Katelyn Pagnini leans on the nostalgic sounds of a jukebox inside Rocky Cola Café. Photo by Robb Fulcher
Rocky Cola Café on Sunday will end its 20-year run as the big, red and white diner on the buzzing intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Aviation Boulevard in Hermosa Beach.
Owner Wally Curry, a Redondo Beach resident, said the 1960s-themed diner with night-owl hours, plump red booths and an extensive fitness menu fell victim to the down-turned economy and rising lease costs.
“We were doing great until ’08, then the bottom fell out,” Curry said. “It will be almost 20 years to the day. We opened Aug. 12, 1991, and we’re closing Aug. 21, 2011.”
Wally Curry ends a 20-year run. Photo by Robb Fulcher
Weekend business remained strong, but weekday business fell off, he said. In a sign of the times, realtors, building contractors and their crews stopped showing up for weekday lunches.
“You can’t do this on two days a week,” Curry said.
Smoking was prohibited inside Rocky Cola before it was banned by state law. But Curry said the no-alcohol aspect of the diner’s healthy, family orientation might have worked against it in the long run.
“We never pursued alcohol, when everyone else did. That’s probably one thing we should have done in hindsight. We were ahead of the curve on cigarettes, but we were behind the curve on alcohol,” he said with a chuckle.
Curry also said he faced a rising lease cost, with a term shorter than he wanted. Landlord Chris Bredesen was away and could not be reached for comment.
Rocky Cola’s health menu accounted for about 40 percent of its sales, and Curry recalls bodybuilders flocking in for low-fat, high-protein dishes made with egg whites or buffalo meat.
“In the ‘90s we had all the body builders coming in, but that kind of faded,” he said.
Curry said “sales almost doubled” on the days of body building shows that were held in Manhattan Beach.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for us,” he said. “I’ve always considered Aviation [Boulevard] the gateway to Hermosa. I want to thank Hermosa for all the support.”
Katelyn Pagnini, who has worked as a hostess and waitress for more than six years, beginning when she was 14 with a work permit, described as “awesome” her experience at Rocky Cola.
“It’s like family, we’re all pretty close,” said Pagnini, one of the diner’s 35 employees, who also is a student with a pre-nursing major at El Camino College.
Turning to future prospects, Curry said he hopes to “do something” in the South Bay, and in the meantime a Rocky Cola Café continues to operate in Montrose, under manager Lucy DiMino.
“We sell a lot of cupcakes out there,” Curry said. “We have more than 50 flavors of cupcakes.”