At Roberta’s, you’re in with the Inn crowd

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Francisco Ramirez and Roberta Virgin at the counter of Roberta’s Village Inn, 2326 D St., La Verne. Ramirez, the chef, bought the downtown coffee shop from Virgin at the beginning of 2010. A year later, business continues to do well and customers say the transition has been seamless. Read about the popular restaurant in my Wednesday column — and feel free to add your comments below.

If you click on the “Continue reading” link below, you can find an informal history of the building, with some color about the Village Inn, sent to me by two members of the La Verne Historical Society.

Contributed by Galen Beery and Bill Lemon, La Verne Historical Society

We are still not sure of the exact year when the building was constructed but the County Assessor’s office gives a date of 1911, which makes it a hundred years old, with some modifications around 1925.

We’ve been attempting to construct a good chronology from newspaper stories, ads in the La Verne Leader and yearbooks, and telephone books, but details are a bit complicated.

The building had two ground-floor addresses — 2322 and, to the north, 2326 — which were eventually joined to create the Village Inn as it stands today.

Businesses which occupied 2322 (the south store front) included the La Verne Electric Company (1924), the La Verne Bakery (1937), the La Verne Furniture Store (1947), the Virgil Neher Radio Shop (1948), La Verne Variety (1950) and the La Verne Library (1952 to 1960).

Then came a series of restaurants — Randi’s Coffee Shop (1963), Dollie’s Coffee Shop (1964), Chris’s Coffee Shop (1965) and the Cathay Restaurant (1968).

Businesses which occupied 2326 — now the entrance to the Village Inn — included Van Dusen Variety and Electric (1933), La Verne Beauty Mart (1940), Harmony Shop (1948), and the A to Z Radio, TV, and Appliance Shop (1963).

The Village Inn was finally installed in mid-1968 as a new coffee shop, advertising ‘American food’ for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with six waitresses. The manager was Huey Hughes, formerly with Henry’s. The business was established by Mel Baughman, who later owned the building and equipment, and Dick Flora, owner of La Verne Hardware.

After April 1978 the restaurant was managed by Botho Auyang, a 1966 immigrant from China, who leased the building and equipment. On Tuesdays he offered a Chinese special. After he retired, Roberta took over.

Groups of “regulars” soon came together every morning at the Village Inn. Many of the older men had been active in the citrus industry and over coffee discussed changes in the city and nation, and the vanishing of the “Orange Empire.”

The two ground-floor sections of the building were connected by doorways so that banquets could be held in the south area.

In 1971 Rev. Leland Wilson of the Church of the Brethren organized a “Young Men’s Christian Bible Study Group,” which met a few other places, then began to meet here every Thursday morning. They referred to themselves as the “Dunkin’ Dunkers,” as the denomination was once known as the Dunkers. They included college students, a school administrator, a public school teacher, college staff, and a graduate student.

One fond memory is when Wilson brought his daughter to breakfast. She looked around the table and asked “Where are all the young men?”

After some thirty years, the group includes teachers, school administrators, two mayors, a city councilman and retirees. They cheerfully admit to being neither young nor Bible scholars, and their discussion ranges from the mundane to the ridiculous.

By 1985 an even larger group of members also began to meet at the Village Inn each Thursday morning. Most are retired and live at Hillcrest Homes, and keep active by walking over. They have a long camaraderie from mutual interests — La Verne College graduates, church membership, and family relationships.

Roberta bought the business in 2001, but this year sold it and began a career in banking.

One visitor from Canada, seeing greeting and hugs and friendly comments, remarked “This is a real family restaurant!”

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  • Judi

    Other restaurants with perhaps the same or better quality food have come and gone. The key to Roberta’s is that Roberta, and now Pancho, create an atmosphere where people feel welcomed like family. It feels like you have run home from work or school for lunch, except without having to prepare it or clean up after yourself. Good people attract people to themselves, you know? Roberta and Pancho will never be without customers.

  • John

    I ate breakfast at ROBERTA’S my first day after retiring from the state. When I told “Ro”, she picked up my check! Damn nice of her I’d say!