Mike’s Diner on Castaic Road, celebrating its 70th anniversary this month, has gone by many names since opening in 1947, including Larkin’s and Café Jose.
It became Mike’s because that’s what fit on the sign outside.
“The owner for a long time back in the 1960’s was named Jose,” said current co-owner Mike Harutunian. “When he sold it to my brother Dan and me, we got an insane estimate for changing the name on the sign. Then we got a low-ball offer to just swap out the word Jose, and we needed a four-letter word to replace it.”
The brothers took the offer, and Café Jose, became Café Mike, which became Mike’s Diner. Had the previous owner had a three-letter name, this story would be about Dan’s Diner.
By any name, the eatery, which is holding an anniversary celebration Saturday, June 24, has long been famous for large servings of hearty fare for travelers along the 5, and before that, old Route 99.
“About 60 percent of our customers are truckers or other travelers, and 40 percent local residents,” Harutunian said.
When they took over, they revamped the menu. “Most of what we serve we make in-house, including our soups, gravy and pancake batter.”
But their history at the diner goes back well before 2015, to their childhood. Dan and Mike’s parents owned and ran the diner in the 1970s and ’80s, then sold the business but kept ownership of the property.
When business flagged a few years ago, Dan and Mike took over day-to-day management in 2015. Mike, who splits his time between the diner and a faculty position teaching English at College of the Canyons, credits Dan as the more hand-on manager.
“I grew up in this restaurant, I was a busboy here, I heard all the stories,” Harutunian said. “A fair number of our customers and our employees have been here for decades. That’s what I love most about the place, the people.”
To celebrate the 70th anniversary, the brothers are hosting a “summer stunner car show” featuring classic and custom cars on the evening of June 24, working with longtime friend Nick Roberson.
“There’s no age cutoff on the cars that can enter, and there’s no entry fee,” Roberson said. “There will be a bounce house and other fun and games for kids. We’ll have a great classic rock band, acres of room for cars, and local legend San Stanley.” Stanley competed as a NASCAR driver and still owns a racing team that competes at Ventura and other area raceways.
Roberson said the event will help provide members of the Castaic community entertainment close to home evening, and build on the success of two similar events last year.
“We had close to 70 cars last June, even though it hit 114 degrees that day,” he said. “This year, we’ve decided to go with an evening event, starting at 4:00 p.m., to avoid the worst heat of the day.”
The diner, which features staples like chicken pot pies and pancakes, other classic American food along with a selection of Mexican classics, is open daily from 6:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 31537 Castaic Road.