Welcome to Front & Center, a series highlighting front of the house professionals in Los Angeles restaurants.
The clank of metal spatulas on the steeltop grill, the sizzle of fries, the whirl of worn ceiling fans. Cooks plop burgers wrapped in paper on the pass while countermen rush busily to fill orders, ringing up checks on ancient cash registers and slinging fresh pie slices. The iconic look of Apple Pan only feels right because of the paper-hatted men who work there, especially Mathilio Quintana, who serves almost every night. We sit down with Quintana near the end of a busy Saturday night, asking him the ins and outs of LA's classic burger joint, after over 25 years of business.
When did you start working here?1987.
Was this your first job? No, I came to America in 1973 and started working a big restaurant in Westwood called Yesterday's (where Chili's used to be). I was a server there.
What's the best thing on the menu at Apple Pan? Everything. No seriously, everything. But really, the apple pie and banana pie are the best. Every day, the hickory burger and the steak burger sell really well. They are the most popular items.
What's the least popular item? The Swiss Cheese sandwich. It's just lettuce and swiss cheese. It's the only vegetarian item we have.
Any off-the-menu items? The tuna melt, which is basically the tuna sandwich without lettuce and then grilled with a slice of cheese. You can get a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. You can also get two patties in a burger, if you want.
Who are some of your most faithful customers? We have people that have been coming since I started working here. We have customers who come and eat here for lunch and then eat again for dinner on the same day.
What do you do on your day off?Sleep!
What do you like most about working here? It makes good money! There are only two servers for 25 seats. I'm already technically retired, so I'm just working to stay busy and healthy. I don't eat burgers any more because at my age they're not too healthy. But I still eat about three tuna melts a week.
How many pies do you make during the holidays? Last year, we made more than 1200. The day before Thanksgiving, there's a line out the door around the block at 8 in the morning. We don't have a lot of room in the back so we just stack the pies all over the front counter, sky high. And we always sell completely out of them. Some people take twenty or thirty pies. I'm not sure what they're doing with all those pies, but that must be a great party.
What's your favorite pie? Apple and banana, which we have every day. Actually, there's a schedule for all our pies, depending on the day of the week and the season. For example, we have banana cream, apple, chocolate cream, and pecan every day. We have boysenberry pies on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Pumpkin pie we have every day starting in late fall, but then switch to three days a week until the end of winter. During the summer, we only have cherry pie on Saturdays, peach pie on Fridays and Sundays and Strawberry pies only Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sunday.
What do you want to do when you retire? I don't know if I ever will. In the past, one of the cooks worked for over 50 years here. Another server used to work here for 30 years and then ended up passing away four months after he retired from Apple Pan. I wouldn't ever go back to my homeland, Michoacan, Mexco, because it's too dangerous.
How many people order buttermilk from the menu every day? Not too many. But let me tell you, it's the best tasting milk, in my opinion.
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