There may only be two pizzas out, not 10 as in Rancho Cucamonga, but this is a smaller operation.

Assistant manager Gina Amir is one of the friendliest restaurant employees you’ll meet and it’s her personal touch that keeps customers coming back. Frankly, this Shakey’s could use your business, so if you’re in the area and you like Shakey’s, check ‘em out.

I wrote a column about the place in 2006 that you can find by clicking below. In it I listed runnerups in the chain-restaurant longevity derby and at least two of them — Wienerschnitzel on Mountain in Ontario and Sizzler across Holt from Shakey’s, have folded since then.

45 years? Shakey’s in Montclair must have good mojo

[published June 16, 2006]

WITH ONTARIO’S A&W Drive-In gone, what’s the Inland Valley’s longest-surviving chain restaurant?

Among the runnerups, as found in old phone directories at the Ontario and Pomona libraries:

* Arby’s, 2250 N. Garey, Pomona (since 1970).

* Taco Bell, 850 N. Mountain (1968).

* Wienerschnitzel, 151 N. Mountain, Ontario (1972); 520 E. Mission, Pomona (1968); and 175 W. Foothill, Pomona (1966).

* Denny’s, 1409 E. Fourth St., Ontario (1967).

* McDonald’s, 2200 N. Garey, Pomona (1966); 832 N. Mountain, Ontario (1965).

* Sizzler, 5660 Holt, Montclair (1963), the 20th Sizzler in the chain.

A silly list? Sure, but better for me to spend two hours in libraries than in pool halls. Oh, and thanks to Jeff Gaul and A&W’s Larry Roan for submitting some good guesses.

But what’s the valley’s oldest chain restaurant?

Shakey’s Pizza in Montclair.

The Shakey’s at 5639 Holt Blvd. opened in 1961 and is still baking pies 45 years later. (It’s across Holt from the 1963 Sizzler and west of Vince’s Spaghetti and the former A&W.)

The chain began in 1954 in Sacramento. True fact: Co-founder Sherwood “Shakey” Johnson got his nickname because nerve damage from malaria contracted in World War II gave him the shakes.

In the 1961 Yellow Pages, shortly after its opening, the Montclair Shakey’s advertised “Bavarian black beer” and “piano playing and singing Wed. thru Sun. nights.”

From a high of 325 U.S. restaurants in 1974, Shakey’s is down to 62, a drop blamed on poor management and increased competition. But the Montclair location is hanging in there.

“We’re the oldest Shakey’s in Southern California,” assistant manager Gina Amir told me proudly.

The exterior is largely the same, including the 40-foot “Shakey’s Pizza Parlor and Ye Public House” sign, visible from blocks away, and possibly from space.

Other than the original lamps, the interior is unrecognizable if you’re an old-time Shakey’s customer.

The wooden stools, 1920s-style signs and stage where musicians played Dixieland jazz and piano are gone. So are employees’ straw hats and the mini-theater where Three Stooges and other comedies played for the kids.

The pizza is pretty much the same, though. And they still have those Mojo potatoes.

One day a Vietnam vet began crying during his Shakey’s meal — not usually a good sign. He told Amir that he and his childhood buddies used to eat there and that he was the only one who survived the war. The meal brought back memories.

“The pizza you cooked up for me,” he told the staff, “was just like the ones I had as a kid.”

Many customers have been eating there for years, if less emotionally. Amir, a gregarious hostess who’s worked there 12 years, remembers everybody.

On Monday, only my second visit, I had the Bunch of Lunch buffet before introducing myself. As I paid with exact change, Amir remarked that I’d had exact change the last time. Who knew I was so memorable?

In a further boost to my self-esteem, she also called me both “sweetie pie” and “honeybunch.”

Customers invite Amir to weddings and anniversary parties, and I can see why.

“I’m really bad with names, but I remember faces,” Amir told me in our post-lunch interview.

Business isn’t what it used to be, but there are hardcore fans. Shakey’s last month hosted a couple’s wedding reception.

“They met here as kids,” Amir explained. Guests feasted on the Shakey’s Special. The first dance took place near the salad bar.

Two burly blue-collar diners left as Amir and I chatted at the counter.

She called after them: “See you, sweetie pies!”

David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday, shakily.

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  • http://empoprise-ie.blogspot.com/ John Bredehoft

    I have not been to that Shakey’s in decades — probably high time for me to return.

    And if one were to get technical, the oldest chain restaurant in the area is not Shakey’s, but a restaurant down the street — Vince’s. Since Vince’s now has a Rancho Cucamonga location, aren’t they a “chain”?

    [I don't think two locations qualifies as a chain, John, but you can insert "national or regional" into my wording if you like. -- DA]

  • Ramona

    There you go again. Evoking memories of the “good old days.” Shakey’s was a special treat for me and my younguns back in the day when we lived in Pomona.

    Still there? Having survived for fifty years? The mind boggles.

    [As does the stomach. -- DA]

  • Charles Bentley

    GREETINGS:
    I, too, have not been to this Shakey’s in many, many years, so I will make a point to visit soon.

    While I agree with you, David, that Vince’s doesn’t really qualify as a “chain,” shame on you for limiting the size of the operation. There are three “official” Vince’s in operation — Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga and Temecula. And that doesn’t include the Vince’s on Hawthorne Blvd. in Torrance (a family relation, I believe, but that establishment is not directly associated with the original Ontario restaurant).

    Just FYI – There also were Vince’s operating in Redlands, Glendora and Ventura, but all three have since closed. Of the entire group, the only one I never had the chance to visit was the Ventura establishment.

    How many Vince’s have you been to, David?

    [Only two, RC and Ontario. (Ontario is my Vince's of choice, but the RC one is cool too.) I had thought there might still be a third but couldn't remember because I knew one or two had closed. Had no knowledge of the Torrance offshoot. -- DA]

  • shirley wofford

    My husband and I used to go to Shakey’s in the early ’60s. There wasn’t a restaurant everywhere you looked in those days. After 9:00 p.m., diners were entertained by a piano/banjo duo, and it was a great time. Eventually Pizza Palace came along and did the same piano/banjo thing. It was a fancier place than Shakey’s, but look who survived. It boggles my mind that this Shakey’s is still operating in the same location.

    [Visits are encouraged to ensure that Shakey's can continue to operate in the same location. -- DA]

  • paul ochsner

    I think they need to bring back the piano, the banjo, the straw hats and everything. Nuthin’ like drinking draft beer, throwing your peanut shells on the floor and listening to dixieland music. It might bring in more business too. Oh yeah, add Laurel and Hardy to the movie list as well.

    [Well, I'd probably eat there more often. -- DA]

  • Karen Politovich Brown

    Loved this Shakey’s when I was a kid in the 60s. So fun to watch them make the pizzas through the window. We used to get root beer by the pitcher. And if I recall correctly, they had a kind of fake snow on the roof, like an alpine chalet. Good for them to still be in business after all these years! Congratulations, Shakey’s!

  • Warren

    Well David:

    I remember the Shakey’s in Montclair, but never did get in there. When I went down to Long Beach to college the dormatory residents used to have parties at the Shakey’s in Long Beach and I became addicted to Shakey’s. The army later assigned me to Los Angeles and we lived in Long Beach, so I made several trips to the Shakey’s in Los Alamos.

    By the way, when I was living in Upland, I don’t recall a Vince’s. I remember a Vince’s along Pacific Coast Highway that had about eight tables in it. Ate there once when my parents gave me some money. I took two friends to dinner and the bill was about $14-15, but then gasoline was 50 cents a gallon. I remember that in the late ’80s there was a much larger restaurant behind the original building. I wonder if it’s the same family.

  • Ontario Daily Report

    Marc Campos still shoots for the Daily Bulletin?

    [He freelances for my blog...especially when he's having lunch with me. -- DA]

  • Linda Frost

    I remember when it opened up, it was quite the thing the first pizza parlor I remember. I frequented it when I was in high school.

    When I went away to U.C.R., there was one a few blocks from campus. We walked through the dark orange groves that are no longer there to reach it. The dorms did not serve dinner on Sundays, and it beat the roach coach that pulled up on Sunday nights. Back then, in the mid-sixties, we were not afraid to walk the darkened streets. And Shakeys was little bit of home, too.

    I am not so much into regular pizza anymore. As a middle school teacher for 33 years and a mother of two, pizza parties gave me my fill of pizza. It seemed we always had leftover pizza in the office to eat. Home delivery included schools, too. The local pizza parlor also served as the scene of some of my kids birthday parties.

    It was fun in those halcyon days of youth, however, to savor the flavor; and Shakeys was the first.

  • Matt

    My wife and I went there last year after driving by it a few hundred times, and what a disappointment. The place looks terrible and the food was worse. Not only was it overpriced, but the pizza was gross and the mojo fries were dry and barely edible.

    I understand nostalgia, but this place should be condemned. Awful would be a compliment…

  • Maria Reyes

    Yeah, that’s all that is left from this Shakey’s,” nostalgia!!!! When you go inside the place has a dirty appearance, extremely hot and bad service! We were a party of 12 with 8 kids and we were told we could not sit in the games area because they had it reserved for a party that started at 1:00pm, we were there till 3:00pm and the so called party never arrived. And the debit fee, one dollar ridiculous!! The worst thing is they will let you swipe your card over and over and won’t even tell you!