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L.A.'s iconic Clifton's Cafeteria sold

New owner said he plans to keep 80-year-old restaurant open

A bar owner has acquired the iconic Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles, ending eight decades of ownership by the family that founded the cafeteria in 1931.

Andrew Meieran, the designer and owner of The Edison bar, also downtown, said Monday he had bought the five-story building that houses Clifton’s Cafeteria from Clinton’s Restaurants Inc., the family-run operation.

A spokesman for Meieran said the new owner planned to keep a cafeteria open, but the Clinton family would no longer operate it.

Known for its quirky interior designed to evoke a redwood forest and “Golden Rule” philosophy of never turning anyone away hungry — even if they couldn’t pay — the Clifton’s location is the last remaining of the family-owned business that once included eight cafeterias throughout the region.

The Clinton family’s roots in hospitality go back to 1888, when David Harrison Clinton bought the Southern Hotel in Los Angeles, along with its dining room, according to the company’s website.

Over five generations, the family operated restaurants called Dennets, as well as the Clinton Cafeterias in San Francisco.

Clifford Clinton founded Clifton’s — which combined the names Clifford and Clinton — in 1931 during the Great Depression, and the restaurant was known for its generosity in feeding the hungry, even if they had no money. In 1935, Clifford Clinton opened the second location, known as Clifton's Brookdale, now the only remaining location.

Struggling to survive in an economically challenged area of the city’s downtown, Clinton’s Restaurants in 2006 reportedly acquired the building where the restaurant was housed with the hope that ownership would provide more financial stability. Last year, however, the family announced that the five-story, 47,000-square-foot building was for sale.

Meieran, who is also planning to open an Edison location in New York, expects to retain many of the historic artifacts of the sprawling Clifton’s dining room. The food, however, will be “elevated,” his spokesman said.

“We are excited about the prospect of being involved in the revitalization of Broadway and one of the nation’s most historic eating establishments,” Meieran said in a statement. “We hope to continue Clifton’s incredible legacy as the cultural, social and architectural landmark in Los Angeles.”

Calls to Robert Clinton, president of Clinton’s Restaurants and Clifford Clinton’s grandson, were not returned by press time.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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