Generations of Turlockers have enjoyed a hot cup of “joe” at the lunch counter of Latif’s restaurant. Even more have delighted in a thick slice of apple pie a la mode at the Latif’s pie booth at the Stanislaus County Fair. Through 63 years in business Latif’s restaurant has become a landmark in Turlock, and a goodwill ambassador that represents the city to travelers and fair guests alike. Not much has changed at Latif’s, the décor and menu are close to original. This year Latif’s celebrated 50 years at its current location on Golden State Boulevard, and owners are taking a look back at the last half century of business.
Latif’s owner Robert Stevens has been operating the restaurant since he bought out his father, Jim Stevens. Both father and son are permanent fixtures in the restaurant, as familiar to customers as the bright orange booths. Although Jim is retired, he still does most of the meat cutting for the diner.
“Latif’s restaurant has been in the Stevens family since 1971. We’ve owned it longer by far than the Latifs. But I appreciated Charlie Latif so we kept the name,” Jim Stevens said.
The story of Latif’s restaurant starts at the Carolyn Hotel at the corner of Main Street and what was then Highway 99 (currently Golden State Boulevard). Charles Latif owned a coffee shop at the Carolyn Hotel. In 1953 he opened the first Latif’s Restaurant across the street from the current location. Business was good, and he hired Jim Shade to design a new building for the restaurant.
Shade designed what was then an ultra-modern space with a large kitchen and colored glass blocks in the walls. Latif had the kitchen designed by a San Francisco company that installed all stainless steel appliances. Jim Stevens estimated that the final bill came to around $125,000.
“At the time, Mr. Latif borrowed the money from Bank of America… and they thought he was absolutely nuts,” said Jim Stevens.
The new Latif’s restaurant opened in 1960. At the time, Highway 99 ran down what is currently Golden State Boulevard. The restaurant fed a lot of hungry travelers, and business was good. Latif was able to pay back his loan early.
“He was continually busy. He had it in its heyday. Everyone loved us. There were lines outside to get in,” Jim Stevens said.
Robert Stevens still strives to keep Latif’s restaurant looking the same as it did the day it opened. The design hasn’t changed since opening day, and most of the furniture is the same. Repairs are made on a regular basis to the orange booths and green seats, but they are always reupholstered in their original colors. Robert said that he tries to keep everything as original as possible.
“We’re so untrendy that we’re starting to be trendy again,” Robert joked.
Latif’s restaurant looks very similar to how it looked the day Jim Stevens became a part owner. Under the Stevens family ownership, Latif’s has become the oldest family-owned restaurant in Turlock. Jim worked in the meat business in Turlock and he knew Charlie Latif from making deliveries to the Carolyn and Latif’s.
“Mr. Latif said ‘Jim you’re going to get in the restaurant business.’ And I told him ‘I don’t know anything about the restaurant business,’ and he says ‘it doesn’t matter, you know how to work.’ And he was right. So I bought out the older (Latif) brother in 1971,” Jim Stevens said.
It was under Jim Stevens that Latif’s became known for their pies, which were only made for restaurant customers at the time. It was Jim’s idea to make them available for take-out. In 1973 Latif’s took over an open booth at the Stanislaus County Fair and started selling pie slices and coffee. Jim said that one man who traveled with the carnival circuit would order one full pie a day, always a different kind.
“He would come back six times a day and get a slice of his pie. We’d keep it for him and he’d come by and say ‘give me a slice of my pie.’ That went on for years and years,” Jim Stevens said.
Latif’s staff members pride themselves on their fresh made ingredients. The restaurant still cooks a 30-pound turkey almost every day. Jim cuts up the steaks and chops used in the restaurant himself. Robert took over Latif’s when he bought his parents out. He still insists that everything should be made from fresh ingredients, even if it takes longer that way.
The food must be what keeps celebrities coming back to Latif’s. George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara ate at the restaurant, along with Chuck Norris and the Beach Boys. Jim Stevens said that Andre the Giant ate at Latif’s several times when professional wrestling took him from Sacramento to Fresno.
“He’d come in and sit at the counter and I’d think ‘oh my God, I hope the stool holds him’” Jim said.
Generations of people have eaten at Latif’s restaurant. Small changes have been made to the menu, the art work on the walls, and staff have come and gone. But some originals still remain. Kathy Larson, who makes pies at Latif’s, has been at the restaurant since Jim Stevens became owner in 1971. Stevens said that many more employees have worked there for at least 20 years.
The customers also are a constant at Latif’s. Robert greets some customers every day that his father greeted back in the 70s.
“I’ve seen generations come in here. Some of them were children when I started and now those people are grandparents,” Jim Stevens said.
Robert Stevens said it is the customers who keep Latif’s open. He hopes to offer a 50th anniversary promotion to show customer appreciation. Jim said that if it wasn’t for customers, Latif’s wouldn’t have made it 50 years in business.
“We’ve tried to maintain what Charlie started and we hope to be here for the next 50 years,” Jim Stevens said.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.