Restaurant of the Week: Shakey’s Pizza, Montclair


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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