• An old restaurant sign

      Burger Continental opened in 1964 on South Lake Avenue in Pasadena.

      Before the sign came down and before any Mediterranean fare had ever been served, the beloved Burger Continental on Lake Ave. started as an idea in the mind of Gene Mays.

      By Reina Esparza

      Gene’s son, Michael Mays, recalled his father asking his family what toppings they thought would go well on a burger or a hotdog. He had started to experiment with these concepts as well, such as creating a tomato-based hotdog sauce and inventing what would be the Burger Continental burger, which included a quarter pound patty, blue cheese, bacon and red onion.

      Gene looked into different locations for his restaurant and finally settled on the spot that many remember on S. Lake Ave. In late 1964, when Michael was in fourth grade, Burger Continental opened to the public.

      It wasn’t long before Michael spent his weekends helping out at the restaurant. In addition to cutting french fries and making milkshakes, he went to work beautifying the enticing back patio. He dug holes to plant olive trees throughout the space. Back then, the restaurant used to share a wall with a department store, and he used that wall as the spot to plant cypress trees as well.

      The back patio was also enticing due to its gas heaters and jukebox.

      The ambience included windows at the front of the place that could be opened to let in the sounds of the street into the dining room. Back then, a flower shop used to be behind the restaurant and the family would allow them to put some flowers and signs in the front windows to attract business.

      Workers remove a restaurant sign down

      Burger Continental sign came down on July 8, 2020 (Photo – ColoradoBlvd.net)

      Sam Funnyjohn, original head cook

      In addition to the welcoming atmosphere, the food also kept people coming back. Besides the Burger Continental burger, they also had the “hot plate of the day” which included different specials. There were open faced turkey sandwiches with gravy and French dipped sandwiches that came with au jus. People also came for the apple pie that was made with a brandy sauce and was occasionally ordered with cheese as well.

      The one who made these sought-after dishes did not initially have a culinary background. Sam Funnyjohn, the original head cook of Burger Continental, was once an elite Filipino soldier and fighter in World War II.

      The restaurant started having good business in 1965, according to Michael, but there were some obstacles that occasionally got in the way. One of which included an ex-employee who burglarized the place and stole some checks as well. The family alerted the police of the missing checks and when the former employee showed up at a nearby bank to cash them, the police were notified immediately.

      Despite the good business though, the stress of running the restaurant started to become too much, specifically for Michael’s mother, Dorothy Mays, who took on most of the responsibility of the establishment, being both the cashier and bookkeeper for the family’s new place. She was the only employee that was considered full-time. According to Michael, she was essentially doing the job of a manager.

      Once the family realized they wouldn’t be able to afford to hire a manager, they made the tough decision to sell the restaurant. By then, Michael was in sixth grade.

      Whether it was to say a quick hello to Funnyjohn or simply to see how the restaurant was being kept by the new owners, Michael visited Burger Continental a handful of times throughout the years.

       

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      Contributor

      Comments

      1. Gary Green says:

        BC was quirky and fun. There were regular nights with a Dixieland Band and other entertainment. The food service seemed to be a little “relaxed.” That probably led to the problems with Pasadena’s Health Office that eventually led to the closing of the restaurant for health code violations. Still, I miss it. Bc was a unique and wonderful food and entertainment venue.

      2. Jim Kroeger says:

        Ah, BC. The best place in town during the 80’s to be served beer underage. We did not go there for the food.
        Happy hour was Tuesday night from 4-7. We’d gather about 6 friends every week, show up at 6 and buy those large glass pitchers of beer. Then as 7 pm approached we’d buy more to beat the happy hour cutoff. There would literally be four or five pitchers of beer at the table. Everyone got plastered-and then drove home! I guess Harry and Gary had trouble judging age. 😉 That place will always have a special place in my heart.

      3. Janet Beggs says:

        We certainly miss that patio! And the occasional belly dancer! One of the last times I was there, just as we were commenting on the birds that had swooped into the trees, there was a Direct Hit on a bald gentleman’s head. We laughed sooo hard. It was a vivacious community gathering place just as much as it was a great place to eat. To this day we express how much we miss it whenever we go by.

      4. Steve Marshall says:

        Where in the world did this alternate reality on Burger Continental history come from and what does the Mays family have anything to do with BCs?

        I was attending McKinley Junior High School when I first started going to BC in 7th or 8th grade circa 1964 – 1965. We used to ditch school Friday afternoons during football season when they dismissed class early for the rally at the football field and head out to BCs for fries and a coke.

        BC was owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Albert Sloves. Son-in law “ Shell” manned the register and the Sloves’ adult daughter who handled the books assisted in the operation of the business. A couple of my close friends worked part time bussing tables and I sometimes helped them close on a Friday or Saturday night so we could head out with the buddies for the evening.

        Shell was not the most pleasant person and Mrs. Sloves was not shy about her dislike of her son-in-law. At some point Shell decided he had enough and hatched a plan to loot the company bank accounts and took about $250,000 and fled the country with his wife, the Sloves’ daughter, in tow to some destination in South America per Mrs. Sloves. The theft of funds forced the sale of the business around maybe 1967 – 1968 which was purchased by the Hindoyan family. One of the sons, Harry Hindoyan, was one of my classmates from McKinley and later Blair High School.

        The Hindoyans operated BCs initially with Papa and eldest son “Andy” running the business while sons ‘Gary” and Harry were still in school. Gary started working full time after graduation from high school and some years later ran their related catering business that for a number of years had the food services contract for Caltech. Harry went to college, UCLA, and after graduation returned to the business full time.

        The Hindoyans introduced the middle eastern cuisine to the BC menu. The family expanded into real estate investments and spent less time actively managing the restaurant over time which probably led to the health code violations and ultimately the closure of the restaurant.

        Harry still owns the property where BC was located at 535 S. Lake Ave through Hanks South Lake Properties LLc and the property remains vacant today.

        • Michael Mays says:

          Hi Steve –

          If you read the original article, you will note that my parents sold the restaurant 2 years after its opening. Prior to becoming Burger Continental, it was the Lilyinthals (sp?) Garden Shop. There are still a handful of people who knew our family and have first-hand knowledge of the beginnings of Burger Continental. One of those individuals has posted a comment below. We sold it to man who operated it for about 2 years, and he subsequently sold it to the 3rd owners who operated it for the duration.

          • Lon Bailey says:

            Hi Michael,
            My name is Lon & I was a busboy/dishwasher at BC in 1965 when I was 15. I remember working for a wonderful redheaded woman who I thought was the owner. Would that be your mother?
            In the summer of 1965, the “owners” of BC offered me a summer job at their lodge in Silvergate, Montana called the Range Riders Lodge. I went for the summer and it was the best experience in my life up to that time. I was 16. The red head boss was a wonderful person and made working there a labor of love. I definitely remember that her favorite cuss word was “Bats**t”. Was she indeed your mom.
            PS The RangeRider still stands and survived the recent Yellowstone flooding a few mos. back.

          • Lon bailey says:

            Hi Michael,
            I worked at BC and at the Rangerider Lodge in Montana for your parents, I believe in 1965. I would love to hear from you to help me flesh out my memories of both places. Please respond to garyb776@gmail.com.
            Thanks Lon Ravitz/Bailey

          • D. WRIGHT says:

            Is this Lisa Mays brother?? She was a good friend of mine.
            Debbie Wright

            • Michael Mays says:

              Hello Debbie –

              My sister went by Patty Mays, back then. Now it’s Trish. She went to McKinley Elementary and was in the 3rd/4th grade in the BC days. Prior to that, she attended Allendale Elementary School. (Maybe you just misremembered her first name?) (I do that on occasion.) I’ll mention your name to her and see if she remembers you.

      5. Andrea Hartt Malin says:

        We were neighbors of the Mayes family on South Euclid Avenue. Loved them and loved going to Burger Continental!

        • Staff says:

          Hi Andrea,

          Would you happen to have old photos from BC or Pasadena?

        • Michael Mays says:

          Hello Andrea – very nice to see your name! Thank you for your kind words!

          I trust that all is well with you a Chris. I think you will agree that being a kid on S. Euclid in the 60’s was amazing! And in that regard, the Hartt family was truly the anchor that helped keep the neighborhood the enjoyable and memorable experience that it we all hold dear. From Christmas photographs to 4th of July celebrations to field trips to Travel Town, your parents will always be at the forefront of my memories of growing up on Euclid.

          Please say hello to Chris for me.

          Very Best Regards,

          Michael Mays

        • Mark Higley says:

          I recall going to Burger Continental back in the day with one Andrea Hartt. My memory of BC is hazy, but I sure do remember Andrea.

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