Ontra Cafeteria

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There were several Ontras around L.A. but we used to go to the one in Beverly Hills. It was on Beverly Drive at Dayton Way. Back in 1968 when comedian Pat Paulsen waged a mock presidential campaign, he held his big fund-raising dinner there and personally rang up the cash register, charging each diner 49 cents. That wasn’t that much below what you’d normally pay for a meal there.

At an Ontra, you could get a great hot turkey sandwich carved right off the bird, right in front of you. I usually did but sometimes I went for the fried chicken, especially on “all you could eat” night. As you went through the line, they gave you enough for a normal person, plus a little flag you could put on your plate to indicate you were entitled to more. They had a young lady dressed in gingham like a farm girl who strolled the cafeteria (a pretty large place) with a basket of more fried chicken and a pair of tongs. You could signal her to come over and give you another thigh or two…and it was pretty good fried chicken.

You could get great side dishes and an incredible selection of breads and other baked goods. They had all sorts of wonderful cakes, pies and other desserts but I usually went for the orange Jell-O, which was in cubes.

They don’t make cafeterias like that anymore. Hell, they don’t make cafeterias at all. The Ontras were all huge places with pretty good food at pretty good prices and I keep waiting for that kind of establishment to make a comeback. When they do, I’ll be first in line…with my tray.

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81 Responses to Ontra Cafeteria

  • LEDA says:


  • John Hindsill says:

    carole linn – Ontra Cafeteria, according to Wikipedea, first opened in 1909 in Chicago. Cannot find more of a history, such as, did it expand as a chain operation, or whether the SoCal stores were connected to the original. Or even whether someone here appropriated the name.

  • carole linn says:

    I remember going to the Wilshire Ontra in the late 1940’s with my family. Does anyone know when it first opened? It was very exciting to me as a young girl to visit such a fun place with so many yummy food selections.

  • Fran Hendrickson says:

    My Father, William Blackwell, was the district manager for the four locations in the 50’s through the mid 60’s.

  • Bob harrigan says:

    I worked at the Ontra Cafe in Beverly Hills in the spring of 1968 as a bus boy and beverage server. One drink I remember serving was Postum. I had never heard of it prior to working at Ontra’s and don’t remember seeing since.

  • Emily Taylor-Snell says:

    I have such fond memories of the Crenshaw location. My mom and I would eat here after going to the Crenshaw Shopping Center. Christamas time was the best with Alvin and Chipmunks animatronics in store front of May Co.

  • Pam Buck says:

    Wow! So glad I found this. My mom worked at the Ontra’s on Crenshaw (Torrance) and it was probably her first job. I’m guessing 1964-66? When ever my mom referred to the name, she always called it “Entrees”. 52 years… I always thought that was the name! Thanks for sharing some pictures of what the place looked like. I don’t remember ever going there but I know my mom still speaks of the place fondly.

  • Monique Bryher says:

    My grandmother worked part-time across the street from the Ontra in BH. The Ontra was my favorite place to eat (this would be in the late 50s and early 60s) and I loved their hot turkey sandwiches.

  • DanO says:

    I worked as a bus boy at the Wilshire location around 1967, don’t remember much except after closing some of the bus boys would have food fights; of course we would then have to clean it all up.

  • Melissa Fountain says:

    My grandparents took me there probably once each month. Heaven on earth. Chocolate pudding. Fried chicken. OH my.

  • Ellen says:

    I went often with my parents in the late 50’s. I remember the beautiful dining room. I always got the turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes. I loved that place. Funny, until now, I mis-remembered it as the Entree cafeteria. How funny!

  • Jammer says:

    Hi, was there a Ontra Cafeteria on Olympic Boulevard? I thought that’s where it was when I went.


  • donna bond says:

    My grandfather used to take us to the one in Beverly Hills for dinner. It was his favorite restaurant. He especially liked that it was brightly lit so “I can see what I’m eating!”

    My dad, whose office was located nearby, would often go there for lunch or have dinner there when he had an evening meeting to attend.

  • Sgt. Joe Friday says:

    The cafeteria concept lives on (sort of) in the Souplantation restaurant chain.

  • Linda A. says:

    When I started college, in 1964-65 I worked as a checker at the Ontra across from the famous stacked records building on Vine. Sometimes I had time to take in a matinee at a theater around the corner on the boulevard. At first, we operated Sweda adding machines and produced paper tape tickets for the cashiers. We had to know all the prices. We also kept the drinks filled and ready. There were red ones and green ones, as well as lemonade, water, and milk. After a few months, they switched to the first computers. They were a lot slower and the tour buses stopped coming after longer waits. They got mad at us, but it wasn’t our fault. I quit and got a job at Sears Hollywood . I didn’t see many stars, but there was an old woman who came in every day with a violin case. She ordered tea and crackers. There was also a hypnotist, whose office was upstairs.

  • Don Zambrana says:

    I got my first job washing dishes at the Ontra on Crenshaw Ave in 1964 at age 14. All of my siblings works there too. Made $.98 an hour. I will never forget the experience of working there.

  • Shel Theo says:

    Ontra cafeteria offered an “Onchilada” which was their version of Mexican food, back in the 1950s. It was pretty tame and tasted a great deal like similar offerings from Van de Kramps

  • Shel Theo says:

    Ontra cafeteria offered an “Onchilada” which was their version of Mexican food, back in the 1950s. It was pretty tame and tasted a great deal like similar offerings from Van de Kamps.

  • Jay says:

    My family would go to the Van Nuys location. We lived in Studio City, and it was an event to go that “far” out to eat. I remember the cakes and desserts, fascinated at the large portions.

  • randall gordon polk says:

    We went to the one on Van Nuys Blvd in the Hughes shopping Center ….probably owned by Howard Huge…ha ha …anyway in 1965 I was 7 years old and my lil bro was 6 . Dad was a musician and was away a lot so liked to take us out when home . When we heard Dad say “It’s Ontra Night ! ” , we couldnt get in the car fast enough! And there was a baked chicken night ….just $.99 (cents) for a full on chicken dinner !!! PLUS …..2nds where included . I have a program that tells the value of the US dollar and in 1965 a US buck was worth $7.13 …still a great deal !!!

  • Mary Humphrey says:

    My first job was at the Ontra Cafeteria on Crenshaw Blvd. in 1960. I was a bus girl & was paid $.92/hr. + meals.

  • Peter J. Sardina says:

    I worked as a bus boy at Ontra on Vine in the late 50’s after leaving the service. I also bar tended at a bar across the street. I cant remember the name or exact location of the establishment. If possible can you or anyone enlighten me regarding this.

  • Tom Spychalski says:

    I worked at the 5555 Wilshire Blvd Ontra cafeteria in 1960 busing tables. Met my first wife there, too. We were allowed one full meal per day in addition to our hourly pay. The food was tasty and attractively presented. Most customers at that location appeared to be local workers and residents. Enjoyed interacting with them as almost all were pleasant folks. Left in July of ’60 to join the USMC. Recently visited L.A. and drove by 5555 Wilshire. The building’s still there, but no indication of what business may now occupy it. Sad to see Ontra gone.

  • Wilhelmina Harris says:

    Crenshaw – I want some duck with orange sauce and stuffing. This was my favorite.

  • Diane says:

    We went to the Ontra Cafeteria in Van Nuys Ca, right on Van Nuys Blvd, across the street from Bob’s Big Boy, Friday night drag night. How wonderful it was to be 16 in 1962.

  • Lynn Wheeler says:

    I worked as a cook in the Ontra Cafeteria in 1969 anfd 1970 in Pasadena just off of Rosemead and Hastings Ranch Road. They had a fancy side Restaurant called The Crest Room that I started as a buss- boy in 1969. Great food! We catered to the tour busses heading into Hastings Ranch to see the Christmas lights every year. It was a great place to work and very busy. The food was better than any cafeteria food place today. Sorry Hometown Buffet, it is true.

  • Mark Samuel says:

    I would go to the one at the Fallbrook Center in Woodland Hills. They had a little kids room with classroom desks where we could put our trays and eat. They would show cartoons for us to watch. I remember on the side of the restaurant they had a long contraption you would put your trays that would that them in the back.

  • Don of the Dead says:

    My mom and dad used to take me to the Ontra Cafeteria in Torrance, located in the old Del Amo Center, right next door to the long gone — but still very missed — Woolworth’s. More than 50 years have come and gone since those long-ago, childhood feasts, but I can still taste that wonderful, open-faced turkey sandwich, with all that rich turkey gravy. And then there was the hot beef sandwich with brown gravy. And I always got black-eyed peas as a side, as mom insisted that I eat at least one vegetable. And what WAS it about that orange Jello? I was usually a “lime kid,” but there was just something about that “Ontra orange.” Great memories; thanks for sharing them!

  • Fred Stratton says:

    I remember the Ontra cafeteria in Beverly Hills so well. My mother worked down the block at a French bookstore, “St. Germain des Pres”, in the late 1960’s, and my grandmother Georgette used to take me to Ontra. I too remember the delicious jellos, orange or green cubes and delicious whipped cream on top. This was a wonderful place to go, and the price was right as well.

  • Javier flores says:

    I remember my grandmother Aurora taking me when I was about 4 years old

  • Richrd Burda says:

    Judy Scott Dunn, I have a copy of the photograph of Christmas breakfast held about 1945. I have identified my family Eugene Burda, Helen Moore Burda, Susan Burda and myself. I also see my mother’s brother, George Moore; her sister Lois Moore Vance, husband Neil Vance, and son Roy Vance. My mother’s uncle Scotty is standing against the wall with his wife and daughter (?). His two daughters are on either side of the table down near the front. My mother’s aunt Haddie is somewhere among the crowd. My mother told me the story of how her Uncle Scotty saved her family when their car broke down in the desert on the way to California from Indiana.

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