Ed Savko, who bought a small-town grocery known as the Rock Store on Mulholland Highway in 1961 and turned it into an internationally recognized motorcycle mecca frequented by celebrities, businessmen, outlaw clubs and other bikers, has died. He was 86.
Savko, who made it a weekend ritual to ride the twisty Santa Monica Mountains roads and stop at his hangout to swap stories and grab a bite to eat, died April 2 of congestive heart failure at Los Robles Hospital's Transitional Care Center in Thousand Oaks, according to his daughter, Sandra Clark.
"He was a character," said "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno, a Rock Store regular since 1978. "I remember one time a biker pulled into the Rock Store. He'd obviously been speeding, and a police car came in maybe two minutes later looking for the bike. Ed runs out and you think he's going to yell at the biker. He screams at the cop. He got a big round of applause from everybody. He was that kind of" guy.
The great-grandson of Czechoslovakian immigrants, Savko was born in rural Homestead, Pa., in 1925. His father was a steel worker and struggled to make ends meet for his family of seven. Hoping to avoid the steel mills himself, Savko joined the U.S. Navy immediately after graduating from high school. He served on a destroyer for three years during World War II.
Returning to Homestead after his service, he met Veronica Martin at a church dance. A year later, they married and moved to Arcadia, where Savko found work as a driver for the Log Cabin Bread Co. One of the stops on his delivery route was the Rock Store, which, at the time, sold staples to locals. Learning that the owner planned to retire, Savko bought the building. Veronica, or Vern as she's now known to Rock Store regulars, ran the shop, and Savko continued to drive the bread truck for a decade until the store became a self-supporting business.
Around the time he bought the building, Savko rode a Harley-Davidson, which he parked under the shop's forked oak tree. "I guess what happened was that people would ride by and see my cycle and they figured it was safe to drive on in," Savko said in a 1986 interview with The Times. "There aren't too many places around here — or anywhere, for that matter — that like doing business with motorcycle people."
Savko occasionally rode with actor Steve McQueen but gave it up because he was too busy running the store and raising his family. He had also been in a car accident that hurt his hip and made riding too uncomfortable. Still, Savko continued to support motorcycles and the people who love them by welcoming them to the Rock Store and defending them to their detractors.
Savko's family credits McQueen with starting to put the Rock Store on the map. "He would come up here with his buddies," Clark said of the hangout that's been seen in films, TV shows and commercials, featured in its own documentary, and visited by numerous motorcycling celebs, including Eddie Van Halen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney and Matt LeBlanc, who've wheeled up to the humble eatery's antique gas pumps and chatted with the amiable Savko on the porch.
Savko moved with his wife to a ranch in Arroyo Grande in the '80s and bought race horses. The couple lived most recently in Thousand Oaks.
The Rock Store remains open and is being run by the Savko family.
"My dad was very proud of what he accomplished," Clark said. "He was a poor boy that put a place on the map that became known around the world. He felt very proud of the store. He put his blood, sweat and tears in it, and he loved it."
Savko is survived by his wife, Veronica, with whom he would have celebrated his 65th wedding anniversary Wednesday; children Richard and Sandra; seven grandchildren; one great grandson; and his sister Marion.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times