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Kate Mantilini in Beverly Hills to close, ending a chapter in L.A. restaurant lore

Major restaurant news: Kate Mantilini in Beverly Hills has announced it will close after 27 years in business
Beverly Hills staple Kate Mantilini will shut its doors June 14, ending a chapter in L.A. restaurant lore

Beverly Hills institution Kate Mantilini, opened by the late actor Harry Lewis and wife Marilyn in the 1980s, has announced it will close June 14 after 27 years. 

The restaurant, which was part of Lewis' Hamburger Hamlet umbrella of restaurants, became a fixture on Wilshire Boulevard, known for its lively weekend brunches and counter seating. Chief Executive Adam Lewis, who is Harry and Marilyn's son, could not come to terms with an increase in rent by the new owners of the building. 

"I can't pay that higher rent and that's all," Adam Lewis said. "They were gentlemen about it. There was nothing contentious, no conflict, they were sad and we were sad." 

The Lewis family opened a Woodland Hills location of Kate Mantilini in 2003 and has chosen to focus its efforts there. Lewis said he was not looking for another Beverly Hills location despite his family's long history in the area. 

"Someone from the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce once told me we were in the top 10 employers in Beverly Hills," he said.

Lewis' parents opened the first Hamburger Hamlet on the Sunset Strip in 1950 after Harry's successful run as an actor, with his most notable role in the 1948 Humphrey Bogart film noir "Key Largo."

Lewis and his wife continued to expand what would become the Hamburger Hamlet empire in the '50s, eventually opening 24 additional restaurants, including Kate Mantilini. The couple sold all the restaurants for about $30 million in 1987 but decided to buy back Kate Mantilini. In 2003 they opened the Woodland Hills location. 

When the restaurant opened, it was referred to as a late-night hot spot in a 1987 Los Angeles Times article.

"At 1 a.m. people continue to pour in: men in Hugo Boss suits and a three-day growth of beard, couples dressed to match the interior, women with dyed-black hair and spiky heels," reads the article. "The handsome maitre d' whispers about the entertainment industry big shots who vie for tables." 

Some of the Kate Mantilini Beverly Hills regulars over the years included Ronald Reagan, Tony Curtis and Sammy Davis Jr. The restaurant was also featured in a scene in the 1995 movie "Heat" staring Robert De Niro. 

Adam and his brother David took over the business in 2009, with Adam as the CEO and David acting as executive chef. Marilyn documented the family's history in the restaurant business in her 2004 memoir "Marilyn, Are You Sure You Can Cook?".

"My folks were amazing restaurateurs and my mother was brilliant in her position, with recipes and menu development," Lewis said. "They taught my brother and me everything we know and we followed suit." 

Lewis says he has many memories of customers who have been coming to the Beverly Hills location since it opened. 

"These people came in last Sunday and they were telling me that they have been coming in with their two kids — now they are teenagers — and every time they go up to the back counter and get a strawberry from one of the cooks," Lewis said. "They have been coming here since they were babies and that same cook has been giving them a strawberry every week."

9101 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 278-3699, www.katemantilinirestaurant.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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