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Diners line up for one last meal at Arcadia’s closing Rod’s Grill

Rod’s Grill, founded by Rod Wellman in 1957 and later owned by Manny Romero, was sold to new owners and closed on Feb. 12. Photo: Anissa Rivera, for SCNG

Customers wait for tables at Rod’s Grill in Arcadia on Feb. 12, the day the time capsule of a restaurant closed for good after 65 years.
Photo: Anissa Rivera, for SCNG

From left, Ignacio Evans of South Pasadena and Luis Arteaga of Alhambra, man the front kitchen at Rod’s Grill in Arcadia, on the day the popular eatery closed after 65 years. Photo: Anissa Rivera, for SCNG

From left, Karl Kohler, 89, of Monrovia; Andy Muñoz, 90, of El Monte; Bill Siefke, 77, of Arcadia; Walter White, 76, of Monrovia; Paul Woloski, 57, of Arcadia; and Darryl D. Ree, 76, of Temple City enjoy their final breakfast at Rod’s. The core of the group has met here daily for more than 60 years.
Photo: Anissa Rivera, SCNG

Aside from longtime customers, Rod’s Grill boasts a loyal list of former and current employees. They are seated at the diner’s Table No. 15, famous for its many appearances in television shows such as “This Is Us.” From left, Jason Hoffman of Rancho Cucamonga; longest serving employee Julie Vollrath of Baldwin Park; general manager Ema Shuton of Arcadia and Russell Meek of Arcadia. Photo: Anissa Rivera, SCNG

Ruben Duarte serves a table of longtime customers at their customary booth at Rod’s Grill in Arcadia. The popular eatery is closing but loyalists hope it will return under new ownership. Photo: Anissa Rivera, for SCNG

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Rod and Manny would have loved this: a line of customers out the door from opening at 7 a.m. to closing at 2 p.m. Hundreds of diners made a final pilgrimage to Rod’s Grill in Arcadia before the popular eatery at 41 W. Huntington Drive closed its doors on Feb. 12.

“This is history,” said Russell Meek of Arcadia, who got his first job at Rod’s when he was a teenager. “Generations of people have come through here.”

Rod Wellman started the time capsule of a restaurant in 1946 in Alhambra. The Arcadia location opened in 1957, offering 10-cent coffees and 40-cent slices of pie ala mode. A burger combo plate with shoestring fries and salad cost 85 cents. Wellman’s sons Barry and Brian took over years later, but their dad still popped in to chat with customers at lunch.

Manny Romero bought Rod’s about 25 years ago. The immigrant from Zacatecas, Mexico, kept the eatery’s retro vibe and added new menu items, serving menudo on the weekends and creating the giant “Manny’s Burger,” big enough for two and perfect paired with a vanilla shake.

Both men were the perfect hosts, and Rod’s Grill through the years served everyone from high school students after Friday night football games to chamber of commerce members and retirees who stopped by before or after a walk around Arcadia Park across the street.

Romero passed away from COVID complications in 2021. He was 67. The restaurant closed for a bit before reopening, renovating its kitchen and equipment without losing its vintage vibe. Television shows loved Rod’s look, featuring the diner in shows such as “This is Us,” “Mad Men,” Last Man Standing” and “Luck.”

General manager Ema Shuton of Arcadia said since news broke of the diner’s closing, they’ve had “crazy lines” of customers wanting to say goodbye.

“This is my neighborhood,” Shuton said. “I go grocery shopping and I see my customers. I always say this is the classic diner on Route 66.”

Every day, Shuton reserves the back booth at Rod’s for six local men, five of whom are military veterans. They’ve breakfasted at Rod’s since the 1960s. One of them, Darryl D. Ree, 76, of Temple City, was 11 when he first came to Rod’s.

“My Dad was a member of the Shriner Club (nearby) and we’d come over here for breakfast on Saturdays,” Ree said. “I always got the pancakes. The first thing I did when I got back from Vietnam was come here. This is like being home.”

Starting out as young businessmen who met for breakfast before going into the office, the group is now mostly retired. They sat at their back booth, trading jokes over grilled pork chops, oatmeal and toast. Aside from Ree, the regulars include Karl Kohler, 89, of Monrovia; Andy Muñoz, 90, of El Monte; Bill Siefke, 77, of Arcadia; Walter White, 76, of Monrovia, and no, not that Walter White; and Paul Woloski, 57, of Arcadia.

“Coffee’s good here, that’s important,” Muñoz said. “They used to serve really good dinners here too. Homecooked meals like turkey, beef stew, chicken fried steak.”

Siefke said it’s all about the conversations they have over their meals, including daily interactions with their favorite servers and with Manny Romero.

“We were devastated when Manny died,” White said. “He was on the quiet side, but he always came to check on you.”

Woloski said Romero made sure everyone was having a good time, “always making time to talk to you.”

Meek, who was a maitre’d at Rod’s in the ‘90s, grew up to be a regular customer.

“I remember my son Russ was 6 when he told Manny, ‘Hey, you know what? I can work here. I can clean tables. You can’t be everywhere. I can help,” Meek said. “Manny walked to the back, got him a red Rod’s hat, put it on his head and told him anytime he needed a job, he’s got one here. Ever since then, my son’s been saying ‘I can move out of the house anytime. I’ve got a job waiting for me.’ Amazing memories.”

Jason Hoffman of Rancho Cucamonga was 15 when he was hired as a waiter, earning $4.15 an hour.

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“My first happy memory of this place was when they offered me a job, taking a chance on a punk kid,” Hoffman said. “Then it’s getting to know the customers and getting to know what they want without their asking for it. I loved when they would ask to be seated in my section.”

His final meal at Rod’s was an old favorite, a loaded Hobo Breakfast, scrambled eggs with bacon, sausage and cheese, served with Rod’s special Spanish sauce.

Julie Vollrath of Baldwin Park has worked at Rod’s for 32 years.

“You know what I’m going to take with me? Memories,” Vollrath said. “Missing customers and wondering where they were and then having their family come in to say they’d passed away. Mostly memories of the people, you know, and how I made friends and they became part of my family.”

Anissa V. Rivera, columnist, “Mom’s the Word,” Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News, Azusa Herald, Glendora Press and West Covina Highlander, San Dimas/La Verne Highlander. Southern California News Group, 181 W. Huntington Drive, Suite 209 Monrovia, CA 91016. 626-497-4869 .

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