The Atomic Cafe Takes OffBy Jeff Copeland, Dianne Lawrence
One block west of La Brea sits the Atomic Café, a beautifully designed vision of restaurateur, Tony Shibata. Open, airy windows framed by shiny steel, allow you to view patrons eating, talking and creating the kind of community a good local restaurant provides. Finding himself the owner of a popular local eatery is as much a surprise to Tony as it is to the neighbors discovering this oasis of good food.
“I was always more of a ‘microwave a meal between television commercials’ kind of guy. Opening a can of Ranch Style Beans with a steamed chicken breast from COSTCO, and a piece of wheat bread, washed down with a cold beer was my idea of living.”
He enjoyed good food but only if some one else was cooking. Graduating from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a degree in architecture, Tony went on to establish a career in construction, eventually remodeling his own properties. Three years ago he purchased the building at the corner of Washington Blvd. and Mansfield Ave. with 3 commercial units downstairs and a living unit upstairs. Tony moved in and began remodeling the home
immediately. Downstairs the upholstery store, barbershop and “Big Daddy’s Kickin’ Chicken”, were barely making ends meet. One by one they left, leaving a building that had fallen into disrepair.
“Having lived in the building for a year and a half, I was dismayed to not have a decent place to eat in the immediate area, a sentiment shared by many of my neighbors. I knew there was a need for a clean, attractive restaurant that served good food, so my adventure began.”
He rolled up his sleeves and began the arduous task of cleaning out the old restaurant and bringing in the new. The previous tenant took most of the equipment and anything left behind had to be thrown out. Nothing was salvageable except for the large walk-in refrigerator and the stove hood. With limited funds, the rest of the equipment would have to be bought used. Craigslist, Ebay, and local restaurant supply warehouses were his hunting grounds. Old flooring was removed, bathrooms were re-tiled, and walls were repaired and painted. City agencies came in,”including the Building Dept, Health Dept, Sanitation, and Community Redevelopment Agency all wanting something added or changed, costing more money and time”. But Tony persevered, fueled by confidence that the community would support his vision.
Finally it came time to name his baby. Wrestling with names like “Canoodle”, (sounded like an Italian pastry) and “Sip and Chomp” (didn’t sound too friendly), he recalled his old collection of 1950’s coffee percolators packed away and nearly forgotten. Pulling them out of storage he laid them on the counter top and admired each one’s uniqueness. Some had wooden handles, others had Lucite, while still others had Bakelite (plastic had not come of age yet). The old coffee pots reminded him of the 1950’s, known as the Atomic era. Bingo. The Atomic Cafe was born.
A community has a spirit of its own. Someone comes along with just the right combination of talent and know-how to fulfill some need of that Spirit. Although owning a restaurant was never a dream of Tony’s he was in the right place at the right time and the Community Spirit drew him in. In the months since they’ve opened, the Atomic Café has become more than a restaurant. It’s a warm, friendly place where your neighbors
become your friends. Just what the community asked for.