Santa Monica has many great, unique businesses and we need to support them so they don’t fall by the wayside and become taken over or lost to the sands of time. I love the Caesar salad at Bruno’s, the steaks at Chez Jay and the eggs Benedict at Michael D’s.
For the past 10 years or so I’ve been having Saturday breakfast about twice a month at Michael D’s café. I’ve been served there by Christine, who went on to become a Santa Monica police officer, then it was Mikey, who went on to pursue his dreams of being a rock star and a restaurateur. Currently the Saturday morning waitress is Gina. She’s this really outgoing, boisterous, no BS lady who slings hash browns with a side of good-natured joking to the regulars as she guards against the homeless who wander in to panhandle a breakfast.
Michael D’s has been part of an independent mini-chain of coffee shops located in bowling alleys. Located in the bowling alley on Pico between Third and Main streets, it has been a local favorite of the police, lawyers, judges and courtroom employees due to its proximity to the courthouse.
For me it has been an interesting window into the community. There are the regulars like me, some more and some less regular than I am, who make it like a Pacific Coast “Cheers.” There’s the weekend rush of tourists from the local hotels. You can generally get an idea of what is going on at the Civic Center Auditorium by the early morning crowd packing down eggs Benedict and pancakes. Depending on the types of sweaters the ladies are wearing, I can tell whether it’s a cat show, jewelry show or crafty event.
During the week, you can find out if there is a major court case going on by who is grabbing a quick burger and coffee. If there’s a rush on burgers in take out boxes, you can bet that there’s something interesting going on at the courthouse.
The bowling alley as a whole fell into disrepair over the past couple of decades. I found out from their website that AMF, owners of the bowling alley, was founded in New York in 1900 as American Machine and Foundry, a manufacturer of industrial equipment for the tobacco industry. AMF moved into bowling dramatically after World War II, when AMF automated bowling equipment and bowling centers became profitable business ventures.
The corporate owners of AMF claim they have more than 10,000 employees engaged in the operation of customer-focused bowling centers. Their website says that AMF is the world’s largest owner and operator of bowling centers.
All of which means some good things and some bad things. For example, I love that AMF is investing in the center and has upgraded the bathrooms — they needed it badly. And the remodel and renovations continue throughout the facility to make it a more inviting experience.
The bad side is that historically the takeover by a corporation of a small business usually results in the loss of the charm and characters that made it special. I hope that the neighborhood feel of Michael D’s won’t be lost. I like the fact that the menu is large and has quirky sandwiches and meals.
I feel about corporate ownership of companies usually the same way I feel about my annual Meat Lover’s pizza from Pizza Hut — looks great, love it for a moment, and really regret it after half an hour. When a corporation tries to take over a smaller organization they institute procedures, manuals and rules. Oftentimes in doing so they lose the essence of what made the company special.
Small companies like Michael D’s, or Chez Jay, or Flying Saucers Coffee House are special because of some ineffable quality. It’s rather like the scent from a rose. It’s always there until you try to take the rose apart and break it down to figure out what makes that scent by trying to find it, you lose what makes it special.
Michael D’s is like the anti-Denny’s to me. Denny’s is barely food, but it is always the same no matter which one you go to. I’m hoping that AMF will be more hands off, and keep the unique character of Michael D’s.
David Pisarra is a Divorce Attorney who specializes in Father’s Rights and Men’s Issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. His books “A Man’s Guide To Divorce Strategy” and “A Man’s Guide To Child Custody” are available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.