GAF&BC

We’re talking here about a small chain called The Great American Food & Beverage Company. There were a couple of these around Los Angeles in the early seventies…one in Westwood, one in Santa Monica and maybe others. The two things I remember about them are that the portions were huge to the point of being impractical — you’d haul home about 80% of your entree and live off it for days — and that the servers would take turns performing with a small live band. Once, I ordered a hamburger and they brought me this footstool-sized mass of meat and bun surrounded by enough fries to stock a McDonald’s for a month.

But I was sans ketchup, and when I turned to ask our waiter for some, I found him up on a platform, performing what turned out to be the world’s longest version of “Rubberband Man.” I think he did about ninety choruses while I failed to flag down any other employee and my burger cooled to tepid. Finally, long after I’d given up any chance of having the hamburger the way I liked it and had begun to eat it dry, the waiter noted the omission, hopped down from stage and fetched me a bottle of Heinz while still performing “Rubberband Man.” It was one of those moments when you almost feel like you ought to tip.

20 Responses to GAF&BC

  • Tom Minton says:

    The Great American Food and Beverage Company offered a show-stopping item on the menu known as “The Feast,” which was a ridiculously abundant display of food, served by two waiters who carried it out on a wooden plank that was about 15 feet long. The Feast was intended to be enjoyed by a party of several. GAF&BC sported a palpable 1970’s vibe that probably wouldn’t fly today.

  • Corwin Zechar says:

    I frequented the Great American Food & Beverage Co. in Hollywood and the one in Santa Monica every couple of months during the early 80’s. Our most memorable occasion happened at the Santa Monica location. We walked in and sat down in the bar to wait for a table. I ordered a beer for myself and an iced tea for my girlfriend (now wife). The bartender assumed we wanted a Long Island iced tea, and whipped up the best rendition of a fake iced tea I have ever tasted. My girlfriend finished most of the drink before realizing she was blitzed, and must be drinking something stronger than tea.

    Since that night, we have searched the world over, but have never found a Long Island iced tea that came close to the one served to us back in 1983.

  • Sandi Sylver says:

    Down from San Francisco for the weekend, I went to the Santa Monica Blvd. location in West Hollywood for dinner with friends. They dared me to get up and play (a waiter lent me his guitar), and I was offered a job. I took it, and worked there for a year: May 1974-May ’75, and what a trip it was. I played guitar and sang when I wasn’t busy with the serving aspect and, for the most part, had a pretty good time. Met many fine people, a few of whom were famous, and a few who were famous and not very fine. I probably would’ve stayed longer, but didn’t get along with the manager, plus I was ready to leave LA (not my kind of town).
    If anyone reading this is interested in more, drop me a line.

  • Ed W. says:

    Just a general comment about all these old restaurants. The unexpected moments both good and bad, the wrinkles in the experiences at them, nowadays are all smoothed over by the internet, by Yelp, by any place online where pictures, videos, writings, and way too much information is exposed. In many ways things were better when we knew less. Today’s Yelp reviews should be held in moderation for at least 30 years.

  • Larry says:

    Went to dinner with some college friends on the nite Nixon resigned The place went crazy when the showed the news conference

    Great place!

  • Carmen says:

    The West Hollywood one was on Santa Monica & La Cienega. I loved this place as a kid and used to order the stuffed zucchini… imagine a 10 year-old jonesing for stuffed zucchini! I still haven’t had one as good! Other restaurants I loved to go to around there were Café Figaro on Melrose, Yellow Submarine on Santa Monica & Harper, and The Old World on the Sunset Strip.

  • Saul says:

    I worked at the Santa Monica G.A. from 1978 through 1982. It was a blast to work there. Lots of behind the scenes shenanigans that I won’t go into here – suffice it to say it was a trip to play and sing there.

  • Donna Hilgert says:

    I love the stuffed zucchini at the Old World Restaurant in Beverly Hills. I would give anything to figure out how to make it now. I haven’t been in BH since the late 70’s so I doubt the place is even there anymore. Any one have a clue how they made it?

  • Amy Barlow (Liberatore) says:

    My cousin, Gregg Laughlin, managed the GA on Wilshire, and he convinced me to drop everything in NYS and come west. I was one of the only jazz singers there. The list of performers/waiters was awesome – Joe Turano, Chuck Francour, Cyndi Wolf (an amazing blues singer), Hal Cohen (still in the biz), Mark Newman, a dancer named Regina Star (still dances, sometimes with snakes), one of those cats who performed as brothers even though one was British and one was German – I think the one who didn’t marry Bette Midler!!), and Jamie (Louis) Chalif (his performances of his ‘Heartbreak City’ were legendary), Saul Fineman (mentioned above), Peter Tork (ex-Monkee, playing banjo and really loved), Patti Davis (yes, THAT Patti Davis, and I sang backup with her frequently), Doug Boyd, DJ Barker (Shanz Boilini, a great comedian, and I and another person went on the Gong Show with Deej to sing “What’s Your Name?”, got paid, but never aired. We weren’t good enough to win but not crappy enough to air), and my cuz whose specialty was Fats Domino. Anyone who ever went to the GAFB in those days and remembers, come to my blog and search “GA” or “Amy: The Lost Years” (gives you some idea of what we were up to!) and catch up on some great memories. Apologies to all not listed. Oh yes, and the fairy goddess, Sidnie Hoyle, general good vibes and tambourine!

    The GA changed me life. Peace, Amy Barlow (now Liberatore)

  • Janice Hubbard Lindsay says:

    I worked at the GAF&BC in my early twenties and it was a fabulous, formative experience. It was amazing to have a job where everybody was a kindred spirit. I couldn’t wait to get to work to sing and play with my friends! It was 1974 when I moved to California from New York and got the job after just a few months. I remember being in constant motion all night between waiting tables and performing, but it was a good workout. If I could pop back there and live it over again, I would. The tips were notoriously bad – often just $.50 – but it didn’t matter. Many of the people who worked there (Ricky Lee Jones, Katie Segal, Severin Browne, Mark Tanner, Barry Cowsill among others) became name performers.

  • H Wolf says:

    GAF&BC brings back such fun memories! My family would go there once in a while for dinner. The best memory for me was that I had my Sweet 16 party there (the Santa Monica location). I think there were about 15 of us, and we had the Planked Feast. I don’t remember if any of my other friends had ever been there, and I am so glad I still have the photos, you should see the looks on their faces when the servers set down the plank with all the food! I distinctly remember all of us sitting there for a long, astounded moment of complete silence, and then everyone started grabbing food from that plank like there would be no tomorrow! We all had a great time at my Sweet 16.

  • Art says:

    The Feast was fabulous. Those big beef ribs were the most succulent in my memory. Time to bring this one back!

  • Severin Browne says:

    I worked at Hi-Pockets, the West Hollywood location of G.A. from 1976 to 1978, mostly as a busboy. Formative years for sure, and many of the crazy people I met there are still dear friends. As for the food, I would love to know if someone saved some of those recipes, like the ribs (spectacular) or some of the “pockets”… There are a few times in my life that I would rate as being in the running for the greatest in my life, and my time at GA was definitely one of those. Magic!

  • Michael Eissinger says:

    When I was 18 I had just moved to LA and I was out one night driving around looking for a place to eat. I stopped into the Great American Food and Beverage Company on Sta Monica and La Cienega. When I walked in, the hostess said, “How you been… it’s been awhile. Great to see you again” and she led me to a table that shared a bench seat with all the other tables on that side of the small dining room. I instantly fell in love with the casual nature of the place, the great pita pockets, omlettes, ribs, corn on the cobb, cappuccino, and (of course) the Ice Cream Orgy.

    But, back to my first night… later the hostess came back over and we talked (it was fairly slow for a weeknight) and she was very friendly. Suddenly, she stopped and looked at me, again, and said, “You’re not him, are you?” I admitted I must not have been since I’d never been there before, but we continued to talk and I became a regular, eating there every few weeks. Several months later, she came up to me and said, “He came in, the other night.” We laughed and I continued to enjoy the comfortable party that went on around me… I think the waiter broke out into another round of “Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette” and the staff proved the postings on the two signs by the door, “Seat yourself. Hostess having a ball.” and “Don’t be in a hurry, be hungry!”

    Many a birthday party, date, and single dinner spent in that place well into the late 70s.

    Did the one in Westwood several times, but it wasn’t the same. Although my girlfriend at the time was at UCLA we usually made the trek to the SM/LC store because it was just “better.”

  • Tim Wells says:

    I ate at the one in Santa Monica until it closed. The food and service was great. The food was simple, but well prepared with good presentation. The severs took turns entertaining, and many were excellent performers. It’ was about the most fun I’ve had at a restaurant, and the staff seemed to be having as munch fun as the patrons. I always got the “Planked Feast” and the “Ice Cream Orgy”. I’ve seen else nothing like it since, and that’s too bad.

  • B. Helmet says:

    I loved it there. We used to go to the Santa Monica location. I’ll never forget, it was the only place in the world that had a 5 dollar hamburger! Back when a Big Mac was 50 cents. Wow! I was poor then, but somehow found the money for it. Will also never forget, this idiot I knew and went with one night, STOLE a painting off the wall in back of him. I was so nervous and embarrassed. He walked out with it under his coat. Had to be around 1973, 1974 or so. Cool place.

  • Lorenzo B says:

    A neighbor told me about GA circa 1975, and how to prepare. Following her instructions, I fasted for a day and a half. My GF and I ate at the Santa Monica location. I ordered and consumed The Feast. It’s all in the pacing; I think that it took me two hours or so. I had difficulty walking afterwards.

  • Stevo says:

    Anybody here remember a guitarist named “English Red” who would frequent HiPockets? An older fellow from england who was rumored to have a stint with Django Reinhardt?

  • Annette Gallardo says:

    My sister Tori worked as a hostess/cashier at GAF&B Hipockets in W Hollywood in the early/mid 70’s. I was much younger than her and ate there often. The Polsaki Pocket was my favorite–I think you could get a rib as a side. My other sister Alice (Apple) hung out there and both of them sang all the time there. It was magical to a 15 year old to even go there. What about those insane ice cream sundaes!!! The Demi Devil. When I was just out of high school, I auditioned at the SM one…I performed right in between some of the most amazing musicians/singers–I didn’t have the chops they did.

  • Char says:

    Worked there late 70s through early 80s. Worked there as one of the cooks. What a blast! You had to be crazy (I still am!). If you think it was wild in the front…you should have been in the kitchen! Would do it again!! It is nice to hear people had a good time!

    No need to send cards or letters. I will accept no complaints or praise. peace.

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