For nearly a decade now, Hong and her family have fought to keep Irv's alive and cooking -- literally. With her infectiously positive personality and penchant for doodling every customer who ever ordered from her, Hong has become a West Hollywood treasure among everyday eaters and local businesspeople alike. Of course, it helped that her well-griddled double cheeseburgers, brimming with Southern California tradition, have been feeding the neighborhood for generations.
Now that all seems poised to change. Despite winning landmark status back in 2006, Hong has been under near-constant pressure from the folks who own the land underneath her unique burger shack. After attempts in the early 2000's to shuffle off Irv's Burgers in favor of a Peet's Coffee failed, the family that owns the pricey corner lot allegedly returned this year with plans to up the rent to $7000 per month in a bid to scare her off the land. When even that fell through, so the rumors go, Hong was sent a 30-day notice to vacate the premises. Still, she's trying to fight for an extension, and hoping for something much more substantial.
"Who knows?" said Hong during a phone call this morning. "Maybe a miracle will happen and I can stay. You'll have to check back in with me in a couple of months."
With the tumultuous relationship between tenant and landowner that has made up the past decade of Irv's Burgers lore, it's no surprise that Hong has been unable to secure a long term lease for her space. And without contractual assurances of her security in the West Hollywood burger shack, a potential ousting has long been a possibility.
Now it seems the family in charge of the land will look to raze the building in favor of a modern beach-going eatery, or perhaps install yet another stack of mixed-use apartments onto the corner lot. How the city responds to their attempts to tear down a landmark building remains to be seen, but legal maneuverings leave many outs for the landowners, not least of which is declaring the space unsuitable for further business / private use, which would result in an exemption to the landmark status.
For now, Irv's Burgers is open and slinging the same great burgers as always. But the impending 30 day vacate notice means that Sonia Hong and her team will need to pack up and head for the exits by month end, if not slightly sooner. And while there are a few wellsprings of popular sentiment springing up to try to keep Irv's afloat in their current space, the future seems fairly well writ. So go grab another cheeseburger, wish Hong and the rest of the Irv's Burgers crew well, and get one last doodle on your plate for old times' sake. Or at least until Irv's Burgers can find a new home.
Update: June 19, 11 a.m. We received a statement from the city of West Hollywood regarding the potential demolition of the Irv's Burgers building and any future build plans. The city insists that Irv's "is not being demolished but instead being rehabilitated," with "approved plans (that) allow for both buildings on the site to be rehabilitated into two restaurants." Furthermore, the city of West Hollywood "has no authority with regards to commercial landlord and tenant matters."