Larry & Milt – 30 Years of Perfecting Breakfast and Lunch

By Lisa Lynn Morgan
All photos by Sandra Goodin

Somewhere in Hollywood there’s got to be a script that combines the stories from the movie, Grapes of Wrath, with the late 70’s/early 80’s Mel’s Diner (from the TV show, Alice). If there isn’t, they could just swing by Larry and Milt’s Western Café and write it based on the true-life stories of the two business partners who’ve been in the restaurant industry together for 30 years.

Milt is the proud owner of Trigger Gold, the grandson of Roy Roger’s fast and smart Palomino, Trigger. It’s the face you see on their menus. Milt and his family were prominent farmers in central California, so horses have always been a part of his life. Ultimately retiring from a Fortune 500 company, Milt met Larry at a house party where they became partners in their first venture.

Larry’s youth was spent in migrant labor camps chasing the harvests between California and Oklahoma. Having been informed that he would lose welfare benefits if he continued to live with his mother, Larry set out on his own and headed to Sacramento. His welfare check didn’t provide for much, and survival came with continued food insecurity and sleeping on the streets. Stolen bread would be the only answer to the pain of a three-day empty stomach until he landed a job as a dishwasher. Fast forward to the early 1990s, when he and Milt opened their first restaurant, you can rest assured that no one goes away hungry on Larry’s watch. “I still remember being hungry. When you see someone on the street, be kind to them. I will never turn anyone away hungry.”

And feed you they will. Their generous offerings are simple, but they use quality ingredients, prepared, and delivered with perfection. The photos in this article are seen just as they are served, and perfectly delicious (I know because I got to sample it all – perks of the job). The place is slammed for breakfast and lunch most days, and by all accounts, is hugely successful. However, that was not always the case. When they opened in 2016, it was a particularly lean summer. For a time there, it seemed like they would have to shut their doors. But like hard times make the diamond. “The staff offered to work for tips only,” Larry shared proudly. “It got us through.” They even made it through the lock downs and conditions of Covid that took many other business out.

One of those long time, devoted, staff-turned-family members is server, Debbie Billings. She came on board as a cook, and now is a vital part of the front of the house, providing a welcoming, homey vibe that has become a rare find in California. Loyal, smart, and beautiful, she knows everyone by name and knows their stories. I’m pretty sure she’d win the race for mayor if she wanted to make a run for it.

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In the back of the house, Chef Servando Gastelum manages to get out a rush of orders, somehow making each plate look like it was the only order. I’m hungry for the house made chicken fried steak and eggs as I type. I have eaten my way across middle America, and I feel like I’m in grandma’s kitchen when I’m there. Comfort food is only as comforting as the environment it’s served in. Larry, Milt, Debbie, and Chef Gastelum deliver it 100%. Perhaps the key is they all love what they do and the people they do it for.

If all you’re looking for is solidly good meal where the hashbrowns or country potatoes are perfectly grilled, the eggs are done exactly as ordered, and you want something covered in gravy to make your world feel better, Larry & Milt’s Western Café is your destination. But if you want to feel like part of a community, share stories and updates, then you can get that as well.

There is more to the stories of each of these unique individuals serving up the good stuff daily, but it’s best told by them directly, maybe over one of the best cups of coffee around, or a delicious ham steak breakfast or fresh cobb salad that could feed way more than one person. But you have to experience it for yourself to fully understand what a desert treasure we have in this deliciously precious cafe.

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