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Montrose's Rocky Cola Café to close its doors Sunday

Mainstay restaurant hasn't recovered from tough economic times.

December 27, 2012|By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam@latimes.com
  • David Gemberling, serving floats, has worked at Rocky Cola Cafe for 10 years. The diner, which has been open nearly 25 years, will close Sunday due to a downturn in the economy and local competition.
David Gemberling, serving floats, has worked at Rocky… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

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.

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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.

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