Route 66 in the News

Summit Inn Continues to Serve

2009-09-08 21:41:27

Elvis, James Bond and Pearl Bailey all did it. One had a temper, one was passing through and one was a regular.

They each ate at the historic Summit Inn atop the Cajon Pass.

When Bert Riley built the Summit Inn Café and Texaco gas station in 1952, there weren’t many gas and food stops along Route 66 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Current owner Cecil “C.A.” Stevens bought the restaurant and gas station from Riley in 1966. He’s owned the place ever since.

“I wanted to buy the gas station but I didn’t want the restaurant,” the former Standard Oil station owner said. “I didn’t know anything about restaurants. I’m a gas station man. Riley told me I’d have to buy both. A German woman, Hilda Fish, ran the restaurant. I told her if she’d stay and run the place I’d buy it.”

And she did stay, for 38 years, before retiring in 2002. The gas station is no longer in service but the roadside diner still is.

Diners are treated to hearty portions of breakfast, lunch and dinner: buttermilk pancakes and fresh egg omelets; Angus, buffalo and ostrich burgers; beer batter fish, fried chicken and chili; date shakes and cool well water.

“Breakfast is our busiest business,” said Stevens.

Today, flying over the café are eight flags representing the states that Route 66 runs through: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The “Mother Road” was commissioned in 1926, and starts in Chicago and ends in Santa Monica.

The café’s vintage 1950s décor hearkens back to simpler times. Route 66 upholstery-clad booths and counter stools are anchored by black and white checkered floors. Vintage gas pumps and gas station memorabilia adorn the walls and counters. Route 66 signs and artifacts are displayed throughout the restaurant.

The restaurant’s clientele is as historic as its décor.

Elvis Presley once ate in a back booth. At one point, he walked over to the jukebox to check the musical selection. When he didn’t see any of his records he got angry and kicked the jukebox. Today it still plays 45s, and Presley’s “Jail House Rock” and “Treat Me Nice” are among the titles.

Pierce Brosnan, the fifth actor to play James Bond, sat at a booth in the back, in the same booth where Elvis sat. He was on his way to Las Vegas with family and stopped in for a bite to eat. As Brosnan was leaving the restaurant, Stevens got his autograph.

“He was a real nice guy,” said Stevens.

Pearl Bailey used to sit at the counter. She’d order buttermilk pancakes and coffee before heading out to her ranch. In 1955, she purchased Apple Valley’s first African-American dude ranch, Murray’s Dude Ranch.

Other celebrities have also visited the Summit Inn, including Clint Eastwood (who preferred a booth) and Danny Thomas (who liked the counter). Autographed photos of John Wayne, Loni Anderson and other celebrities hang on the entry hall walls.

For restaurant manager Joan “Joanie” Blackburn, who has been at the restaurant for more than 20 years, the special customers are the regulars.

“It’s family,” Blackburn said. She’s not alone in working at the Summit Inn for decades.

Stevens feels the same sort of loyalty to his employees.

“A few years ago I got an offer to sell the place but [the buyer] wanted to get rid of everyone. I couldn’t do that to them.”

Summit Inn is located at 5970 Mariposa Road in Oak Hills. They’re open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; Friday through Sunday until 9 p.m. For more information, call 949-8688.

~Sharon Strickland, via the Hesperia Star


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