The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Louis’ Restaurant, an old-style diner overlooking the Pacific Ocean at San Francisco, is facing an interesting dilemma. The popular restaurant is west of the Lincoln Highway terminus but has been passed for 73 years by those finishing their cross-country adventure by continuing on to the Cliff House or the ocean itself. The business is run by the descendants of founder Louis Hontalas, but a 1998 congressional edict requires the landowner, the National Park Service, to put out for bid concessions with revenues of more than $500,000. The Hontalas family will have to bid against other people and corporations for the right to keep their own restaurant.
The origins of the place go back to Valentine’s Day 1937, when Tom’s grandfather and grandmother, Helen Hontalas, opened the restaurant on Point Lobos Avenue. They were Greek immigrants struggling to make it during the Great Depression.
Louis’ was a tiny place then, built out of what had once been a covered wooden walkway leading from a streetcar barn to the famous Sutro Baths. The land at that time was owned by the nephew of Adolph Sutro….
In 1948, the adjacent streetcar barn burned down, severely damaging the restaurant. Louis and Helen rebuilt the cafe….
Louis died in 1972, and one year later the land was incorporated into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Louis’ son, Jim, remodeled the place in 1974 even though there was no guarantee that the lease would be renewed….
Whoever leases the place will also have to build a second exit, make the restaurant fire- safe and do other renovations to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The work will ultimately cost at least $500,000, Hontalas said.