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Patrons of Montrose’s City Hall Coffee Shop gather to celebrate 38-year owner, who is retiring

City Hall Coffee Shop owner Young Rhee celebrates her retirement with her friends and customers at the Montrose restaurant on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. Rhee owned the restaurant for 38 years.

City Hall Coffee Shop owner Young Rhee celebrates her retirement with her friends and customers at the Montrose restaurant on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. Rhee owned the restaurant for 38 years.

(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Longtime customers of City Hall Coffee Shop gave their best wishes Friday afternoon to Young Rhee, who will close the restaurant on Sunday and retire from the business after 38 years.

To serenade her into retirement, brothers Carmine and Sonny Sardo, who are loyal customers, played guitar and accordion as customers and nearby business owners stopped by to wish Rhee well.

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Sonny Sardo said that whenever he walked inside the cafe, the servers immediately placed an order of his favorite dish — a Denver omelet without cheese and a side of dry wheat toast.

He described the shop’s looming closure as “devastating.”

“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful place,” he said. “You can’t find a place like this anywhere. I think it’s the last place around that I know of.”

For Rhee, who was 38 years old when she took ownership of the shop, she said she could not have operated the business this long without her staff and customers, who themselves said they frequented the restaurant for decades because of its homey feel and familiar faces.

She recalled seeing an advertisement in the Glendale News-Press to purchase the coffee shop in 1978. Without any restaurant experience, she said she still doesn’t know what made her answer the ad, but she had grown bored of her accounting job.

Although he was skeptical at first, Rhee convinced her engineer husband, who has since passed away, it would work out, and it did.

During her retirement, Rhee will still reside in Montrose, and is looking forward to traveling.

“I’m going to miss all the customers. Even when they were babies, they grew up and they [would] bring their own babies. I feel so sad, and I feel so happy — you know, half and half,” she said.

When her customers suggested gathering at 2 p.m. on Friday to celebrate, she insisted, “No party, no party,” but they held one anyway.

After the Sardo brothers played some music, Andre Ordubegian, president of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn., presented Rhee with a commemoration, and she began to sob.

“City Hall Cafe was truly the City Hall of Montrose,” Ordubegian said.

For server Angus Ritchie, Rhee is an example of dedication, and he’s happy to see her retire.

“She’s put in 40 years of blood, sweat, tears — and it shows [in] the fact that all these people are in here,” Ritchie said. “She’s one of the best bosses you could ever have. My uncle always told me, ‘The sign of a good business is when the owner’s there every day just as much as you.’ She exemplifies that. She’s the pennants on the wall, she’s the table, she’s the chairs. She is the restaurant.”

Customer Bob Martinez has been frequenting the shop for more than 30 years, typically ordering the breakfast burrito or bacon and eggs or a hamburger.

“When you came in, you always saw your neighbors. You always said, ‘Hello.’ I’ll tell you, I’m not really sentimental about places. This place — I am,” he said.

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan


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