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Cupful of business

Restaurant owners are catering to soccer fans willing to rise early.

June 29, 2010|By Bill Kisliuk,
(Tim Berger )

When Argentina has a match at the World Cup, Rene Vildoza, owner of El Morfi on Brand Boulevard, arrives at 3:30 a.m. to get his restaurant ready. On Sunday, he hosted dozens of devotees who came to watch Argentina's Albiceleste top Mexico 3-1 to advance into the quarterfinals.

Most of El Morfi's early-morning visitors are Argentina natives, Vildoza said.

"The funny thing is, you can watch it at home," he said. "But these people, they come here."

Some local restaurateurs have taken advantage of World Cup fever to market their spots to crowd-seeking fans.

On game days, El Morfi provides coffee, empanadas and Argentinean tostaditas — crust-less, grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches — for the 30 or so fans who've arrived for the pre-dawn matches, which take place nine time zones away in South Africa.

At the Korean eatery Hello Pizza in La Cañada Flintridge, owner Brandon Tak has kept similar hours this month on the days South Korea plays. That schedule ended Saturday when Uruguay dropped the South Koreans 2-1.


Cold breakfast pizza may be a tradition among American college students, but Tak said he offered only pastries and coffee to those who arrived at his restaurant before sunrise. Tak, an avid soccer player who participates in pick-up games at Foothill Intermediate School in La Cañada, said throwing the World Cup parties is "marketing, but not selling your product."

People enjoy the experience, he said, "and some of them come back the next day to buy pizza."

Tak said his visitors also pulled for the North Korean team, despite the tense political situation between the two nations. "Sports is sports," he said. "Politics is completely separate."

World Cup fever has bumped up business before. Vildoza said both El Morfi and Gaucho Grill, the Brazilian spot a block up Brand Boulevard, benefited from the heated rivalry between the nations during the 2006 tournament. And both teams still have a shot at this year's title.

At Dave's Bar on Glendale and Broadway, bartender Amy Buranen said morning business is up a bit as a result of the early games. She's a Brazil fan, while most of her patrons favored the United States or Mexico. Still, the patrons have come to respect the different alliances.

"No one argues with me," she said. "I am the bartender. I'm in control of the alcohol."

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