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Walk into Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into Throwback Thursday and ordered a side of nostalgia. Clifton’s is nothing short of an institution. It opened in 1935, and was billed as the world’s largest cafeteria. At the height of the Depression it became famous as “The Cafeteria of the Golden Rule.”
Clifford Clinton, its proprietor, had a policy to never turn anyone away, whether they could pay for their hot meal or not. He wanted to give back to the community and feed the soul.
At its height, the cafeteria was serving 15,000 people a day. It drew more than the hungry; it drew the artsy, too, from Walt Disney to Jack Kerouac, who actually wrote about the cafeteria in his novel “On the Road.”
Like many other early 20th century icons, the restaurant closed, its façade covered it metal for decades. In 2010, restaurateur Andrew Meieran bought the building and spent five years restoring it to its original grandeur.
Since it re-opened last fall, Clifton’s massive kitchen has cooked up enough cakes and carrot salad to feed more than 125,000 customers. In keeping with its tradition of social responsibility, many of those doing the cooking were themselves in need of compassion.
According to Barbara Jacobs, who is in charge of outreach, “We’ve decided to reach out to sober living communities, at-risk youth and other groups, and offer people jobs.” Those hires amount to about 10 percent of Clifton’s workforce.
While it may not be handing out free meals anymore, it certainly hasn’t stopped treating people with dignity. Kudos to Clifton’s Cafeteria for keeping an icon alive and improving the community!