Friday, July 21, 2006

Tick Tock Story



Tick Tock was a family restaurant that was located in Hollywood, California for 58 years. This restaurant was started by Art and Helen Johnson in 1930. The picture above comes from a postcard of the inside part of the Restaurant. You will notice that there were a lot of antique clocks and chandeliers located in this restaurant. This picture was taken when the restaurant was decorated for Christmas with elfs on the chandeliers.


People would ask me how the Restaurant got such an unusual name like Tick Tock. The story of the derivative of this name is a very interesting one.

The original name of the restaurant was the Tick Tock Tea Room. During the depression many restaurants were called Tea Rooms. They were like the Diners that are located along the East Coast. Later Tick Tock dropped the words "Tea Room" and now the name was just Tick Tock Restaurant. There was a lot of family pride connected to this business. So the Tick Tock was a big part of your heritage as a Johnson and was an Hollywood California institution for 58 years from 1930 to 1988.


Mom and Dad met in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Together they decided to try their luck; so they came to California and opened a restaurant. Mom had some experience by working in a restaurant in Minneapolis as a waitress, but Dad was a Ford mechanic without any restaurant experience. Yet Dad was quite a businessman. No matter what he would have done, he would have been successful.

No one knows when were they were married, but by the time they had their first children (the twins - Richard and Ronald) in 1933. That was three years after they opened their first restaurant and they had been married for a while at that time.

In 1930 they came to California with a brand new Model A Ford, which my father worked on. The Tick Tock story tells about how they sold this car to open their first restaurant.


In 1930 ARTHUR and HELEN JOHNSON were newly arrived in Los Angeles from Minneapolis with very little folding money and little else but a shiny Model A Ford and an old family clock in the back seat, looking to the future. The depression was in full swing and friends advised them against going into the business they hoped to establish, but they resisted such pressure and opened their restaurant.

The little Model A Ford was sold for $500 and with this money a down payment was made on the first Tick Tock, a vine-covered cottage on Beverly Boulevard and New Hampshire Street. The old family clock was hung on the wall and the name of TICK TOCK was first heard in the fall of 1930.

In late October, the doors opened and on an average day the Johnsons' served 30 persons. Tick Tock served half-a-million persons each year . On Thanksgiving Day in 1930, Tick Tock served 99 persons. On Thanksgiving Day of 1961, 4000 enjoyed a Tick Tock Dinner.

Though all these years Tick Tock was remained a family institution. Tick Tock was a real family institution. In its hay day sons Richard and Arland Johnson, nephew Jerry and brother-in-law Stan Potepan and George Hennen all participated in the operation at Tick Tock.

Arthur and Helen Johnson believe their many customers have recognized the reasons for this success, which has been based upon excellent service, friendly atmosphere, fair and reasonable prices and most of all, the finest quality of food.

Smiling waitresses would bring endless cups of hot coffee to their customers and all the sweet, tasty hot rolls they desired.

ARTHUR and HELEN JOHNSON still actively surprise the food and service of these fine Tick Tock Restaurants. All pies, cakes, rolls and salad dressings were prepared in their own kitchen. The original family clock still hangs on the Tick Tock wall.

Here is a picture that was taken with a customer. The big clock that was behind us was known as a prayer clock. It was French grandfather type clock and it originally had a pine case. Pine was such a soft wood that most of them today you will find like this one

Tick Tock Toluca


Here is a photo of the inside of Tick Tock Toluca, which was managed by my mother and my uncles - George and Stan. My uncles worked in the kitchen in either the mornings supervising the preparation of the food and the other one would work in the afternoons supervising the distribution of the food to the waitress as she picked up her orders from the kitchen. The restaurant was opened just after the Second World War. The location was chosen mainly because it was close to my mother's house and she could easily go home between lunch and dinner to be there when we returned from school. Both of my uncles had worked in the Hollywood restaurant before the opening of the Toluca restaurant.


Notice that there are no antique lamps in this picture of the Toluca restaurant. These lamps came much later. Here is how it happened. My mother loved to go to antique stores to hunt for antiques. One day she found some beautiful oil lamps that were a great buy. After buying them she tried to hide then in the attic and put them up later. The only problem was that my father found them first. He so liked them that he placed them in the Hollywood restaurant. So my mother lost her beautiful lamps, but this did not stop her. In fact it encouraged both of them to by a lot of antique lamps to decorated both of their restaurants. So Tick Tock became known for its lamps as well as its clocks.


My mother told me this funny story. It seemed that there was one waitress accidentally spilt a cup of soup right into the lap of her customer. I am sure that the soup was very hot. So the waitress felt the need to get the hot soup off the customer's clothes as quick as possible. So she took out her side towel and started to wipe off the soup which was right in customers lap. But he protested and said it was "OK!" as he moved his chair further and further away from her. The she realized what she was doing and she turned red as a beet and ran into the kitchen. I don't that either of them ever overcame their embarrassment over this situation.

One reason that my parents opened this restaurant is that their house was only three to four blocks from this restaurant. They had six children and so they both felt that it was important for my mother to be home as much as possible. Being so close to home my Mother could come home in the afternoons after lunch. Then she would return to the restaurant when dinner was being served.


My uncles felt that it was time for them both to retire and leave the restaurant. So it was decided to sell the restaurant. The problem was that the new owner could not keep the restaurant going. One hostess told us that the new owner would be so happy when anyone left. Finally he had very few employees and the customer service suffered. This caused the restaurant to close and this meant the end to Tick Tock Toluca

Old Tick Tock


Here is a photo of one of my father's employees, the roll baker, at the Tick Tock that was located on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood. The woman in this picture could have been the regular baker, the one who baked all the pies, cakes and other deserts for the restaurant. I am only guessing about her though since I was just a little boy at the time this photograph was taken.


The old Tick Tock was located in Hollywood, California. My parents had opened their first restaurant in 1930, but did not move into this location until 1934. This restaurant served over a thousand people a day in the first 20 years. Now that was a lot of salads to make use to satisfy the customers who came in each day to enjoy a lunch or dinner. I worked making salads in just this same spot when I was in high school. My parents were big on us working to make some spending money, while we learn the restaurant trade.


Right in the middle of the old Tick Tock's dining room was a fireplace with four separate hearths. This fireplace was put there to break up the dining room and to give the customers a break from the front door which was Always being opened with each new customer. This picture came from a drawing from the early Tick Tock that was located in an old promotional piece.


Notice the chairs. These chairs were of a later addition to the dining room. They really did not fit in with the decor of the restaurant, but thy lasted for years and years. One can see from this picture that the family clock was placed on the fireplace. This was the clock that the Tick Tock Story speaks about.

How Tick Tock started


When my parents opened their first restaurant, my father went through several cooks until he found one that was just right for him. Being a Norwegian like him, he liked that. Her name was Ann. She had a recipe for the “gooey rolls” which made Tick Tock so famous. Yet she was very guarded about her recipe figuring that if Dad found out how to make these rolls, she felt she would lose her job. but my father was very crafty. Each day he would watch her and walk past her as she was adding one of the ingredients. Then we would go and write it down. It did not take him too long to get the whole recipe. even thought it was in parts - so much flour, sugar and so on.

One day Ann became sick and could not come in to work. When she returned, Ann was shocked to find out that my father had made the “Goody Rolls” just as good as she had. Ann did not lose her job; she continues on at Tick Tock and worked there for many years. When she finally retired, my father paid for her trip so that she could go back home to Norway to visit her relatives. What a guy.

Over the years these Gooey Rolls usually were mostly glazed with cinnamon sauce on most days. Yet on Wednesdays there was an orange sauce and on Fridays a white sauce would be placed over whole wheat rolls. One Good Friday that always was a cross put on the wheat rolls


My parents bought their first restaurant, which was called the Laurel Crest Tea Room. They paid for it by selling the 1930 Model "A" Ford that they drove from Minnesota. This forst restaruant seated only 35 people. The neme "Tea Room" was quite popular restaurants in the '30’s, So this name was put on the restaurant after Tick Tock. In Tea Rooms the portions were quite large and the food seemed home cooked. It is like many of the Dinner on the East Coast.

One day the original owner of the Laurel Crest Tea Room came back to take his sign and the ketchup bottles (to save money many restaurant operators saved their old ketchup bottles and poured ketchup in them from a gallon can). He pulled out the contract to show my parents that these items belonged to him.

Now my parents had to think fast about a new name for their restaurant since they were going to open in a few hours. The Tick Tock was the last restaurant in which they ate in Minneapolis before coming to California, so they hurried up and made a new sign with the name Tick Tock on it. They kept "tea room" in the name for many years after this. Finally "tea rooms" went out because many men thought tea rooms served very small portions. Then the name was changed to Tick Tock Restaurant.


Even though there was a very serious depression, my parents business boomed. After six months they kept this first restaurant. So Tick Tock now was in an old house right off Hollywood Boulevard. It also was ale to seat 75 people.

But they only stayed there for six months since it was infested with cockroaches. My mother spoke of spending many hours at night lighting newspapers the running them up the wood paneling to kill the cockroaches.

Also during this time the people who bought their first restaurant went bankrupt and my parents had to take the restaurant back until they were able to sell it again. For a short time they had two restaurants.


In 1931 they sold this second restaurant and moved to their third restaurant on McCadden Blvd. and Wilcox Street (two blocks from their restaurant on Cahuenga Blvd.). This restaurant was originally an old apartment house. The first floor was a restaurant seating 125. The second floor became their living accommodations. My older brothers, the twins, came here after they were born.

The prices for a complete lunch was 35, 45 and 55 cents and dinner cost 65, 75 and 85 cents. The menu was the same as when I worked at Tick Tock. A dinner would include soup or appetizer, salad, entree, vegetable. potato, those famous gooey rolls plus clover leaf rolls, sherbet with the dinner, beverage and dessert. People would eat so much that they would roll out of the restaurant.


In 1934 the restaurant was moved to the final location at 1716 North Cahuenga in Hollywood where it remained until it was closed in 1988. This restaurant seated 250 people. During the difficult years of the depression, my parents expanded their business from a restaurant that seated 35 people to one that seated 250 people. They opened with a standing line of customers waiting to get in and this line stayed most of the day. They were very good business people.

The reason for their success was simple. They were very hard workers. They knew what they wanted and were a stickler for quality of food and service. They worked with their employees and always helped them out. They were very friendly and outgoing people. I guess it was the Minnesota down country hospitality that won over many people - both employees and customers.

THE WAR YEARS 1941 to 1945

Business continued to remain very good as the depression ended and the boom began. When the US entered the war in 1941, their business took off. There were a lot of businesses in southern California that were contributing to the war effort. One was Lockheed in Burbank, which was just over the hills from Hollywood.

People made a lot of money during the war from their work, but they had no place to spend this money - everything was either rationed or not available. Every manufacturer was geared up for the war effort so cars, appliances and ect. were not being made. Also during this time many food items like meat, butter, ect. were rationed. So everyone had to use a ration card to buy these items in the market. Customers in restaurants did not have to use their ration cards and so many people ate out.

During this time some government inspectors thought they caught my father in a serious crime. In the back room were bails of sugar stacked from floor to ceiling. The inspectors thought it was cane sugar which was rationed, but it turned out to be corn sugar that was not rationed. One had to use twice as much corn sugar to sweeten the same as the cane sugar. My father had to be very inventive to stay in business.

The war years were very difficult for my father. He had to work a lot during those years. But he was able to play golf to get some relief from the pressure of work. He would go to the restaurant early in the morning, check on how things were progressing, make all his orders for the day, and do anything else that was needed to keep the restaurant going. When everything was set up for lunch, Dad would head out for the golf course several times a week. He would play his round of golf, talk to the guys and head back to the restaurant for the dinner time.

Then he would finally close the restaurant before coming home at night. Needless to say we did not see much of Dad when we were growing up because he would get home around 9:30 at night and by then we all were in bed.


A customer once told me that during the 1940’s she called many restaurants in Los Angeles to find one that she could take her black friend to for lunch. Tick Tock was the only place that permitted her to bring in her friend. There was a lot of prejudice at that time. I admire my father for his courage to accept a black person as a customer into the restaurant.


I worked at various jobs during my high school and college days. Sometimes I would go to night school at college and my brother Jim would go to day school. I took a job from 11AM to 3:30PM and Jim came at 4PM and worked to until closing. it worked out well for me, but not for Jim. We did not do it for the next semester.

My first job was filling the water pitchers. Then I was a bus boy. I also worked in the kitchen on the dishwasher, dishing out deserts as well as food when I was on the steam table. I remember that the kitchen was always a hot in the summer.


After finishing college, I started managing the restaurant. My father had divided the responsibility. I managed the front, Richard, managed the morning crew and Jim managed the kitchen. Richard started at 4AM and worked until 11:30. Jim and I started at 11AM and took turned closing the restaurant. Looking back at my work hours, they were as bad as my father’s were as for raising a family.


Restaurants provided health insurance benefits, but one benefit that employees could count on at Tick Tock was that they could work there as long as they wanted. During that time few people thought about retirement benefits

Sally worked into her 70’s on weekends even though she was bent over carrying all those dishes for years. We had one complaint that stated, “Hire younger waitresses,” but Sally could hold her own. Nothing could stop Sally and we would not even try.


Tick Tock gave us children one thing - immediate identification with something important. Tradition was very important in our family. For us Tick Tock was larger than life. When there were two Tick Tock restaurants, my mother would always quiz my father each night by asking, “How many did you serve tonight?” As if there was a big rivalry between the two of them. When Mom worked in the restaurant, her concern was always to get a turn over of the tables as fast as she could. She was even clearing off the tables in her 80’s


The business survived 58 years and they still is talked about it as one of the famous old restaurants in the history of LA.

Reasons why Tick Tock finally closed:
- I wanted to serve Jesus with my life.
- The IRS forced our hand. They said that we owed the government thousands of
dollars in back taxes because my mother’s estate was undervalued.
- For years the restaurant had been struggling. Hollywood had deteriorated and the
same customers were not coming back to Hollywood.
- Other old restaurants were closing because of competition with influx of immigrant
- Most family member died; this included my parents and brothers Jim and Richard.
At the time we closed I ran Tick Tock with my sister-in-law, and her children.

The day that we told our employees that Tick Tock was closing, a restaurant critic wrote a glowing report about Tick Tock in the Los Angeles Times. Now that was something. Tick Tock was so important part of our heritage and we felt good that it remained the same until the end.

We stayed open for three weeks before closing because we did not want to go out in an whimper, lock the door on our employees and say that we were sorry. They were an important part of our heritage.

Closing Tick Tock was very difficult for us because everyone wanted to come to eat at the restaurant before we closed and many or our employees left us to find jobs elsewhere, but we made to the end. I remember placing a large home made large calendar on the wall in the kitchen and marked off each day for the last three weeks. It helped me a lot to do this.

Employees at Tick Tock


This picture was taken in between lunch and Dinner in the Hollywood Tick Tock. The employees here are a cashier, host, hostess and bus boy who were finishing their lunch. Elliot, the man standing, was one of the hosts and came from South America. Elliot was of German descent. His father moved to South America after the war. Elliot spoke both English and Spanish. You can see Antonio, the busboy, sitting down and looking at the cameras. Cheryl was the Cashier at that time. I do not know the name of the other hostess standing in the back. Finally
Elaine was there. She was a hostess for many years at Tick Tock. She had bone cancer even during this time; the doctor had told her to go home and die. But Elaine wanted to see her grandchildren grow up. So she went through the terrible Chemo therapy to get the cancer in check even though this treatment were quite difficult for her. But she obtained her goal and saw her grandchildren grow up. That lady had a lot of guts.


When I was going to college before I graduated from the University of Southern California in 1960, I worked in the family business. I always wanted to join the family business and keep it going. My father wished that I would become a banker because of my degree, but joining the family business was very important to me.

One of the reasons I wanted to work in the restaurant was that I was looking for my father’s love; I thought that working in his business would enable me to find it. That was not a good reason for choosing a career, but it was my choice. My father was not a person, who could demonstrate his love.

Most of the time I worked in the Dining Room. I would greet and seat the customers as well as supervise the service personnel (waitresses and bus boys). One of my missed opportunities was not working enough with the kitchen staff and learning to do the different jobs there. None of us learned now to make the “gooey rolls” like Dad did.

Customers at Tick Tock


my parents had printed as a way to promote the business. Notice that it has a picture of the front of the Hollywood Restaurant placed in the top center of the clock and The Tick in Toluca Lake below the face of the clock. All the while the time just kept ticking away. Looking about at my life I can say that time really has ticked away. Just to imagine that Tick Tock has been closed almost 20 years is quite something.

Here is a customer who is waiting for the rest of her party to join her. She was the wife of a local minister.


Since Tick Tock was located in Hollywood, many celebrities would came to this restaurant over the years. In her book that the famous actress Betty Davis wrote, she told of her friendship with Carol Kane, another actress. She said “the two got dressed to kill and dined a Tick Tock, an old-time Hollywood eatery.”

Most of the “Hollywood type” people, who came to Tick Tock were character actors. Only a few were well known stars. I remember the famous silent movie star, Francis X Bushman. He and his wife became Tick Tock regulars. Other regulars were the orchestra leader, Lawrence Welk, character actors Charles Aidman and Clu Gugler, Colonel Tom Parker, who was Elvis Presley’s manager. Even western stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans came to Tick Tock. Others included Mr. Blackwell, the famous critic.