The Angeles Crest Highway is one of the world’s great roads, and Newcomb’s Ranch Inn is the preferred watering hole for those who drive and ride it.
Since 1939, the rustic roadhouse has served as way station for hikers, bikers, drivers, cyclists and travelers who stop there to eat, drink and rest up for the journey back down the mountain to Los Angeles or onward to Wrightwood.
On weekends, Newcomb’s parking lot is lined with cars and motorcycles — often numbering in the hundreds — and its bar, restaurant and patio are overflowing with customers.
Some of them are grousing, though, about changes in policy and menu.
Newcomb’s management recently began charging $1 for a glass of water, and adding an 18% service charge onto diners’ bills.
Additionally, some regulars have complained, the restaurant has done away with its traditional menu and offers only a limited selection of items during the busy breakfast and lunch hours. It has also stopped offering decaf coffee.
“The Crest is such a spectacular ride, and Newcomb’s could be a spectacular destination,” said a frequent visitor who asked not to be named because he intends to keep going there. “It’s a bummer that it has achieved lowest common denominator status — in terms of the service, the quality of the food, and a dollar for a glass of water.”
The restaurant’s current owner is Fred Rundall, whose father bought the property from the Newcomb family in 2001.
Rundall, who recently opened the downtown Los Angeles restaurant and bar Shibumi, said the menu and policy changes were an attempt to improve service.
The ranch gets mobbed on the weekends, Rundall said, especially if there is an important motorcycle race being broadcast. On July 17, the day of the German Grand Prix, Rundall said he served more than 500 diners.
The restaurant, which seats 185, often becomes overwhelmed by the number of customers trying to order a meal at the same time.
At times, Rundall said, customers were waiting up to an hour for their food. So he decided to limit the weekend menu to the most popular dishes only, once a certain number of diners were seated.
“If there is a Moto GP race, it’s pretty chaotic up here,” Rundall said by telephone. “We’ll look at each other and say, ‘It’s time.’”
As for the water, Rundall said Newcomb’s draws all its H2O from a well, and has difficulty keeping up with demand — especially when customers ask for water without ordering food, or ask for water that they leave on the table without drinking.
“I’m not trying to make money off water,” Rundall said. “But I’ll ask for a dollar, if someone just wants a glass of water.”
The water policy is not observed by all the employees, several customers said.
But the 18% service charge is applied to all tickets, not just for large parties, as is the case at many restaurants.
Restaurant employees said the service charge rule is for Sundays only, and the abbreviated menus are just for the weekend breakfast and lunch. (The restaurant, also open for breakfast and lunch Thursday and Friday, always closes at 4 p.m. and does not serve dinner.)
And the decaf? Rundall said it was eliminated because no one asks for it.
Despite the menu changes, regular customers can order whatever they want, Rundall said, if they’re willing to really express their unhappiness.
“Eighty percent of our demo is the same recurring customers,” he said. “The regulars know, if they make a face, we can probably help them out.”