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50th anniversary coming up at Paty's Restaurant
By Dennis McCarthy, Columnist
If you've ever wondered about the spelling of Paty's Restaurant in Toluca Lake - why there's only one T instead of the more common two - here's the story.
When former owner Cathy Baker bought the restaurant from her future ex-husband, Buddy, it was called Gaby's.
"She couldn't afford a new sign so she just changed two letters," said George Metsos, who now owns the landmark restaurant.
Gaby's became Paty's.
There's some dispute if it was named after Cathy's mother or granddaughter, but whoever it was, the popular eatery is still going strong at 50.
It's one of those great places where you wish the walls - covered in autographed pictures of movie stars and other popular entertainers - could talk.
They can't, but Millie Copeland can.
She was a waitress there for 35 years before reluctantly retiring at 86 recently because her legs couldn't take the daily pounding anymore.
"Bob Hope, James Garner, Roy Rogers, Debbie Reynolds, Jonathan Winters, the whole `Laugh In' crew, I've served them all," she said Monday from her home in Sylmar.
"They were all down-to-earth people and good tippers. Jonathan Winters used to come in every day. If he didn't eat, he'd just walk around and visit, make people laugh.
"What fun we had," Millie said. "I raised two kids on my tips from Paty's."
Today's star power usually comes from Disney and other nearby studios, said Bob Greene, who manages the restaurant
with Sharon Mustaller.
"Miley Cyrus (Hanna Montana), the Jonas Brothers, Hilary Duff, they've all eaten here," he said. "Most of our longtime customers live in the neighborhood."
The last 50 years weren't all laughs and autographs, though. There were hard times at Paty's. The restaurant was closed for nine months in 1999 while it changed hands and got a major face-lift.
"The way I heard it, a couple of IRS agents walked in one day, told all the customers they had to leave, and chained the door," Greene said.
"When we came in, there were plates still on the tables. The place was a mess."
But Metsos, whose family owns the Lamplighter Restaurants, saw a lot of potential and history in that mess.
"I remember driving to see it with my dad when it was on the market," Metsos said. "We were about a block away when he said, `Is that it, the place on the corner?' I said it was.
"`Buy it,' my dad said, before we even got there. `That restaurant is going to make you a lot of money."'
Metsos followed his father's advice, then gutted the restaurant and reopened it in January of 2000. Paty's was back in business.
"I was buying more than a restaurant. I was buying a big piece of this neighborhood's history, keeping Paty's here," said Metsos, who offered every cook and waitress their old jobs if they wanted.
"They hired us all back," Millie said. "They didn't have to, but they did. These people are great to work for."
There's going to be a 50th anniversary celebration from 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday at Paty's, 10001 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake.
Metsos is rolling back prices to "around the '70s era," he said, and Millie will be returning to pull one more shift.
"I never had a chance to say goodbye to my customers," she said. "Now I will."
Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
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