Curious passersby keep trying to peer into the windows of the restaurant opening on the prominent corner of Honolulu and Montrose Avenues in the north Glendale neighborhood of Montrose. Once home to ‘50s-style diner Rocky Cola Cafe, which opened in the late 1980s before closing in 2012, this space was vacant for years before Tom Christopoulos and his family began construction of their new restaurant, Gus & Andy’s Kitchen & Bar. After four years of build-out, Gus & Andy’s finally opened last week; since opening, it’s been so busy that the kitchen has been running out of food almost every day.
“We want to create the feeling that you are in the Greek backyard where everything is made on the grill,” says Tom Christopoulos, who is operating the restaurant with his wife Karen and their three sons, Costa, Andrew, and Tommie. Gus & Andy’s joins the tight-knit, small-town vibes of Montrose, a historic neighborhood filled with mom-and-pop shops and restaurants. The name pays homage to Tom’s father Gus and father-in-law-Andy, both of whom were veterans in the restaurant business, with more than 80 years of experience. Tom Christopoulos’ family also ran restaurants in Glendale, Pasadena, and Orange County.
Tom’s grandfather Gus used to have hot dog stands and drive-ins in Chicago. Tom’s father had restaurants in Chicago and California. Tom’s other grandfather Andy specialized in supper clubs in Central California from the late 1940s until the early 1960s. With his family moving to California and growing up in La Cañada, first-generation Greek American Tom saw the prominent Montrose Pharmacy, which first opened in 1923 from the Belanger family, on the corner of Montrose and Honolulu.
Restaurateur Wally Curry turned the Art Deco building into retro diner Rocky Cola Cafe in 1988. The diner was a longtime north Glendale institution, becoming famous when then-president Bill Clinton had a buffalo burger and fries in 1996 during his second term’s campaign tour. Whitney Houston also filmed a video there. Tom and his partners recreated the booth where Clinton had lunch, matching it with the restaurant’s overall green and pink interior. A cocktail called Rum & Rocky Cola also references the former diner.
Tom says Greek seasonings as the secret ingredient for the mostly all-American diner menu with some updated touches. The yeero is a pita sandwich with grilled pork, tzatziki, and then french fries. The Greek donuts are loukoumades, which are soaked in honey, cinnamon, and powdered sugar. “In this area, there are a lot of different interpretations of what Greek flavor is. Ours is from Peloponnesus, which is different from Northern Greece or the islands,” says Christopoulos. Other than those two items though, most of the menu is fairly straightforward American food. Popular dishes include Tri-Tip sandwich, a chili-infused breakfast burrito, grilled pork belly sandwich, and the Maxwell Street grilled polish sandwich, an homage to Tom’s family business, the iconic Jim’s Original in Chicago. For more modern dishes, there’s a seared tuna-topped kale salad and avocado toast.
The key part of the restaurant is the Santa Maria-style wood grill with a wheel on the side to moderate the heat. “In our mind, this is the way to bring everybody together. Usually, when there is a grill, people gather around it with a drink or play a game next to it. That’s what we like about [it],” says Tom. The grill is where the kitchen cooks Tri-Tip, pork belly, chicken, and, of course, burgers.
The dishes are combinations of Christopoulos family recipes with input from the chefs, Hrad Papazian and Cindy Castro. Papazian is an Institute of Culinary Education graduate who worked at a spot in Manhattan Beach and oversees the grill. Castro studied at Le Cordon Bleu, and worked at Malibu Beach Inn before coming here to lead the kitchen.
When all the windows and doors are open across the street-facing storefront, the restaurant feels like a beach cafe, making it even more welcoming for families and younger customers on Montrose’s warm summer days and nights. There are a few tables inside and even more placed outside along the sidewalk. Toward the back, a classic Midwest tavern-style bar that Tom designed and built himself comes with a designated entrance on Montrose Avenue. The bar serves the full menu but also offers special cocktails recalling family memories and traditions, like the Metaxa Mule made with Greek brandy, or the Hi Tide, referring to the University of Alabama that Costa and Andrew attended.
The overall feeling here is “not pretentious,” which is what attracted the family to this corner of Honolulu and Montrose Avenues in the first place. The Christopouloses are hoping to continue family traditions and become once again a popular destination that appeals to easygoing Montrose residents. Gus & Andy’s Kitchen & Bar is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., with hours until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.