David Harrison Clinton

It all began in 1888. Most of the streets of Los Angeles were dirt roads when David Harrison Clinton arrived from Missouri with his family at the River Depot. After a night in the adjacent Southern Hotel he purchased the hotel along with it's dinning room. This event marked the beginning of the family's five generations in California's restaurants.

David's only son,
Edmond, after a stint with the local railroad, served in the Salvation Army in San Bernardino. He met and married Gertrude Hall, later settling in San Francisco where they became co-owners of a group of restaurants named "Dennets." This investment was profitable enough for them to leave the operation to managers while they answered "the call" to mission fields in China, self-supported by their restaurants.

Clifford, one of the five children with them in China, was so moved by the appalling poverty and lack of food there, he vowed always to remember the plight of the hungry. He was true to that promise all his life.

He grew up in his father's cafeteria business in San Francisco, learning his trade well. Joined by two partners, he bought out his dad, later to learn his colleagues were not in harmony with his radically different approach to business and his humanitarian urgency.

Southern Hotel & Dining

Edmond J. Clinton

He was compelled to relinquish his ownership to his partners and in 1931 made the move to Los Angeles to test his innovative business concepts. The nation was in the depths of the Great Depression, many businesses were failing and it was a most precarious time to try his totally revolutionary Golden Rule approach to the self-service restaurant business.

It did not take Clifford Clinton long to find a landlord willing to lease a distressed cafeteria location. Nor did it take long to use up the meager $2,000 capital saved for this new commitment. Of all those working by his side 14 hours a day those first six months, none contributed more than his wife, Nelda. Having sold his ownership interest in Clinton Cafeterias in San Francisco, and needing a new name for his Los Angeles cafeteria, he compounded the first half of CLIF-ford and the last half of Clin-TON to produce the name "Clifton's."

Customers became "guests" and none were ever turned away hungry, even though they had no money. During one 90-day period, 10,000 ate free before Clifford could open an emergency "Penny Cafeteria" a few blocks away to feed, for pennies, the two million "guests" who came during the next two years. He could have gone bankrupt honoring his childhood promise were it not for faithful suppliers, generous vendors and the grace of God, who saw him through those difficult days.

Employees became "associates" and the Golden Rule personnel policies proved workable and profitable. With the help of his capable, willing staff, a second Clifton's opened in 1935. It was named Clifton's Brookdale and it's interior was reminiscent of the California Redwood groves with waterfalls and brooks and remains today the largest public cafeteria in the world. These two became the foundation stones for Clifford's leadership in a major political clean-up of Los Angeles in the late 30's and early 40's.

Nelda & Clifford Clinton

In addition to her long days at the cafeterias, Nelda Clinton raised three children. Edmond, Jean and Don grew up working summer vacations at Clifton's. They learned the business from the steam tables up, just as their parents had.

After World War II, Clifford founded Meals for Millions, a non-profit organization. This foundation served as a charitable organization distributing Cal-Tech developed Multi-Purpose Food to millions of starving and malnourished people throughout the world. As this endeavor required his full attention, Clifford and Nelda retired in 1946, selling their cafeteria interest to the three younger Clintons, allowing them to take over the full reins of management and ownership.

In time, the three new principles felt it wise to expand into the suburbs, opening their first new Clifton's in the Lakewood Shopping Center in 1956.

In 1958, they opened another Clifton's in West Covina. The decision was well timed, as business in downtown Los Angeles was declining in favor of sububrban shopping centers. In 1960, the original Clifton's Pacific Seas was closed. This three-story structure with a cascading waterfall facade had become a landmark and the closing was a painful process because of the many fond memories associated with this famous location.

In November 1978, Clifton's "the Greenery" was opened in West Covina, replacing the earlier location whose lease had expired.

Robert, Jean & Don Clinton

Clifton's is still very much a family business.
Don Clinton and Jean Clinton Roeschlaub, along with Don's son, Robert, a fifth generation, take great pride in the reputation the company enjoys and strive daily to maintain the "quality food at a resonable price" image.

Their over-riding philosophy is still "make a friend of every guest" and allow them to "dine free unless delighted." They still feed the hungry who can't afford a meal, and they still link arms with the Salvation Army in providing food for body and soul to those who hunger throughout this vast world.

The Clinton family marks 113 years in California food service.

Yes, it is quite remarkable to survive in business for a century, yet each generation has fully recognized and appreciated that it is the continued goodwill and patronage of our guests, and the grace of God that have made it happen. We are eternally grateful.

The Story Pacific Seas The Garden Postcards Views
©2001 Clinton's Restaurants Incorporated