Tom Hontalas began washing dishes in his dad's restaurant in 1968 for 50 cents an hour. Now, along with his brother, Bill, he owns Louis' Restaurant and cooks the meals. It's the only job he's ever had. And yet, since even before Tom Hontalas dropped his first dish, various landlords have been telling the Hontalas family that the day they flipped their last burger or cracked their final egg was nigh.
And yet, Tom Hontalas will be flipping burgers and cracking eggs tomorrow. A member of his family has been doing the same since 1937.
That being said, Louis' latest existential threat — while familiar — may be the worst yet. The restaurant sits on land owned by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), and is thereby governed by the same regulations as a snack bar in Yellowstone or hot dog-stand in Yosemite. Instead of just re-upping Louis' lease, federal law stipulates a contract for the restaurant site must go out to bid. And if someone outbids the Hontalas family — goodbye Louis'.
Tom Hontalas said that, last month, the GGNRA led three groups of potential bidders into his restaurant for a walk-through. One group, he adds, brought along an architect, stayed for more than an hour, snapped photos, and took measurements. Hontalas stresses that the petition he's amassing and signature-gathering isn't an effort to “save Louis'.” Rather, it's all part of his pending bid package. But the bidding process may be more competitive than landing Louis' famous corner booth.