Irv's Burgers

West Hollywood grounds have bitter taste for Peet's

Compiled by Jim Gardner. Contributor: Mark Calvey.
San Francisco Business Times

November 12, 2004

Peet's Coffee & Tea has carefully brewed an image as the anti-Starbucks of coffee chains, placing almost as much emphasis on its caring, sharing community-mindedness as its 32 different coffees.

So it's finding it uncomfortable -- not to mention unfair -- being roasted by devotees of a Los Angeles burger stand as a sort of poster chain for corporate steamrolling.

Peet's recently agreed to lease space for a new store on West Hollywood's busy Santa Monica Boulevard. Unbeknownst to Peet's, however, part of the site already had an occupant: the venerable Irv's Burgers, which the landowner planned to raze to make way for the coffeehouse.

The 54-year-old corner burger stand has an oh-so-L.A. history. Jim Morrison of the Doors and Janis Joplin apparently dined there, and the stand is reportedly featured in artwork for a Linda Ronstadt album. It also has a fanatically loyal clientele: Twenty or so joined together as the "Burger Brigade" to try to fend off the perceived interloper.

Peet's was blissfully unaware that a controversy was percolating -- until letters and emails of protest started rolling in to its Emeryville HQ. At that point, thought Peet's business development chief Peter Mehrberg, "maybe I should bring the landlord and the community together so we can save Irv's Burgers."

After all, Peet's prides itself on its history of cooperating with community groups -- even in notoriously tetchy cities like Berkeley and West Hollywood.

However, two meetings among interested parties have failed to produce a solution. A third is planned, but Mehrberg notes that as a prospective tenant, Peet's is more of an observer than a participant. "I can only play a limited part," he said. "Remember, we don't control this property."

Still, Mehrberg stresses, he sees the Burger Brigade's point: "What these people are doing is exactly what we'd expect in the communities we support. They are trying to stand up for a local business."


IRV'S BURGERS Since 1950
7998 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90046

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