Historic Clifton’s struggles to sustain itself


The building that houses one of Southern California’s last remaining cafeteria restaurants is going up for sale.

And although the family that owns Clifton’s Cafeteria intends to stay open for business, the historic restaurant is facing some serious financial challenges.

There was a time when the cafeteria was the undisputed king of Southern California dining. Before World War II, the cheap food and sprawling dining halls brought together strangers to the region and created lasting bonds.


But in recent years, there have been indications that the Southern California cafeteria was a dying breed, a victim of changing tastes, an aging population and urban sprawl. After Beadle’s in Pasadena closed in 2006, Clifton’s and Arnold’s in Long Beach were regarded as the dining category’s sole survivors.

That same year, the Clinton family bought their downtown building after decades of leasing the space, saying that the purchase would help buffer them against an economic downturn.

But in the last few years, much of the foot traffic that once bustled along Broadway in downtown, where Clifton’s is located, has dissipated. About 15% to 20% of retail spaces along Broadway in downtown are vacant, according to the office of City Councilman Jose Huizar -- meaning that there are far fewer passersby in the area than there were a few years ago.

Donald Clinton -- the son of the cafeteria’s founder, Clifford Clinton -- told The Times in February that business had been down 30% in the previous six months. “We are trying to survive during difficult times,” he said at the time.

Calls to Robert Clinton, the president of Clifton Cafeteria Inc., were not returned Wednesday.

Broker Ed Rosenthal said the ideal buyer would be able to improve the building and restore it to its previous splendor, all the while allowing the cafeteria to continue operating. But in the meantime, he said, the family “is hoping to get lucky . . . [to] just make some money.”


The nearly 47,000-square-foot building -- with five stories and a basement -- is on the market for $4.75 million, according to materials.

Clifton’s Cafeteria, or Clifton’s Brookdale, as it is also known, is the last remaining of eight Clifton cafeterias that once dotted the Southern California landscape. The Clinton family’s 2006 purchase of the building -- for an undisclosed price -- was made to shield the cafeteria from the vagaries of leasing, and many downtown residents said at the time that they hoped it would signal a resurgence of the building.