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Irv's Burgers Owner Claims Pressure by New Neighbors

The property owner denies any threat to the longstanding burger stand that is a designated Weho cultural resource.

The owner of a West Hollywood hamburger stand that the city has designated a local cultural resource claimed she has been pressured to relocate in order to make way for a new restaurant.

Sonia Hong, owner of 62-year-old Irv's Burgers, said associates of her new commercial neighbors went to the sidewalk eatery in late December bearing warnings of a rent increase, termination of her month-to-month lease and offers of leads to new places where she could relocate Irv's. Hong said she didn't know the full names of the individuals who approached her.

"There's two units in this one lot," Hong said. "This guy who's putting a coffee shop is trying to kick me out of this place, and he's trying to put his own mini-Johnny Rockets. ... I want to stay here and work it out instead of getting kicked out. "

Hong and her family, who are originally from Korea, have owned Irv's since 2000 when they invested their life savings and purchased the business for $100,000.

"For years there have been different owners telling me to wait for a [long-term] lease because they're going to fix the property up," Hong said. "It's not fair."

The latest round of attempts to upgrade the property at 8289-8293 Santa Monica Blvd. began in January 2011 when the West Hollywood Historic Preservation Commission approved plans for a beach-themed cafe next to Irv's in addition to improvements to the burger stand.

Los Angeles-based property owner Steven Bohbot said he intends to keep the Hongs as tenants and incorporate Irv's into the property's redevelopment plan.

"Our whole concept is assimilating Irv's old school with this new design, we're even doing improvements to Irv's," Bohbot said.

"I don't know why she's so worried ... I definitely would not want them to leave," he added.

Bohbot said Michael Berman, a principal in Schoos Design which designed the proposed restaurant, is a partner in the cafe business. The landowner couldn't identify any other cafe partners.

Schoos Design spokesman Matthew Hutchison declined to comment on the project until plans are more finalized and wouldn't identify Berman's partners in the cafe business.

The West Hollywood Community Development Department couldn't identify the cafe entrepreneurs.

"The city does not have that information yet," Senior Planner Francisco Contreras said in an email to Patch. "Typically we will find out when that business comes in to apply for a business license."

Mayor Jeffrey Prang sent a letter to Bohbot dated Dec. 20 that praised the Hong family and urged for Irv's preservation at its current historic Route 66 location.

"The Hongs are a special family," Prang wrote. "Few business people become as important to the social fabric of a community as the business, but the Hongs have achieved that treasured status. It is my fervent hope and my urgent request that you do everything possible to preserve Irv's as an historic community institution, and allow the Hongs to continue to operate their hard earned family business."

Currently the city’s Building and Safety Division is considering a building permits application for the cafe, Contreras said.

Irv's faced demolition in 2004 when then-property owner Gregg Seltzer of Santa Monica filed an application to demolish the burger stand to accommodate a Peet's coffee shop.

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Matt Baume January 04, 2013 at 01:34 AM
Definitely looking forward to the upgrades. That spot is pretty dingy-looking right now. And the empty lot next to it on the corner can't go away soon enough. What's the timetable for redevelopment?
me January 04, 2013 at 01:43 AM
The family is very nice and i don't want to see the place go (it's a great kickback to another wonderful era of weho history), but it's LONG overdue for a sprucing-up!!! I'm confident they'll work it all out.
GoodGriefCharlieBrown January 04, 2013 at 02:11 AM
Hasn't Prang had a personal campaign sign in the window of Irv's Bugers for the last decade or so, the butt of many a joke through the years? I think he is such a fine example of petty political sleaze, a suck-up & a hanger-on. His background I believe (or lack thereof) makes him the most unqualified of all the present candidates for this council. West Hollywood deserves better than someone with his kind of "job" history.
me January 04, 2013 at 04:08 AM
haha, yes, that sign in the window that they use to block the sun from blinding them....i'll give credit to prang for only 2 things: (1) showing up at neighborhood meetings, listening, and possibly saying a few words (2) sending informative email newsletters....the other council people don't do either, that i'm aware of....in fact, i've requested to be on all of their mailing lists and only get newsletters from prang....what he doesn't do is put much forward himself, nor take a stand and stick with it....he's a very indecisive, middle of the road, play it safe kind of guy
Marie Cunningham January 04, 2013 at 06:11 AM
Sonia Hong is an exemplary Weho business owner. She truly cares about customer service and is wonderful to all who dine at Irv's. I hope the eatery stays...and starts accepting credit cards :) Marie
George January 04, 2013 at 06:28 PM
Marie do you eat at the greasy spoon eatery? Just wondered. I am sure the Hong family are quite lovely. I have lived in West Hollywood since 1981 and have never eaten at Irv's burger stand. I wouldn't really call it a stand really. It is very small and you would totally miss it if it weren't for the sign the city has in front of it calling it a landmark. I remember when "Hard Times" pizza place was still in business. There pizza was the best!!!! They have been gone over a decade now. I don't recall such out cry over that business being pressured? Just saying......
Sheila Lightfoot January 04, 2013 at 08:58 PM
Irv's has the b-e-s-t patty melt... ever. Once I get the craving, my feet are walking me to Irv's. And if it wasn't already designated a local cultural resource (because residents were adamant about preserving it), Sonia herself would probably be designated. There isn't a business in town in which the owners show so much love for their customers. In my mind, it's the relationship between residents and the local neighborhood businesses that makes West Hollywood special… even if their fare doesn’t happen to be everyone’s cup of tea. I've also had the opportunity to deal with Michael Berman a few times and my impression is that he's a nice guy who appreciates the neighborhood and very much wants to be part of it. I really liked O-Bar, often meeting neighborhood friends there for happy hour. Let's hope this is just a matter of wires getting crossed or an individual investor speaking a little too aggressively out of turn. The drawing done by Schoos certainly appears to incorporate a spruced-up Irv's beautifully, so I’m sure Mr. Berman “gets it.”
Ali January 04, 2013 at 11:03 PM
That's good to know Sheila...I love patty melts and haven't found a good one in town. Astro has a decent one, but not great. Next time I get the urge, I will go to Irv's and try theirs. I haven't been to Irv's in years.
Danal W Ferris January 04, 2013 at 11:46 PM
Yes I agree. Im sure the Hong Family are very nice hard working people, but their burger stand is a eyesore (as well as the empty lot on the corner). The Burger stand dose not look appetizing, just dirty. I live just around the corner and would appreciate the proposed upgrade. Thank you
MarkD January 05, 2013 at 01:12 AM
I've eaten at Irv's frequently. It's nice to get a good burger priced at a good burger price without having to flap your hands to get the wait staff's attention or deal with the attitude from the wait staff once they show up. Joey's could learn a thing or two from the Hongs.
PJ Schaefer January 06, 2013 at 02:48 AM
Not only are the burgers the best in town, Sonia is a one-of-a-kind hostess who treats everyone like "# 1 Customer!". She frequently treats people to little original cartoons on the paper plates she somehow manages to whip up between all the greetings and order taking. I hope that whatever future plans are in store for the spot, that Sonia and Irv's Burgers are a part of it.
A different Paul January 06, 2013 at 05:17 PM
Sonia Hong is wonderful. Anybody calling it a "greasy spoon" has never eaten there. It is a great place for lunch. I've been going there for years and few other restaurants pay such attention to customer service. It is a great old fashioned burger spot- no, its not fancy- but that is part of its charm. It might not look like something from architectural digest- but that doesn't mean it is "dirty". It is an outdoor restaurant that delivers burgers with a smile and a place where she remembers you and is always happy to see you. It is a local treasure in my opinion and Sonia Hong is a hostess that most eateries could learn from..
JESS Kalinowsky Registered Voter January 06, 2013 at 06:12 PM
Irv's has history. Leave them alone.
JESS Kalinowsky Registered Voter January 06, 2013 at 06:19 PM
Irv's was there before WeHo became a City. Just leave them alone. They work like dogs for their customers. Once Sonia learns your name, she will never forget! She is amazing. He elderly Mother works as hard as any of them! Great service and good food for the money! Instead of ruining ANOTHER part of WeHo, just let them do their thing for as long as they live! It is NOT a "Greasy spoon" by any stretch of the imagination. It is clean as the building will allow. The Mexican guy is a hold-over from when "IRV" owned the place. Sonia and Sean are great! They deliver in the area for free. GRRRRRR Just leave them alone!

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