It’s been nearly two years since plates of griddled pancakes and eggs hit the tabletops of the old 101 Coffee Shop space in Hollywood, but later this month the 1960s-inspired diner will fire up its flat-top again, the jukebox will light up anew, and there’ll be new life in a storied restaurant space frequented by customers from the neighborhood and almost every sector of the entertainment industry, in addition to tourists.
The new signage out front reads “Clark Street Diner,” which might be a balm for fans who mourned the closure of the 101: The site is now part of the popular Clark Street Bread group, founded by Zach Hall, who’d always imagined opening a full-service restaurant when he started his business — now one of L.A.’s most esteemed bakeries and bread wholesalers — nearly 10 years ago. He grew Clark Street from a homespun sourdough-bread operation to a modern viennoiserie and then a full cafe — first with a stall in Grand Central Market, then expanding to two locations in Echo Park and another in Brentwood. Though he was a lifelong fan of diners — from the casual and inexpensive to the haute Fountain Coffee Room tucked into the Beverly Hills Hotel — he never dreamed of owning a diner of his own— at least not until 2021.
He’d never heard of Hollywood’s fabled 101 Coffee Shop until that year either.
“I mean, bakers are ostriches,” Hall said.” I had my head buried in the flour, trying to build a business.”
But he says the first time he saw the space, he knew it was special. With its tan leather booths, swivel stools, rock walls, tiles and Midcentury Modern charm, the throwback diner didn’t look out of place in Hollywood, where it has existed on the ground floor of a hotel — currently the Best Western Plus Hollywood Hills Hotel — in various iterations since the 1930s. Its booths were featured in “Swingers” and “Entourage,” were the scene of many scriptwriting sessions, and later became a lynchpin to the neighborhood’s late-night scene.
After nearly 20 years as the 101 Coffee Shop, it shuttered a few weeks into the state’s first dine-in shutdown in 2020. Though the closure was originally intended to be temporary, at the end of the year the restaurant permanently and quietly closed. With indoor seating banned for months on end, the pandemic proved relentless for diners and other establishments big on atmosphere (the Swingers on Beverly Boulevard, another beloved diner, would have suffered a similar fate during the pandemic had it not been saved by its general manager, Stephanie Wilson). In the first days of 2021 news of the closure spread quickly across social media, garnering farewells, photos and remembrances from the likes of Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, and Alison Martino of Vintage Los Angeles.
In a since-deleted GoFundMe page for the staff, 101 partner and cofounder Warner Ebbink called the diner “our Cheers, our Central Perk,” and thanked guests for their years of support.” From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you,” he wrote, “and we hope that some day, in some way, we will see you again.”
As it turns out, patrons are likely to encounter some of the 101 Coffee Shop’s staff this month.
After learning of the vacant space and negotiating terms through the spring, Hall signed the lease in May and announced Clark Street Diner in July. Inspired by the space, the diner was conceived as a simple, straightforward all-day spot serving Americana, organic and local goods, and a new pastry menu, separate from his bakery business. The project represents his first full-service restaurant, complete with new dishes, a new neighborhood, and a small fleet of staff to seat and serve customers.
Hall says he’s interviewed a handful of former 101 employees and expects to hire most — if not all — to help work the front of house. “One of them worked here 20 years, one of them worked here 10 years, one of them worked here five years,” Hall said. “They’re loyal, they obviously did a good job and the neighborhood knows them.”
He’s also bringing in members of the Clark Street crew: Longtime employee Ross Furman will take up the role of general manager, while Juan Pablo Garcia, formerly of Clark Street Brentwood, will run the kitchen as head chef. He and Hall have been experimenting with classic recipes using locally farmed goods such as Weiser Family Farms potatoes; Peads & Barnetts ground pork and chops; Chino Valley Ranchers eggs; Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project tortillas and flour; and Straus Family Creamery yogurt. Organic and local sourcing is at the core of Clark Street already; naturally, Hall says, it will extend to the diner.
All-day breakfast might include eggs any style, pancakes, corned beef hash, build-your-own omelets, eggs benedict, breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy, smoked-salmon plates, and fruit salads, while the sandwich section of the menu offers all the requisites: a club, tuna salad, turkey and Swiss, a BLT, a burger, a patty melt. The specials, far and away the grandest diversion from Hall’s cafe menus of sandwiches and tartines, could include meatloaf, chicken-fried steak, fish and chips, and T-bone steaks, all primarily tested out of his home kitchen, cooked for an audience of his wife and two children. (“We’ve been eating a lot of breakfast for dinner,” he laughed. The kids like it, he says, as long as there’s maple syrup.)
In addition, Hall has developed a new pastry menu lineup with pies — double-crust apple, pecan, pumpkin, cherry, banana cream, chocolate cream — plus coffee cake, pecan sticky buns and new varieties of cookies. There’ll be a kids menu too, plus shakes, sundaes and banana splits using McConnell’s ice cream. Hall hopes to offer beer and wine and has plans to expand the brand with more bakeries.
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Hall says. “They’re scared they were going to lose this, so I guess it’s good we didn’t have plans to do any big change or anything,” Hall said. “They could have gotten a new [tenant] and made a new restaurant, made anything.”
Does Hall feel pressure filling the shoes of such a beloved diner? “I’m always going to be nervous about every single thing I do, he said, “but you don’t run with that. You run with what you have to do.”
6145 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles, instagram.com/clarkstreetdiner