Closing time

Posted May 28, 2014 by The Argonaut in News
ON THE COVER: Joseph ‘Pepy’ Gonzalez maintains his post at Pepy’s Galley. PHOTO BY JOE PIASECKI.

ON THE COVER: Joseph ‘Pepy’ Gonzalez maintains his post at Pepy’s Galley. PHOTO BY JOE PIASECKI.

Neighbors unite in support of Pepy’s Galley, facing eviction in June after 44 years at AMF Mar Vista Lanes

By Joe Piasecki

Some say it’s a sign of changing times. Others see it as a front line in the battle against continued gentrification of the Westside. For Joseph Gonzalez — better known as Pepy to patrons of his traditional neighborhood diner inside AMF Mar Vista Lanes — it’s simply a heartbreaker.

After 44 years at the corner of Venice and Grand View boulevards, Pepy’s Galley has been ordered to shutter for good on June 30 to make way for bowling alley renovations that would exclude a public restaurant.

Also being evicted is Phil Yoakum, who has operated a tiny bowling supply and ball-drilling shop inside the lanes since 1974.

Reaction among Mar Vista residents has been swift and resounding. In just a few days, a “Save Pepy’s” group on Facebook ballooned to more than 5,100 members, and an online petition has received some 2,700 electronic signatures.

On Sunday afternoon, more than 200 people gathered outside the restaurant for a rally in support of the two longtime local businesses. Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin was among them.

“Every neighborhood has its special spots — places that generations of residents have known and shared, places that feel iconic, places that are part of the heartbeat of the community,” Bonin said. “On the Westside, one of those spots is Pepy’s Galley, and I am standing with the neighbors who are asking the new owners of the Mar Vista Lanes to reconsider their decision and keep this special place in our neighborhood.”

’54 years of basic neglect’

Following the 2012 bankruptcy of AMF, the company merged last year with Bowlmor Lanes to create Bowlmor AMF Inc., a conglomerate in control of some 270 bowling centers in the United States and Mexico.

Renovations at AMF Mar Vista Lanes are necessary to keep the location solvent, Bowlmor AMF CEO Tom Shannon wrote in a letter distributed at the bowling alley on Sunday.

“AMF Mar Vista Lanes opened in 1960 and has not had a major upgrading since that time. The entire infrastructure is old, dated, unreliable and uneconomic. I can think of no other business that has operated with success after 54 years of basic neglect. The facility does not earn enough to pay a market rent,” Shannon wrote.

The company has rejected offers to sell the expansive 28-lane facility and its large parking lot to developers who would build upscale condominiums, he added.

In addition to untenable bowling revenues, maintaining the lease for Pepy’s Galley since acquiring the building in July has also been a money-losing scenario, according to the company.

“It is impossible to economically maintain the current arrangement with Pepy’s Galley, as his rent is a small fraction of market rent and the restaurant space would need close to $1 million in upgrades to bring it to current code,” Shannon wrote of the inadvertently retro diner, where a very narrow walkway separates a plastic-laminate dining counter from a handful of cushioned window-side booths.

The renovated bowling alley would not feature a public restaurant, with food being brought in to serve only bowling patrons, according to the letter.

‘Don’t have the guts’

Gonzalez, who broke down in tears as he briefly addressed supporters last weekend, said that his most pressing concerns are the fates of his 20 longtime employees.

“I treat my employees like my family, and my employees treat the customers like family. This is what hurts me the most. All of a sudden my employees, who have been with me 20, 25, 30 years — they’re out on the street,” said Gonzalez, 74.

Although public dialogue began little more than a week ago, a representative for Bowlmor AMF said Gonzalez had been given a 60-day notice to vacate the property by June 30.

Gonzalez said he was initially reluctant to break the news to his employees and is waiting until the last minute to issue official layoff notices: “I don’t have the guts to tell them, ‘My kids, we’re out. I’m sorry.’ What else can I say?”

When completed, bowling alley renovations are expected to create 20 to 30 jobs, according to Shannon’s letter.

But that’s little comfort to Milagros Frausto, who — at 15 years — is one of Gonzalez’s newer employees.

“I had a savings plan for my son’s college. I can’t think about that now,” Frausto said.

Yoakum, a league play organizer who launched his Phil Yoakum’s Bowling Supply in March 1974, depends on the shop to support his 11-year-old daughter and now may have to relocate 20 or more miles away to find another viable work location, he said.

Yoakum’s humble shop — more of a walled-in service counter behind the lanes — isn’t much bigger than some walk-in closets. A single door opens to a walkway not quite four feet wide that separates archaic wooden shelves and dead ends after maybe 10 feet at a mounted ball-driller against fake wood panel wall.

“I’m overwhelmed. I’m on my third generation of drilling bowling balls for families,” said Yoakum, who maintains the shop with the help of his wife. “I’ll find a hole in the wall somewhere, but Pepy’s is the big one, with so many workers.”

‘The Cheers of Mar Vista’

During the rally, Pepy’s regulars recounted times that the omnipresent Gonzalez had gone out of his way to prepare them special dishes or let them slide on a check or two during lean financial times. Some said they ate at Pepy’s as children and returned over the years to introduce Gonzalez to their children and even their grandchildren.

“Pepy’s is a true mom-and-pop diner, the Cheers of Mar Vista, the heartbeat of the neighborhood,” said Mar Vista native Mia Duncans, who started the Save Pepy’s petition and Facebook group.

“Pepy’s has been here 44 years, and I’m 46 years old. I’ve been coming here since I was in diapers. Slowly you see gentrification taking place all over the Westside, but this place has been in everybody’s lives for so long,” said Duncans, who is calling on Bowlmor AMF to incorporate an updated version of Pepy’s into the new bowling alley footprint.

Damien Perez, a Pepy’s regular over the past 20 years, described the diner as Mar Vista’s primary anchor for interaction among neighbors.

“Part of our quality of life will be missing when this place is gone,” Perez said.

Local musician Chane O’Reilly, leader of the band Surgeon Marta, considers the loss of Pepy’s a threat to the community fabric of Mar Vista.

“It’s spitting in the face of the community,” O’Reilly said. “There’s no other word for it than disgrace.”

Mar Vista native Zee Mannsur said Bowlmor AMF’s Virginia-based leadership should consider Pepy’s vital role in the neighborhood carefully before making a decision from afar.

“I understand all about changes in life and changes in the neighborhood, but they don’t know what we have here,” she said.

Don’t say the ‘H’ word

Others at the rally expressed fears that a more upscale bowling concept would price out families.

“Just what we need — another place for hipsters,” said Venice resident Cindy Howard. “The neighborhood is no longer family-friendly. The parks are jammed. The beach costs $15 to park. The ice skating rink has closed. There’s no place for kids anymore.”

Shannon’s letter directly refutes claims that the AMF Mar Vista Lanes remodel will resemble upscale and often 21-plus facilities such as Lucky Strike lanes at Hollywood & Highland.

“There are all sorts of inflammatory and inaccurate statements about what our intentions are and how we have acted being floated on social media,” wrote Shannon. “We are not converting the property to a nightclub-type of bowling alley. It will remain a somewhat traditional, although very nice, family-friendly bowling center.”

Bonin said during the really that while some upgrades may be nice, the place won’t really be the same without Pepy’s.

“Things happen, and this place has a new owner. He has the right to do what he wants with the business that he owns, but we’re here today to say to him: We know this community, we live in this community, and there’s something very special that we love about this place,” Bonin said.




    Miss Pepys at the former El Dorado Bowl in Westchester, sad day when it closed suddenly. Unfortunately I moved away so I had never been to the Santa Monica or Mar Vista locations. Hopefully they find a new space.

      Jennifer hill

      I lived in Westchester for 15 years and had many a breakfast at Pepys there. One morning the doors were locked and no one knew that Pepy had close up shop. Not the customers, not the long time servers who showed up as usual to find that they no longer had a job as of that moment.


    I was going through a rough time in 2010 and I had to move from my apartment, which was down the street from Pepy’s. One day I went into his restaurant and asked Pepy if I could get something to eat but that I didn’t have any money. He said, “It would be my pleasure”. He smiled and hugged me and told me to get whatever I wanted. It touched my heart like you wouldn’t believe. I’d been going into Pepy’s Galley since I was a teenager. He watched me grow up and have a child and watched my daughter grow up too. Now, I want my grandchildren to know Pepy, and the wonderful people who work there but if they’re gone, that won’t happen. Every neighborhood goes through changes but there are some changes that don’t have to happen, and shouldn’t happen in this case. We need to keep some of our neighborhood institutions intact and stop letting corporations gentrify our little cities. When does it stop?


    The article makes it a point to describe how old and dilapidated this place is, pointing out the tiny size of things, the phony wood, a “handful of cushioned window-side booths”. By hey, so what? It works. It doesn’t keep people from enjoying eating there, or enjoying each others company. I for one couldn’t give a crap about the current state of the diner. I like it. That’s why I go there. Please do ME no favors.


      Jamie, it works? It doesn’t work if it’s not generating enough money for the cost of renovations, and that’s all the new owner is saying. A business needs to generate money. Peppy’s would, however, profit from the new bowling alley customers if they moved a few doors down into one of the empty storefronts.

    Judith Deutsch

    There is an empty crepe restaurant on Grand View just across the street and a few doors down from where Pepy’s is now. I also believe the Top Tomato store along there is vacant. Let’s think creatively here. After all, many classic restaurants have moved over the years. Perhaps the neighborhood could help Pepy set up nearby. He might be able to deliver to the bowling alley, as well. And if he decides to take charge cards, he could double or triple his business. Maybe this is as much as opportunity as it is a curse. If the bowling alley isn’t going to have a restaurant, then Pepy could move the equipment he has now.


      Judith, that’s an excellent idea. Sadly, “The times, they are a-changin’..”, and we have to morph with the times. If Peppy’s is such a beloved institution, moving it a few doors down is an excellent idea. Furthermore, Peppy will make more money, with the new customers brought in from the updated bowling alley, especially since the bowling alley isn’t going to have a restaurant. If I were Peppy, I’d sign a lease ASAP, before the rents get a major increase due to demand. Venice has already been gentrified to the max, so it is only a given that Mar Vista is next, as there is not enough housing for the demand to live in the new hispsterville. Meanwhile, Palms better get ready, because they’re next…

    Lionel Mandrake

    Ugh. They “upgraded” the Bayshore lanes into a chaotic mess. It’s truly awful. It’s like bowling in an episode of Sponge Bob that’s at full volume and playing laser tag. Mar Vista was kind of like the Alamo of west side gentrification. Once it falls we all might as well move into a Pottery Barn. What a shame for Phil, Pepe, and the residents of Mar Vista and the whole west side.


    Its a shame they don’t develop a 2nd floor on top of Peppys, all along Venice Blvd., that property is GOLDEN since there are no houses close to the Venice side of the building there could be quite the hipster scene on a balcony over looking the boulevard, with a club and other entertainment on top. and leave the ground floor more or else intact,

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