Bun ‘N Burger: Where The Alhambra Breakfast Club gets its chorizo on

Location

Bun 'N Burger

1000 E Main St
Alhambra , CA 91801 United States

Updated: 10.17.11*; Originally published 10.6.11

The sun is barely up, but Bun 'n Burger owner Alicia Sanchez is already greeting customers in her Main Street diner by name and pouring them coffee even before they sit down.

“Hey Robert! How ya doin’?” asks Alicia, 54. As she serves guests, her husband and co-owner, Arturo Sanchez, 53, is busy grilling hot quesadillas in the kitchen.

Vanessa, Arturo and Felicia Sanchez - daughter, father, mother and owners.The regulars continue to trickle in.

“Good morning Oscar!”

“Hi Joe!”

“Kevin, you’re late!”

Located at the corner of Main Street and North Valencia Street, Bun ‘n Burger has been serving the Alhambra community since 1941. The restaurant may be categorized under “Burgers” on Yelp, but it isn’t the quick-fix burger joint I envisioned when I first heard its name. Its menu is perfectly split into two: traditional 50s diner sandwiches and burgers on one end, and homestyle carne asada, chile relleno, and steak picado on the other.

By 7:30 am on a recent Friday, eight men who look like they are approaching or have hit retirement, have taken their regular seats at the breakfast bar. A few leaf through the local paper. Joe is occupied with a crossword puzzle in The Los Angeles Times. They clearly feel at home. Kevin even gets the coffee kettle from behind the bar counter, pours everyone in the room a cup, pours himself one (he has his own mug), then takes a seat at Oscar’s table. They delve into an animated conversation about Obama for a while, then eat pancakes in comfortable silence.

Bar area where The Breakfast Club gathers every morningThese eight regulars have frequented Bun ‘N Burger for 10 years or more each. Some have wives and kids, others are divorced and living the bachelor life. Robert, 80, says that he’s been coming here every morning for breakfast for the past 15 years when he isn’t visiting his lady friends in China. The breakfast club doesn't meet anywhere else, and there are no rules. They simply come to Bun 'n Burger to read the paper and drink coffee together before the start of the day — on a daily basis, for a decade straight.

“It’s my second home,” Robert says with a big smile. A resident of San Gabriel, he is good friends with many people at the restaurant and even had Thanksgiving dinner at Felicia’s home with her family.

Bun 'n Burger is, indeed, a family affair in many ways. The Sanchezs worked at Bun 'N Burger before they took over the business in 1988. The former owner, a past Alhambra City Councilman and current president of the Chamber of Commerce, Mark Paulson "believed in my parents and gave them the opportunity to take over the business," according to Vanessa Sanchez, the youngest of the owners' three children.

Today, there's not a square foot of the restaurant that isn't decked out with salvaged street signs, yellowing newspaper clips from The Los Angeles Times, and other Americana and Alhambra relics that Alicia's customers donated.

Robert Bugher, standing next to a photo frame of his ex-wife and below the oak shelf he donated to the restaurant.Alicia asked Robert years ago if he had anything to put on the walls inside Bun ‘N Burger. He gave her two photo frames of his ex-wife. Both are black and white vintage photos of a beautiful woman in a long, flowing white dress. “You see that shelf up there?” Robert points to a hand-carved oak shelf that hangs high on the wall near the kitchen’s entrance. It’s about eight feet long and holds over a dozen LAPD mugs. “That used to be on the wall of my house.”

At 8:15 am, a sudden wave of people rushes in. Alicia doesn’t have time to greet by names anymore. “Good morning, anywhere please!” She repeats this without looking at the front door every time a new customer walks in. She’s pouring coffee, taking orders of beef hash and bacon omelets, and pouring more coffee. Vanessa, who comes in to help on Fridays and the weekend, won't be checking in for work for about another hour. Until then, Alicia is a one-woman show with almost 20 customers.

“Should we put on aprons?” Oscar quips.

The miscellanea on the walls have remained virtually untouched in two decades. Robert notes that though Bun ‘N Burger’s décor and ambience haven’t changed much in the years that he’s been here, the rest of Alhambra has altogether transformed.

“Fifteen years ago, Main Street was all boarded up. Now, Alhambra is a thriving city,” he says.

Ralph Salazar, who’s been coming to Bun ‘N Burger for more than 20 years with his father and son, agrees. He says that the city’s landscape and business have fluctuated, but Alhambra’s strength in diversity and hometown quality still exist, if you can look past all the Starbucks coffeehouses and townhouse construction.

There wasn’t a single customer that morning who was intently glued to a laptop screen, SmartPhone, or iPad. No trendy indie folk or jazz music playing in the background either, just the low volume of the local news from an eight-inch TV monitor in the corner of the room. I was in Bun ‘N Burger for just one morning, but as I helped myself to some coffee, I felt like I’d been there for years too.

Photo by Nathan SolisBun ‘N Burger1000 E Main StAlhambra, CA 91801626-281-6777

*Editor's note:

An earlier version of this story contained some errors, most significantly the first name and age of Alicia Sanchez and that the restaurant previously belonged to her parents. The Alhambra Source regrets the errors. If you find something is wrong in a story, we want to know. Please send an e-mail to editor@alhambrasource.org.

12 thoughts on “Bun ‘N Burger: Where The Alhambra Breakfast Club gets its chorizo on”

  1. Good traditional food with a neighborhood feel that is fast disappearing in Alhambra.

    This is a pleasant, cozy old school diner that developers would love to get rid of so they can build their characterless, foam-crete, multi-use complexes (like the over-density, cheap looking and aesthetically ugly exterior of the Regency Plaza).

    High density, over-development on Main St is a scourge on the quality of life of every resident, adding more traffic congestion. If the developers want to build a more sustainable community, try more open public green spaces and bike lanes. More condo’s and apartments is not the answer.

  2. Great story and writing, Deanna. I can't wait to read more from you 🙂

  3. Great article about our local community. I pass through this area regularly but have never eaten here. I wonder how much more (or less) business would be if this place was further west on Main St. where all the developments are. This area of Main St. has been slow on commercial growth, but for now, it seems like the regulars don’t mind one bit…

    1. Thanks John. Speaking of slow commercial growth on Main St, I wonder what will become of the Garfield Plaza in the next few years. It used to be a bustling center when I was a little girl, but when I last visited this summer, it sadly almost felt like a mini ghosttown.

      1. Hi Deanna,

        Thanks for the article. Your story actually piqued my interest to finally visit this place (for the first time) and have a great cheeseburger! The atmosphere here sure does have a hometown feel to it once you step in.

        As for the Garfield Plaza (Mervyn’s place), the last thing I heard from our ex-mayor (Gary Yamauchi) was from the first Townhall Meeting earlier this year at the Alhambra Civic Library. J.H. Snyder purchased the lot from the city and now has sold it to an investment partner. I believe this was the same company (J.H. Snyder) that was suppose to develop the old library site but now controlled by City Ventures.

        Many stores here closed due to various reasons . Mervyns is obviously gone (and not just in Alhambra but nationwide in 10 states). The Titus Medical Supply building closed shop here and had a FOR LEASE sign on it once several years ago. That sign is now gone. Black Angus has been boarded up for years and is slowly deteriorating. Subway and the Mahan Indian restaurant have relocated on Main St.

        With our slow economy, sparking development interest at this location for investors has been slow. I have heard many rumors/ideas for this location which is still up in the air. They include: A hotel, residential condos, Wal-Mart, Best Buy (since Alhambra has no major electronics retailer), Barnes & Nobles (no national book retailer in this city), and a host of other stores. With Circuit City and Borders now out of business, ideas are constantly changing. Whatever this place will be, hope its grand in scale and use. I feel this location (Main/Garfield) is the heart of downtown and any development here should reflect this (even if it means waiting longer).

        If you look at the Six-Month Strategic Plan Goals on the Alhambra City website, the latest news for this place is:

        “Identify tenants and options to enhance the property, move the project forward and submit a rehab and development agreement to the City Council and Redevelopment Agency to develop the Alhambra Place Shopping Center.”

      2. The old Alhambra Place property is what I call “prime” real estate. It appears that “mixed use” is the new trend and I expect that here as well, but one never knows.

        A multi-story mall would be kinda cool too, wouldn’t it?

      3. It's interesting to read from John that “sparking development at this location for investors has been slow,” though the plaza can be also seen as “'prime' real estate,” as Vince says. Despite other businesses shutting down left and right there though, Cha for Tea seems to have no problem keeping up a thriving business.

        A multi-story mall -would- be cool–a fresh hangout spot and economic center. I'm not sure how other businesses on Main St. would feel about the new competition though.

        And I'm glad you enjoyed visiting Bun 'N Burger!

      4. Hi Deanna,

        Yes, Cha for Tea (a Taiwan-based chain) is doing quite well; the nearby Alhambra High School certainly helps. This place seems to be popular for the younger crowds who gather to chat, play cards, or surf the web/do homework on their laptops.

        There does seem to be a bit of irony with a “prime” real estate location not being able to attract investors. The down economy has indeed made a profound impact on development. This location encompasses a much larger area than the other developments on Main St., therefore I believe this will be a much larger project requiring more capital and risk. Here is a link on the J.H. Snyder website that shows the project area:

        http://www.jhsnyder.net/project_alhambra_place.html

        Much of the parking space you see on the website is underutilized and building a multi-story structure, I feel, would greatly enhance the area. I don’t think other businesses on Main St. will necessarily suffer from increased competition. As long as the diversity mix of services and goods are properly distributed, the central business district will thrive. You can also think of it as the law of attraction. As business/developments cluster along Main St., the area becomes a magnet for those seeking the opportunities of what Alhambra has to offer. Historically, Main St. was THE PLACE to go. People gravitated there to escape their isolated single family home environments. It is this suburban model, from my perspective, that made Main St. LOSE ITS APPEAL during the past decades when big corporations overtook the small mom and pop shops. The big guys weren’t limited to Main St., and the car-dependent single family homeowner was more than willing (or had no choice) to drive elsewhere for business. This time however, having large amounts of residential units along Main St. will be the changing factor. Home owners will be in-place; they will be the anchor residents along this main arterial corridor and basically be the “regulars” for future businesses to come.

      5. What about the car-dependent condo dwellers that congest our streets and our residential neighborhoods. I don’t see a lot of foot traffic just a lack of street parking on streets near Main St and crowded parking lots.

        What about the overflowing trash bins from these condo complexes that seep out into our sidewalks?

        Who will be the new owners of these over $400,000 plus condo units? Not the existing Alhambra residents or most people, for that matter, affected by the recession.

      6. Who will be the new owners?
        Only foreign investors from China have that kind of liquidity right now.

  4. So it’s Alhambra’s very own Nate & Al’s. Cute, but is it tasty? I don’t want SYSCO beef patties, especially since I’m nowhere near retirement.

    1. SinoSoul,

      Good question. I tried the chorizo with eggs after reading that it's “amazing” on Yelp. The verdict: The chorizo's flavor was on the mild side and I wish it packed a bigger punch; the potatoes were slightly dry. But it was an ultimately decent, home-style dish that I can't complain too much about.

      A lot of the regulars ordered good ol' pancakes, eggs, and bacon, so it seems like a good place for the standard American breakfast. I might also have to check out their 2-for-1 Wednesday burger special the next time around!

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