By Jim Walker
Signal Staff Writer
With its rustic dirt parking lot snugged up to Sierra Highway in the “wilds” of northeastern Canyon Country, the Halfway House has had a food focus for 116 years. That makes it the second-oldest business in Santa Clarita (the Signal newspaper is third-oldest!).
The Halfway House was first established as a trading post in 1906, “halfway” between the farmers of the Antelope Valley and the Los Angeles food markets. Members of the two groups could meet there and do business, with neither having to drive the full distance — which back then, was quite a journey. The Halfway House became a cafe in 1931, and has been pleasing folks from near and far with homestyle cooking and atmosphere since then.
Beyond that, the picturesque appearance and location of the cafe have made it a very popular location for film, television and advertising shoots for decades. The back of it’s menu highlights a number of these productions, including multiple television shows, such as “The A-Team,” “Knight Rider,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Gilmore Girls” — and movies such as “Heartbreak Ridge” and “Space Cowboys.”
Famous singer-songwriter Bob Dylan even created an acrylic painting of the Halfway House Cafe in 2018 as part of his Beaten Path series. Another connection is that the song “One Headlight,” by Bob’s son Jacob Dylan and Jacob’s band The Wallflowers, is the soundtrack for a 2014 Geico motorcycle insurance commercial shot at the cafe. You can see the video at scvhistory.com/scvhistory/geicodiner 091114.htm.
Jacob Rondoni has been the manager of Halfway House Cafe since 2019, and also serves as the site’s representative for filming. He feels the restaurant’s popularity goes well beyond the culinary and visual.
“It’s a combination of the food, history, atmosphere, employees and customers,” he said. “If you’re here when we’re full, you are probably going to make a friend or two.”
Rondoni took over operation of the cafe from his mother, Sally Lima. She had started waitressing there in 1999, progressing to managerial duties. Bob Lima purchased the restaurant in 1992, and sometime after Sally began working there, they started dating. They were married in 2015.
“Bob is a true entrepreneur,” Rondoni said, “and has one of the biggest can-do attitudes ever. He loves a challenge.” Bob and Sally owned and operated the cafe together after that, until Bob’s declining health required Sally’s care at home.
Rondoni notes that when he took over, he only had to manage the restaurant, not the employees. Many of them have been there for years, in particular the head cook, Sanchez, who has worked there since 1993.
“They all know what they are doing,” Rondoni said. “I try to stay out of the kitchen. Our customers would appreciate that,” he quipped. And he added, “Our employees know our regular customers by name, what they eat and drink. When they see them drive up, they start preparing their favorites.”
“Our customers are a big part of the Halfway House Cafe,” he added. “They are some of the nicest, most supportive people. We have a lot of regulars, but also a lot of visitors who have seen us on television or commercials. In fact, we had three ladies from Denmark come in who had heard of us and made sure to visit us as part of their US trip.” Now nearly completely back to normal after Covid shutdowns and restrictions, which Rondoni says created a number of difficulties for profitable operation, the Halfway House Cafe is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. He said that breakfast is the most popular meal for customers. “We offer homestyle cooking, nothing overly fancy,” he said. “Our French toast is very popular, as are our bacon and coffee. And, I can’t change brands of either. People really love our coffee — nice and strong.” And he dares not change the corned beef hash, which comes out of a can. “People have learned to expect their hash that way. A fresh-made hash wouldn’t be the same.”
Lunch at the cafe can also be busy at times. “I love our club sandwich and the tuna melt,” Rondoni said. “The western bacon cheeseburger is the most popular lunch item, and people also love the patty melts.”
The cafe has a surprisingly wide selection of both breakfast and lunch offerings, and there should be several somethings to suit your preferences.
For more information, visit www.thehalfwayhouse cafe.com/ or call (661) 251-0102. The Halfway House Cafe is located at 15564 Sierra Highway, Santa Clarita 91390.