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Sad News From Papa Don's - South Pas.

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  • socal Aug 9, 2007 03:13 PM

Never seen a thread about Papa Don's sandwich shop in South Pasadena before, but there should have been.

Seemed like a sole proprietorship type place that made some pretty creative sandwiches along with the standards. It is on Pasadena Ave right where it crosses the Gold Line tracks.

Anyway, I went by there on Tuesday and there was a sign in the window that they were closed for a family emergency. I went back today and there was a note saying that Harry, the main owner/operator, had passed away on the 5th. Pretty shocking. He was old, but not ancient.

He was gruff, but not rude (well, maybe a bit rude), but he did have soft spots for many of his loyal customers. That this group did not include me makes no difference. I loved the place and he will be sorely missed.

I assume it will continue to operate, but it will be hard to maintain the same type of atmosphere w/o him behind the counter yelling at you that they were out of rolls or that you couldn't take one of his hot sandwiches to go.

RIP Harry.

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  1. There's a little walk-up hamburger stand on Oxnard (between Kester and Van Nuys) owned and operated by a gruff old man who, incidentally, makes a pretty decent burger (no fries, however; kinda sad). Sometimes, while waiting for my burger, I wonder how long he'll be able to keep the place open.

    It's sad when a cool little unique place like that comes to an end...

    1 Reply
    1. re: CucumberBoy

      Do you mean Bill's Hamburgers? That place has been there longer than most of you have been alive!

    2. From what you say, good sandwiches, standards, and non-plastic personality, I know I would have enjoyed this guy and his food. I found a post by nrique, Mar 24, 2006, that mentioned Papa Don's within another post about a place near there.
      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/80072

      Rude can be part of the ambiance. IMO, a “NYC style deli” lacks NY style unless it has that “Sirtin sum’um about it.” – NY Charm. Sometimes when I am waiting for my order to be filled at Eagle Rock Bakery there is a mature lady (the owner) who has a way of making her presence known even though she may not actually be doing anything. I have not noticed her in a while but I have noticed that the place is not the same without her.
      Her – “Mustard?”
      Me –“No.”
      Her – “OK. Mustard,” as she adds mustard.
      Her – “Pickles?”
      And so-on.

      There are also the L.A. style gruff, rude and tude about food places. All this kind of makes me want to return to Sweet Lady Jane before it's too late.


      Eagle Rock Bakery (fresh baked Italian sandwich bread and top quality Italian meats and cheese) 1726 Colorado Blvd.
      Los Angeles, CA 90041
      (323) 255-8224
      Mon-Sat - 8:00am-6:00pm, Sun - 9:30am-1:00pm
      http://www.nelanet.org/businessfinder...

      Sweet Lady Jane
      http://www.sweetladyjane.com/

      1. I've passed this place at least 3x a week since I live around there and always told myself "Today's the day I'm going to go in" but I never did.

        Damn.

        1. Gruff is a good word to describe the operator of Papa Don's. Frankly, he gave me the impression that customers were a bother. That's why I only stopped in there once or twice during it's existence. There's nothing particularly unique or outstanding there. I prefer going to a sandwich place where I can at least feel welcome, such as Galco's, ER Bakery or Eastside Deli.

          Even Julio, as notoriously rude as he was, had his own twisted way of making you feel welcome at The Bucket.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Sam D.

            YOU feel welcome at Galco's? Ah, IMO, it is your MONEY that is welcome at Galco's! That guy John Nese, the owner, ah.... But don't get me wrong, to me it is all part of a ... ambiance thatis real -- not plastic. That is why I have no problem with Sweet Lady Jane. Not rude, only real.

            1. re: JeetJet

              Ha, that's the same thing I thought.

              I like Galco's but talk about feeling like a bother! The sandwich crew there makes Harry seem like a jolly fellow.

              1. re: JeetJet

                I feel welcomed at Galco's. Not sure why you feel otherwise. Any business welcomes your money but Mr. Nese has been very genuine and nice to my entire family. Now the lady who makes the sandwiches is another story. She seems morbid. She looks morbid and she has an attitude to match. Not sure what her trip is. They had this brat who made sandwiches too but she's not there anymore. She was unfriendly. I'm always glad when someone else is there making sandwiches other than that morbid woman.

            2. So here's the sandwich I got addicted to:

              The London Roast

              -Thinly sliced RARE roast beef
              -sliced cucumbers
              -tomatoes
              -sprouts
              -salt & pepper
              -horseradish sauce
              -served on a freshly baked french roll

              It was a really really good sandwich. Reasonably priced and big, but not too filling. Just right. A shame I never got other sandwiches, that one was just too good.

              1. My Pa-in-law always used to get the sandwiches from Papa Don's for him, Bro-in-law and I to take for Friday supper and Saturday lunch on our E Clampus Vitus outings. These were the Ton-O-Meat cold cuts-and-cheese things, can't remember what he said they were called, but one sandwich was a big plenty for two meals! Very good, excellent bread with a firm crumb and tender crust, tasted just as good if not better after sitting in the wrapper overnight. Especially with beer. Pops was a little worried the Gold Line was going to hurt PD's business, and in fact the place was not always open during posted hours.

                1. Wow, that's bad news to hear. I remember eating there for years as a teen ager when I helped my dad out with his gardening route. Yeah, he was always a little gruff with his clients. But I was lucky enough that he new my dad and always treated us well. The sandwich I always had was the poppa don, don't know if they still make it but it was good.

                  I hope one of the family members tries to continue what he started, it's a good little joint.

                  I'll miss him.

                  1. Wow!
                    I loved that place......it's been there forever........
                    My cousin lived a couple blocks from there when I was a kid.......we would often spend our lawnmowing money there in the late 70's/ early 80's.

                    1. Thank you socal for a nice review. I am Harry's brother and was fortunate enough to have him in my life for 58 years. I have not met a more generous, loving, kind, and caring person than him. He was gruff as you say but the gruffness came from his rush to minimize the wait time for his customers. He did not gladly tolerate customers who made what he considered "wrong" choices in condiments or ingredients. If you ordered Mayo on a hot sandwich, you would probably Not get it, but you definitely would get a disapproving glare. If you ordered a beef and ham combination sandwich he was likely to call the cops. since only murderers ordered such an unreasonable combo. I have often called him the soup nazi after the character in an old Seinfeld episode. There were quite a few neighbors and customers at his funeral. Those were the lucky ones who knew the real Harry under the gruff appearance of crotchety old Papa Don.
                      Fortunately his beloved employee Gina will uphold his tradition of Good food at a reasonable price. However she will not be able to assume the gruff exterior. She learned almost everything from Harry except how to assume a gruff exterior. she is just too pretty for that. Oh well who says life is perfect!

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Sarkis

                        so if it's still open with his emplyoee gina there, what's the address? thanks. are the sandwiches the same under gina too, thanks.

                        1. re: kevin

                          Papa Don's
                          303 Pasadena Ave
                          South Pasadena, CA, 91030
                          (626) 799-8397

                        2. re: Sarkis

                          Sorry for your loss, Sarkis. Everyone I've mentioned this to has been shocked and saddened as well and I pass along their sentiments to you.

                          I'm very glad to hear his tradition will stay alive with Gina. She's great too - they seemed like they had a really good relationship. I'm sure she'll make him proud.

                          1. re: socal

                            Hey Sarkis,
                            Deepest regards to the family.
                            I used to go to Papa Don's back in the 80's and I remember the excellent sandwiches and the beautiful music wafting over the counter.

                          2. re: Sarkis

                            Give me a guy who thinks logistically any day over a plastic smile and “Hello, welcome to bla bla, bla..” I wonder which sandwich was Harry's favorite as he would make it for himself. I would like to stop in, say hi to Gina, and have it his way with NO CHANGES, of course.

                            Does anyone know the Days and hours of Papa Don's?

                            1. re: Sarkis

                              I am so sorry to hear about your brother. I worked for Harry when I was in my early 20s. My brother did as well. I was pretty intimidated by his "gruffness"..but was very fond of him just the same. Lunch times were INSANE!!! Lines out the door! I had to sneak mayo on people's hot sandwiches, and Heaven forbid-anyone should order a hot tuna!!! He was very good to me tho. He gave me AAA auto insurance for my birthday, and when he did some remodeling; he got an extra table and set of chairs to give to me for another gift. I have told a lot of people about him. Once we were in the local paper -standing by the old oven -he was holding a platter with a hot pizza sub, and I was standing next to him. I loved when he was in a good mood and things had slowed down. He would talk to us and make us laugh. I moved back to Michigan many years ago and have always wondered how he fared. I was so sad to read the news of his death. My heart goes out to you. He was an interesting and unique individual. He has a special place in my heart.

                            2. I agree with you Papa Don's sandwiches are so memorable. I especially enjoyed the marinated mushrooms he puts in the sandwiches! So sad to here that he is no longer with
                              us. I was a real neighborhood gem. I'd go there any days instead of subways or the typical chain like sandwich place.

                              1. So I drove by again today and I saw a sign saying that it was re-opening on Weds. 9/? But I wasn't able to slow down to see the rest of the date.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: bigtums

                                  it's open as of today, today being Wednesday, the 19th.