Conversations: Mr. Ed
“Black coffee and a scone, Mr. Ed’s coming!”
Introduced by Shelley Armistead
Interview by Gabe Walker
If you’ve ever visited Gjusta, there’s a good chance you’ve met Mr. Ed. For those who haven’t, it is my pleasure to introduce the man who joined our family and brought us much-needed hope at the height of COVID.
Before COVID, we had 400 staff, and we went down to one week where we only had three team members. Gjusta dine-in had shut down, and we were to-go only. I distinctly remember this moment of franticness, a bare-bones team doing the work of 180 people, and looking out and seeing the man I’d come to fondly know as Mr. Ed seated in his walker underneath the Brazilian pepper-tree in our parking lot. I remember looking at him and saying, “Oh, I’m sorry, we can’t do dine-in.” Mr. Ed replied, “Don’t worry, I’ve got my own chair,” and he just kept on going with his cup of coffee. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. And through this moment in time when we couldn’t have anybody join our family of friends eating with us, there was Mr. Ed, this constant, walking the mile round trip to Gjusta every single day. He was the only person we allowed to dine-in when the state had shut us down; we’d say “Mr. Ed’s a staff member, that’s why he’s allowed here.”
I’ve watched Mr. Ed develop a beautiful friendship with Gabe, our greeter/driver/packer; Gabe truly does it all. Between this time of real tumultuousness through the pandemic and Black Lives Matter, I witnessed Gabe interact with some really unkind people at the door. People who did not respect him as a human being. And then Mr. Ed would come, and Gabe would watch for him; Mr. Ed would come around that corner and Gabe would yell out, “Black coffee and a scone, Mr. Ed’s coming!” Gabe has even taken to calling Mr. Ed by his nickname “Zip,” given to him when he was young because he never stopped moving.
Mr. Ed took the time to get to know every person who swung by his table — he knew more about our staff members than I did! We started Gjournals to tell people’s stories, and as Mr. Ed is somebody incredibly special to our family, I’d like to take the time now to share his story, and his voice, with you.
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Gabe: What draws you to Gjusta and what makes you push yourself to walk here?
Mr. Ed: I worked at a restaurant, The Shack, at one time and Gjusta is a combination of things I remember with that business, how it is situated in the neighborhood and how it feels like a family operation where everyone takes pride in their service. My in-laws, Steve and Eloise Burke, owned The Shack. They started it with 6 stools and $1,000 in 1939 in Hollywood near the studios.
I felt that sense of family when I came through here. I found home again right here.
How is Gjusta compared to the restaurant that you ran?
It’s not possible to compare the two, but it’s interesting to find something so many years later that reminds me of it.
What pointers can you give us to help us maintain what draws you here and to better ourselves?
Stop and stay as you are, don’t change something that’s working.
What motivates you in life to keep pushing on and come to Gjusta?
It’s a mile round trip walk to my house and I know if I have done that, I have done something good for myself for the day.
What wisdom can you give us about living a fulfilled life?
Be who you are and don’t try to be someone that you’re not.
What makes a great restaurant?
The owners, employees and, most of all, the customers that come, because that's a reference to what you have accomplished with your business.
How did you balance giving yourself at work to be great, and still do the same at home for your family?
With the restaurant business, that's very difficult to do, only my family & peers can tell me if I was able to accomplish that. Sometimes I've done it right, sometimes I haven’t, but I haven't given up. Four children, four grandchildren, my wife Susie and I have been blessed.
What is the legacy of Mr. Ed/Zip?
To remember what we have accomplished, what we've done in the past and hopefully will continue in the future. I have a wonderful family. There was a thing we used to say in San Francisco when I was growing up — we’d occasionally have rainbows forming and the story was, if you chase the rainbow and find the end, there’s a pot of gold. I was just reflecting and thinking, this is my rainbow.