Hamptons

Hamptons (spelled with no apostrophe) was an upscale hamburger joint — perhaps the first one in Southern California. There were in fact two outlets of Hamptons. The original one was on Highland in Hollywood and in the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that the proprietor of this site was a part-owner of this one during its last few years of life. The other was out on Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake and it has now been transformed into Mo’s, with some but not all of the old Hamptons menu remaining.

Hamptons was famous as the restaurant that Paul Newman owned. That’s not exactly true but it’s also not utterly untrue. Here is how the story was told to me…

One day in the seventies, Paul Newman was having dinner with a friend of his, Ron Buck. Buck was a writer, artist and entrepreneur who had, among other ventures, built the 9000 Sunset building, as well as a trendy West Hollywood discotheque known as The Factory. He had worked without credit on several of Newman’s films, and he and the actor would later share credit for the screenplay of the 1984 Harry and Son. Buck was also great at cooking hamburgers on his backyard barbecue.

He had recently inherited an old house in which his mother had lived…on Highland Avenue in Hollywood, a few blocks south of Sunset. The other dwellings on the block were now housing real estate offices and Buck was trying to decide if he should sell the property or lease it to some business or what. Somehow, the suggestion arose that he open a gourmet burger restaurant there…a place where folks in the movie business who could afford better than Hamburger Hamlet could get one of Buck’s specialties, served with a glass of expensive wine.

The story then gets a bit murkier. Some say Newman put up the money and Buck put up the expertise and management. Since Buck was pretty wealthy, this may not be true, or it may be partially true. Some say Newman just agreed to be a frequent customer and to allow Buck to exploit that fact in publicity. Either way, the house was remodeled into a restaurant, mostly by enclosing the backyard. There was a wonderful, gnarled old tree in the middle of the yard and rather than remove it, the renovators bricked in the ground around it and allowed the tree to remain, reaching up through an opening in the newly-installed roof.

The place was named Hamptons because it was to reflect the fun and leisure of vacationing in the Long Island community known as The Hamptons. Various burgers were named for various friends and soon, it became a very “in” spot for folks who worked at nearby studios, such as Sunset-Gower or Paramount. The place didn’t do much of a dinner business but at lunchtime, it provided a welcome alternative to the fast food emporiums and taco stands of the neighborhood. At some point, it became so lucrative that Buck opened the branch on Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake. Some say that after Newman had recouped his initial investment thrice over, he withdrew whatever financial interest he had and gave full ownership to Buck. That is, if he even had any financial interest in it.

As you can see the story of Hamptons and Paul Newman’s involvement is a bit fuzzy. I vouch for none of the above, but for the fact that the two outlets of Hamptons became very popular. Once upon a time, it was impossible to get a table at lunch without a long wait. People loved the eighty varieties of burgers, including Stan’s Fantasy (with sour cream and black caviar), The Nelly Burger (creamed horseradish and bacon) and The Foggy Bottom Burger (peanut butter and sour plum jam). People also loved the little buffet that accompanied each burger, allowing you to further dress your sandwich and pile the plate with salads and side dishes. The menu did not include french fries — odd for a burger joint — but if the German Potato Salad available in the buffet wasn’t to your liking, you could order a platter of Potatoes Hamptons, which was basically hash-browns with sour cream.

I have dozens of memories of Hamptons, commencing when I worked at various studios up in Hollywood and we’d eat there once a week. It was a great place to spot celebrities and/or talk about that new screenplay. One friend of mine said it was the best place in Hollywood to meet out-of-work actresses who were waiting tables.

One time, I was lunching with the star of a TV special I was producing and we had a little trouble with a fellow at an adjoining table. He was a bit drunk and he kept banging his chair into our table and acting like it was our fault. Finally, my dining companion told him to knock it off, and the drunk stood up like he was ready to start brawling. My friend stood up to face him and the inebriated gent suddenly realized he was staring at famed dirty wrestler, Roddy “Rowdy” Piper. He immediately paid his check and left, and Roddy and I returned to our burgers.

This was in the mid-eighties. As that decade ended, so did the popularity of a lot of restaurants in Hollywood. An amazing percentage of them folded and Hamptons, while it managed to stay open, was rarely crowded. It also wasn’t very good. I believe — again, this is fourth-hand info, maybe more — Buck passed away, as did the fellow he had managing the two eateries for him. Whoever was running it tried a lot of different things, including the introduction of french fries but it didn’t help. Around 1990, I had a meal there that was so lousy, I scratched Hamptons from my list of places to go. I was not alone in this decision.

Then just a few years later, the two outlets of Hamptons were put up for sale, and were quickly purchased. One group of investors bought the one in Toluca Lake, completely renovated it and since they didn’t get custody of the name, reredubbed it “Mo’s.” The original Hamptons on Highland became Hamptons Hollywood Cafe and the group that purchased it also did a lot of remodeling, bringing in a new chef and adding new items to the menu. For some reason, they installed a “car phone” in the parking lot…a phone booth made out of an old Nash Metropolitan. And they rounded up a number of investors, one of whom was me.

I never expected to make any money off my investment and, indeed, I didn’t. The whole point of it was to be able to say to friends, “Hey, let’s have lunch at my restaurant.” Taken on that basis, it was a lot of fun. The folks who actually operated the place had a lot of good ideas, some of which were quite amusing. Since Hamptons had catered largely to an industry (show biz) crowd, they instituted an unusual pricing policy. Members of the Screen Actors Guild, Writers Guild and Directors Guild paid 10% less, while agents had to pay 10% more. The latter was meant as a joke but amazingly, there were actually diners who said, “I’m an agent. Do I really have to pay 10% more?” A few of those who asked were told yes, and they did. Wouldn’t you love to have one of those folks negotiating your deals for you?

The quality of the new Hamptons varied a lot. Sometimes, it was a great place to eat; sometimes, not. I didn’t have much to do with it except to (a) rewrite the menu to make it sillier, (b) make occasional suggestions and (c) add one menu item: The Groo Burger, based on the way my partner Sergio Aragonés likes his served…Grilled onions on top, then Mozzarella and Cheddar melted over the onions. I also had the supreme honor of having the barbecued chicken sandwich named for me and so consumed many.

But business was never too good and finally, the place was sold to a developer. For several months, it was “closed for remodeling” but no remodeling occurred. Instead, they finally tore down the house where Ron Buck’s mother had once lived, and even uprooted and removed that grand, majestic tree. The land now has on it a mixed-use structure (offices and residences) called Hampton Place. I already miss Hamptons and it’s not my investment I miss. I made a few bucks. I just always found it to be a friendly place to lunch with real good burgers and a great crowd. What more could you want?

66 Responses to Hamptons

  • Janice says:

    I loved that place. Dijon & plum jam burger with that carrot and green onion vinaigrette side salad was amazing. But my boss hated it because you had to go pick up your burger at the counter and load up your plate with your choice of sides, and he liked being waited on. Meh. I was in it for the food.

  • Francisco Ramirez says:

    I worked at Hungry Tiger in Palos Verdes in 1977-79 nice place, Renne Fleming was the manager. Does any body remember that place?

  • Shauna says:

    I miss the Hamptons-on-Highland Slam Dunkburger: rare beef on their good brown-flour bun with no raw vegetables but equal slatherings of Grey Poupon mustard and sour plum jam. It was the taste of a dream.

  • Wendy Hughes says:

    Hamptons Toluca Lake was enormously popular when it first opened – and it seemed normal to have to wait in line a little while to be seated. Burgers as fine dining was kind of a fad – it was fun. Mo’s did a nice job at first of keeping the vibe going, it was actually pretty good for breakfast on weekdays. Slowly it dwindled down and eventually the location closed. And as someone mentioned in an earlier message, Toluca Lake’s heyday seems to be a fading memory.

  • Deborah says:

    The pink peppercorn burger was the best! Also, I think the coffee had cinnamon. Really loved this place.

  • JPB says:

    I worked at Hamptons in Toluca Lake as my first job. I had just graduated Parochial school in beautiful downtown Burbank , Saint Bellarmine Jefferson . I recall Johnny Carson ordering milk, I offered him a straw stating “just in case you want to blow bubbles “. the restaurant was interesting , to say the least , I recall Madonna and Sean Penn sitting in a private room usually empty or used by staff late at night counting out their tips & eating a free meal provided by the Bucks . I thought the couple was waiting on their friends to get off , and so I casually sat down next to them ….. so many fun memories. I’m convinced David Hasselhoff worked as a waiter there ??? that’s how I stumbled upon this site. In regards to Paul Newman….salad dressing recipe

  • Terry G. Smith says:

    Here’s an update for you: the above was memories of 60’s and 70’s; I was in Toluca Lake again recently. It’s now two years worse. Crummy low level restaurants, for the most part. I know we can’t bring back the 60’s, the great style of the time, but how about a slower rate of decline! I won’t even bother to drive through TL anymore, much less actually stop there. And think that’s bad – look at Westwood. What a great town that was; with a college there. Now it’s a college town, with pizza “restaurants” in every block. Style is a thing of the past in some places.

  • Paul Flick says:

    I started as a waiter at the Toluca Lake Hamptons the day they opened. We must have had about 20 waiters on the floor that day. Luckily that number changed. I worked mostly night shifts and it was the perfect job for my sometimes busy (sometimes not so) acting career. I was very lucky to be able to get off work if I got a commercial or other acting gig.

    The food was always great and not homogenized. The tastes were strong and what you asked for. If you wanted peppery, you got it. The gazpacho was THE BEST and the vegetarian soup was excellent. We also had a some pretty good nachos !

    The cast of characters who worked there also made it special. Diane Delano and or Pete “the Greek” Chaconas might break into song or impersonation at any time. Ken Rattan, who was one of the cooks, was also very “interesting “! Maggie, Bridgette, Craig, Skip, Teresa and many more were all good friends. We all had our regular customers and often times didn’t really need to take their orders because we knew what they would be having.

    At one point, Hamptons in Toluca Lake got a liqueur licence and one of the big sellers was a 5 oz. Martini. It was served in a little carafe that I would put in a little bowl of crushed ice . Sometimes at lunch time I would laugh as a studio exec would two or three of these and say he was going back to work.

    Enough rambling. there are too many stories to tell. It was a great job at that time of my life

  • Karen says:

    Wow, great article! I was a waiter in the Toluca Lake Hamptons from the fall of 1984 to sometime in 1993. I saw a lot of people come and go, and lot of long term staff. I worked my way up the waiter ladder and eventually inherited Paul Flick’s shifts. I trained new waiters, also.
    Anne Buck interviewed me on a non-interview day in Toluca Lake, and hired me because she liked the east coast college I went to. Before I inherited the Flick shifts, I was in the back room for the lunch shift where all of the studio execs sat, they rated higher than the famous actors. I really liked the execs, Dawn Steel (the head of Columbia Pictures at the time) was one that o liked a lot. She always made a point to talk with me. There were so many biggies back there, along with top echelon actors and performers.
    I have lots of great stories about some of the patrons. One of my faves is when Frank Zappa came in during the mid afternoon shift, when we were slow. I had no idea (until he paid his bill) who he was. It was so slow that I had time to just hang with him, we played word upsmanship for 45 minutes (it was a blast!). After he left, the cashier informed me that I had just been waiting on Frank Zappa.
    One very slow evening shift, right before closing time (so slow, I was the only waiter and host), Madonna and Sean Penn walked in and wanted to sit in the employee room. I did not recognize them, so I told them it was closed and that they had to sit in the main room. They were not happy about that. As I was having the conversation with them, Dana (the manager) came out of the back and quickly told me it was fine to put them there. He then told me who they were after they sat down. Needless to say, they got great service and nobody was bothered that they kept us there later than usual.
    The ER was only open for busy lunch shifts and for Johnny Grant any time of the day. We loved Johnny, he was part of the family. He always gave me a big hug and liked to use the phrase “bubulla baby” after saying my name.
    The staff at Hamptons were like family, we all loved doing things together on non-working days and evenings. We also loved supporting each other’s creative endeavors and always went to each other’s shows. A large group of us have reconnected through FB, even had a reunion weekend.
    The staff also loved the food we served, and ate our meals in the ER. Ironically, I became a vegetarian within a year of working there. The good news for me was that Hamptons started serving a tofu burger not long after that, one of the first restaurants in LA to offer a vegan option. One my fave snacks was the curly fries with peanut sauce, so good!
    Anyway, those years were special to me, as they were the years of my 20’s. There are so many great experiences, and friends that have come from there.

  • JOSE LUIS SOTTILE says:

    I’ WORKED THERE IN THE 90’S AS A DELIVERY DRIVER. STARTED IN THE MORNING AND STAYED UNTIL CLOSED . THEY JUST PAID ME FOR DELIVERY AND FEED ME LUNCH. BUT THE TIPS WERE REALLY GOOD ! I’ ENJOYED WORKED THERE ,VERY EASY GOING , SPENT THE AFTERNOONS READING IN THE FRONT PATIO LISTENING TO FRANK SINATRA . I’ REMEMBER THE RAT INCIDENT IN THE SALAD BAR AND ALSO THE ONE THAT DIED ON THE RAFTER ON TOP OF THE ICE CREAM FREEZER . THEY TRIED TO ATTRACT COSTUMERS FOR DINNER WITH A MAGICIAN ACT AND CHEAP BEER ;BUT THAT PLACE WAS INFECTED WITH RATS AND THE INSPECTORS KEPT CLOSING THE RESTAURANT UNTIL THEY DECIDED WAS ENOUGH .WAS A SAD DAY WHEN I SAW THE NEW APT BUILDING TAKING PLACE , I’ FELT LIKE A LITTLE PIECE OF HOLLYWOOD JUST DIED .

  • Paul Lipman says:

    I was hired by Ron and Anne Buck to be a night manager at the Highland location. I was young, inexperienced, had no idea what to do and lasted a week. Very cool vibe to the house /restaurant – old wood pantries, etc. Felt like a dream. I believe there was a pic of Paul Newman up in the room I interviewed in, but memory can play tricks.

  • MICHAEL KATZ says:

    So much fun to have just found this site. I worked the cash register for my final summer job before heading off to college in 1980. Grew up down the street (went to Fairfax High) and our family would go in often for a meal.

    Loved that job and Big David I certainly remember you. The toughest part about being a cashier was that you were stationed just past the salad bar so you were hungry the entire shift. As an impressionable 18-year-old kid I loved seeing all the celebrities that came in almost daily. My favorite memory was when Marty Feldman came to the cash register himself to pay the check!

    Thanks to all for the stroll down memory lane. Yes, I’ll have a menage a trios, a cup of Gazpacho, carrot cake for dessert and some of that killer coffee…mmmmm!

  • Mary Lee Smith says:

    Does anyone have the German potato salad recipe? It was great.

  • George West says:

    Can’t figure out how to do a retraction…

    The burger I loved so much was the ‘Slam Dunk’ burger. The Foggy Bottom burger WAS the one with peanut butter.

  • George West says:

    I only went to the Toluca Lake Hamptons once, and only because my friend wanted to try “the other one.” I did, however, spend many a happy day at the Highland location. I was a huge fan of the Foggy Bottom Burger (but as I recall it was Dijon Mustard and sour plumb jam, no peanut butter). My wife liked the pink peppercorn burger. Oddly enough, the only friends I did NOT take to Hamptons were folks from the studios (although I do recall dining there with a couple of Gary Marshall’s publicity folks from Paramount). I think that’s because I used to prefer a quiet dinner there to the lunch crush.

    This article also doesn’t mention the “Writers-only booth” in the corner of the Highland location.

  • Terry G. Smith says:

    Went to the one in Toluca Lake often. That area was great then; China Trader – Bobby Troup played in the bar area. Great food. Whole area had good restaurants then. Went through the area with my daughter last Monday. What a difference. Sad to see it’s just another place now.

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