Loyal customers flock for one last meal at Edward’s Steak House

They’re pulling up stakes at Edward’s Steak House.

After 64 years of serving up sizzling beef with a dollop of nostalgia on the side, Ken Rausch will pull the last steaks off the grill Sunday night in El Monte.

The sagging economy and changing tastes in the San Gabriel Valley are being blamed for the closure of his family’s longtime restaurant.

Edward’s Steak House: In Thursday’s LATExtra section, the caption with a photo accompanying an article about the closing of Edward’s Steak House in El Monte attributed a quote to the wrong speaker. As the article noted, it was diner Elizabeth Mahoney, not Frances Snyder, who said, “I’ve been coming here since 1968,” a reference to the original Edward’s, which operated in Los Angeles from 1946 to 1990. —

“Many of our customers are just barely hanging on themselves,” Rausch said. “And the demographics here have changed. The big businesses that were around here when we opened — companies like Xerox — have been replaced by importers.”

It’s not the first time Rausch has struggled with changing conditions.

In 1990 the family’s flagship restaurant near MacArthur Park in Los Angeles was forced to close after business dropped off due to crime in the area and an influx of taco stands and food carts.

At the time, Rausch and his late father, restaurant founder Edward Rausch, figured that the El Monte location they opened in 1973 would flourish forever, thanks to its location next to Interstate 10 and white-collar businesses.

A familiar figure in Los Angeles restaurant circles, Edward Rausch had operated a coffee shop on Grand Avenue from 1943 to 1945. He opened Edward’s Steak House on South Alvarado Street, a block south of MacArthur Park, in 1946 when the Westlake District was still one of the city’s most fashionable areas.

That restaurant became a favorite with the lunch and dinner crowd after he enlarged it in 1953 and added a bar and a Victorian motif in 1959. It became famous for its glowing Tiffany lamps, painted portraits of personalities such as Carrie Nation and Teddy Roosevelt, and a carved cigar store Indian that stood on the sawdust-sprinkled floor near the front door.

Many of the furnishings were moved to the El Monte steak house when the Los Angeles restaurant closed.

This week, those visiting Edward’s Steak House for the last time walked through an entryway whose walls were lined with citations and plaques from Los Angeles and El Monte officials. They passed a window looking into “Granny’s Attic” — a small room piled high with such Rausch family antiques as an ancient Corona typewriter, old medicine bottles and tobacco tins, dolls and a vintage Gramophone.

Inside the bustling dining room and bar area, servers scurried to keep up with the crush of hungry patrons lured in for a last entree by a farewell e-mail Rausch sent to 5,000 of his customers.

Since the e-mail went out on July 9, business has increased by as much as 200%, said Rausch, 57, of Long Beach. “The customers’ response has been overwhelming,” he said.

His wife, Olga, started working at Edward’s Steak House 37 years ago. She married Rausch two decades later in a ceremony at the restaurant. She said it’s painful to see families they’ve served for generations come back for the last time.

“This is really wrenching — it’s like a death. People here become part of your fabric,” she said, wiping away tears.

“For the last two years the two of us have worked seven days a week and have been running on our savings. We kept thinking we can ride it out, that things would improve. But this year it just didn’t happen.”

Waiter Rick Cordova has spent 22 years at the restaurant. He said the 28 longtime employees could see that “the house — Ken and Olga — was paying to keep this going.” But still, the shutdown announcement was a jolt.

Waitress Maria Karavasou has worked at Edward’s for 27 years and was at the MacArthur Park restaurant when it closed. She said each of her co-workers has promised to stay on the job until the final customer leaves Sunday evening.

Martha Rodriguez, a server at Edward’s for 13 years, was thanking customers who came up to hug her goodbye. “Everybody’s coming now. But where have they been?” she asked half-jokingly.

In a nearby booth, Arcadia residents Bill and Linda Candy were reminiscing about the old days as they dined on fish and salad. The two of them came to Edward’s to eat “every Saturday night for two years when we were dating,” Linda said.

“On Valentine’s Day in 2000 we were here and Olga asked me what I wanted for Valentine’s Day and I said ‘him,’ ” she said, pointing across the table toward her husband. They married soon after.

“When you lose something like this, it’s gone forever,” said Bill Candy, a retired orthodontist.

Across the crowded dining room, Elizabeth Mahoney and Frances Snyder, both retired school administrators who live in Duarte, were preparing to order when waitress Blanca Arce — a 12-year-employee — came up to give both a hug.

“I’ve been coming here since 1968, when this place was on Alvarado. These days we’ve come once, if not twice a week,” Mahoney said. “That’s why we are praying for these people.”

Snyder said she noticed that the number of steakhouse patrons was declining. “But I was still shocked when we got the e-mail that they were closing.”

Rausch said he and his wife will join their employees in looking for jobs. In the meantime, they will schedule a silent auction of the Victorian furnishings and fixtures for customers.

After that, they’ll put the empty Edward’s Steak House up for sale.