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JayDee Cafe: Serving Alhambra burgers and beers for nearly 70 years

Jay Dee Cafe’s kitchen manager, Stephanie Wilkins, posted a desperate message on Facebook last year. “Heart to heart, tell all your friends and family about us,” wrote Wilkins. “We need your support to keep my little kitchen running, it supports our little family. Thank you."

The Main Street fixture Jay Dee Cafe has been a part of the Alhambra community for nearly 70 years. But the economic downturn hit the business hard.

“The recession really took a toll on us,” said Wilkins. “I almost thought we weren't going to make it, with us being a cash-based business, customers had less cash to spend. We had to limit our help, limit specials, and events like our half-off burger day on our anniversary.”

Jay Dee’s customers, who tend to be over 40, are as much fixtures of this Alhambra institution as the memorabilia on the dimly lit walls. “We’re all bosses here,” said Wilkins, 31, as she gives a customer change from the World War II, army-issued cash register.

Front Row: Mike Messina (L), Ed Kral, Nellie Lima, Katherine Kral, Barbara Messina. Back Row: Jim Lima, Frank Lima

In the 1930s, before it was Jay Dee Café, the building was another bar called Elgin’s. At the time the area was known as the “Skid Row” of Alhambra, according to Jay Dee bartender Linda Moody. Ed Kral, Sr. and Jim Lima, Sr. bought the bar and opened to the public in 1944. The name Jay Dee Café was homage to a bar Kral and Lima frequented in the San Gabriel Valley. They couldn’t use that existing bar’s name, so they spelled out its initials: “J” and “D”. Now Kral and Lima’s sons are the second generation of owners, and over the years they have had less of a hand in the daily operations of their bar.

Wilkins’ grandfather first visited the bar as a patron in 1975. After hearing more than 30 years later that the Jay Dee kitchen was going to be available for rent, Wilkins and her husband Jose Jorge started running the kitchen six years ago. Jorge, 40, is the cook.

About 70 years of customers.

Despite the shift in running the kitchen, many of the homemade specials served at Jay Dee have remained the same for nearly 70 years: burgers, steak and potatoes, and meatloaf on Thursdays. “We don’t have a microwave in the kitchen,” said Wilkins. “We are very old fashioned, and our regular customers never expect to rush in and out.”

The patrons tend to be more drinkers than eaters, but some come just for the food. Most live locally in Alhambra, South Pasadena, El Sereno, and San Gabriel. Wilkins recalls one customer who recently passed, but frequented the bar until he was 96 years old.

A family behind the bar at JayDee's.

The walls near the pool table are almost exclusively dedicated to photos of the Kral and Lima summer hunting trips, and a caribou head trophy looms over the room. In the hallway leading to the bathroom hang images of wet t-shirt contests and chili cook offs along with some old photos of an Alhambra parade.

Moody, 61, who moved with her family from Pico Rivera to Alhambra in 1957, has worked as bartender at Jay Dee’s for 32 years. She’s mostly responsible for collecting the memorabilia on the wall over the last 10 years.

While the recession and Alhambra’s new businesses have hit Jay Dee’s old-fashioned ways fairly hard, Wilkins says business has picked up again recently. “I would have to accredit that to really faithful customers who are always telling friends and family about us,” she said. “We are truly honest with people, so that we can keep on cooking, and our wonderful customers really respond to that.”

Jay Dee Café’s kitchen is open for breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, and for dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The bar is open from 6 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Sunday. 

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9 thoughts on “JayDee Cafe: Serving Alhambra burgers and beers for nearly 70 years”

  1. I don’t know where you got your info M Payne but Jay Dees will be here for years to come.

  2. Stephanie & Jose we love you!! JayDee’s we love you! Your food is delicious (and afordable btw). We love everything “old school” about it!! We are glad it hasn’t changed. Also, by the way, our 13 year old daughter never passes up an opportunity to eat her favorite french toast & scrambled eggs there. We even love planning birthday celebrations at Jaydee’s, we are 2nd & 3rd generation customers. You just can’t beat every tasty homemade menu item and it’s huge portions. Thanks, too, to Eddie & Jimmy,& long time bartenders Linda, Don & Frankie, for still serving us joyfully & sometimes not! haha, but that’s what we love about JayDees . . .genuine, down-to-earth people (and food!) Waitresses & busboys Frances, Jeanie, Juan & Angel, we love you too!

  3. For some unfiltered commentary see Yelp. Kind of amusing.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/jay-dee-cafe-alhambra

  4. Alhambra is changing and you can’t stop it. Fight it all you want for the “old Alhambra” (which by all means, was just OK), but that’s the way the game goes!

    Get with the program or move to Arizona like all my cousins did (the rich ones moved to Irvine)!

  5. JayDee’s actually does have the best burgers in town! A place to get away from the sheeple who like trendy but tasteless food. Good thing only locals come here.

    Letting light in would defeat the definition of being a dive bar. Duh.

    I like that this place wears it’s history proudly.

  6. Honestly, 38 Degrees (city-sponsored redevelopment project) will eventually put this place out of business.

    Every dog has its day, and Jaydee’s days are over. It was good while it lasted but such is the cycle of life.

    1. Regarding comparison with 38 degrees, where did you get THAT? Jay Dees is an all American mom and pop place. Great prices, good food. ( sounds like prior comment is from a pro redevelopment zealot connected to city hall that must hold a grudge; therefore credibility questioned )

  7. I think they would help themselves better if they let in a little light. Everyone thinks of the place as a dive bar because that’s what it looks like from the outside. I haven’t been there since college (early 90s) because that’s how I still see it. Show you have more than just the bar if you want to attract more customers. I wish you luck.

  8. Best burgers and people in town!!!