If you close your eyes, it sounds like nothing has changed.
Overhead, a classic crooner sings through a nearby speaker, her melodious voice overshadowed by the clanking of engine red coffee mugs and knives scraping ceramic plates. Occasionally, the gentle murmur of about a dozen conversations is punctuated by shouting from the kitchen:
“I need two eggs over easy NOW!”
The shouting is not coming from you typical short order cook. A former Michelin star chef, Joe Miller, is now running the former IHOP kitchen at the corner of 20th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard. A day before his new diner “Rudy and Hudson” opened to the public, Miller was busy getting his new cooks in line.
“Our inspiration as a little bit of IHOP,” said Miller’s business partner Lawrence Rudolph, who brings seventeen years of restaurant experience from PitFire Artisan Pizza and other restaurants to the new endeavor. “We wanted to honor the people who have been passionate about IHOP and satisfy them.”
Once you open your eyes, you can clearly see Rudolph’s influence throughout the restaurant, which serves locally sourced booze, Verve Coffee and farmers market produce and meats. On the back wall, Instagram-famous artist Donald Robertson has spray-painted multicolored lips that give the diner a modern edge.
“We have to straddle two paths: to honor IHOP but to also do what we want.”
That combination has produced a menu where you can still order three buttermilk pancakes for $9.50 or venture out of the ordinary. From fried rice bowls with shiitake mushrooms to Dutch Baby Cakes with kale, bacon and cheddar, Miller is putting his own spin on familiar diner classics.
“The main force behind the idea is that we wanted to give people in Santa Monica, and Los Angeles of course, really good, simple food,” Miller said, who recently shuttered the doors at his other Santa Monica restaurant, Bar Pintxo, in February. The move came almost exactly a year after his iconic Michelin-star restaurant, Joe’s, closed its doors on Abbot Kinney.
“They weren’t as user friendly as, say, a diner,” Miller said in a phone interview earlier this week. Miller says his new restaurant is filling a need in Santa Monica for a good, authentic, accessible, local diner.
“There are a couple of good ones in town but not great and we’re going to be great,” Miller said.
Before the “Rudy and Hudson” sign had even been installed above the door, booths managed to fill themselves Wednesday morning during the soft opening. Hotel guests at the adjoining Best Western wandered inside looking for a quick plate of eggs and a warm cup of coffee. An easy walk from UCLA Medical Plaza, a rehabilitation center and an auto body shop, a casual restaurant feels like a good fit. Rudolph says he’s keen on preparing food for the masses.
“I think the most idyllic concept for feeding everybody is also the most American of concepts which is the coffee shop and the diner. It’s the American version of a bistro or a brasserie.”
When the space was an IHOP, the corporate chain served as a backdrop for monthly meetings for several local groups, including the Lions Club and the Kiwanis Club. Lions Club President Susan DeRemer says she would love to bring her group back to the location. Rudolph, who spent three months eating at the IHOP while he developed new plans for the space believes its fans will be pleased with the new restaurant.
He hopes his family will be pleased as well. Above the glass door entrance, the names of the business duo’s grandfathers will be up in lights.
The back of the menu explains, “Rudy & Hudson is named for our grandfathers, two straight forward, uncomplicated men who dreamed big.”