Montrose's Rocky Cola Café to close its doors Sunday

After almost 25 years in Montrose, Rocky Cola Café will serve its final burgers on Sunday — an end wrought by stiffer competition from restaurants that have opened during the past two decades and a too slow recovery from the recession.

Don't expect the building to be vacant for long, though. Rocky Cola representatives are in talks with four prospective restaurant owners to take over the lease, though none appear interested in keeping the name, said Lucy DiMino, the general manager who has worked at the establishment since its early days.

Dale Dawson, executive director of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn., said he expects a new tenant will open soon in the highly visible spot, which sits at the corner of Honolulu and Montrose avenues.

“It's not going to languish,” he said, adding that 100% of the space in the outdoor shopping district is rented, even if some of the new businesses haven't opened yet.

Inside Rocky Cola, few things have changed since it opened in February 1988, DiMino said, except that the jukebox plays CDs rather than records.

Out in the surrounding community, however, it's a different story.

When Rocky Cola was serving its first milkshakes, there were few other restaurants in Montrose or even in Glendale, DiMino said.

Now there are roughly 50 restaurants along Honolulu Avenue and in the Montrose area alone.

When Glendale restaurants are factored into the equation, it adds to insurmountable competition for Rocky Cola's customer base, DiMino said.

Sometimes, tough economic times can force businesses to make decisions that take the community by surprise, Dawson said.

“Due to the economy, they are going through lots of things we don't even know about,” he said. “Sometimes it only surfaces when it becomes dire.”

DiMino remembers the restaurant's heyday and its notoriety as a community gathering spot.

“We were the place to go for high school kids and I still think we are,” she said, adding that students in the theater program at Crescenta Valley High School often drop in after their productions, as do local youth sports teams.

“We get groups of 40 and 50,” DiMino said, noting the restaurant's 3,800-square-foot upstairs area. “Not many places can accommodate that many people.”

Rocky Cola Café has had some notable moments and visitors, too.

President Bill Clinton ate there in 1996 after speaking at Glendale Community College. Whitney Houston filmed a video there and celebrity customers have included Kevin Costner, Miley Cyrus and Shia LaBeouf, DiMino said.

The operation has also become a family affair for DiMino, who is one of a set of triplets.

Her identical twin sister Antoinette and fraternal twin MaryEllen work at Rocky Cola, as well as her younger son, daughter-in-law and nephew.

With Antoinette, Lucy DiMino started a cupcake line at Rocky Cola about two years ago, which has grown to include 30 varieties.

But what Lucy DiMino recalls most fondly is the connection the restaurant's staff has had with the community. She said she has been overwhelmed by the community's support since word got out of the closing, and is considering what's next.

“We've seen kids grow up, go on their first date, have their first baby. We really know our people that we're leaving,” DiMino said.


Follow Mark Kellam on Twitter: @LAMarkKellam.

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