Uncle Bill’s Pancake House
By Ann Voorhees Baker
Craving pancakes? How about a family friendly atmosphere? What about an amazing ocean view?
Well, then Uncle Bill’s Pancake House in Manhattan Beach is your place.
Located at 1305 Highland Avenue, Uncle Bill’s has been a breakfast staple in Manhattan Beach and the South Bay for five decades.
Opening its doors in 1961, Uncle Bill’s is in the midst of celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Getting its name from owner Uncle Bill McElroy, the location was constructed as a home in 1908 before being turned into what is now considered by many to be the best breakfast joint in the beach cities.
“It is all because of our longevity that people remember Uncle Bill’s and keep coming back,” owner Matt Van Amburgh said. “The consistency of employees and ownership is a winning formula and is tough to duplicate.
“People get a sense of nostalgia when they come in here. It is like history here. Uncle Bill’s has a lot of support in the community–families, local residents.”
Van Amburgh took over for his father Paul in 1991, who bought the place in 1973, and has since tried to not just to make Uncle Bill’s a breakfast spot, but a place people come for lunch too.
Serving breakfast and lunch daily, Uncle Bill’s is open Monday-Friday 6a.m. to 3p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 7a.m. to 3p.m.
Stacie Weems, a waitress at Uncle Bill’s for over seven years, said that on average, over 10 customers come in every day. Not one a week, not twice a week, but seven days a week.
Weems sees Uncle Bill’s not as your typical restaurant, but instead, a place that is more relaxed and laid back.
“This place has such character. It was one of the first houses in Manhattan Beach,” Weems said. “The ceilings are so low. It is really quirky and has an old feel. I think people appreciate that though.”
Working at Uncle Bill’s for his father since the age of 14, Van Amburgh remembers working and it being “as tight as a shoe box.”
The unconventional location of Uncle Bill’s got an upgrade in 2000 when the restaurant expanded from the space vacated by the barbershop next door.The addition then allowed Uncle Bill’s to increase the tables inside and open an outdoor patio with an ocean view.
“Our location is very rare,” said Van Amburgh.
And while patrons are no longer packed into Uncle Bill’s like sardines, it has maintained its uniqueness. With a long wooden counter, it has around 15 tables inside and an outdoor patio.
No matter where anyone sits when they come in, Weems believes customers will be engrossed in what is going on in and around Uncle Bill’s. Everyone gets to see waitresses zipping around, the traffic that passes on the street and the cast of characters at each table.
“This place means family. You just feel at home,” Weems said. “I think it is as much about the food as the atmosphere. It is entertaining to come here and eat your food.”
Even expanding the restaurant has not diminished the wait time for customers to get Uncle Bill’s famous potatoes stroganoff or fluffy, golden pancakes.
Over this past Memorial Day weekend, patrons were waiting outside on plastic chairs between 11/2 and two hours just to get a table.
“The customer service you get here is unlike anywhere else,” Van Amburgh said. “There has to be some reason why we have been here this long. We just have good food and great value.
“Once you are in here, you are on a freight train, but once you leave, we hope that you come back.”
To show how appreciative Uncle Bill’s was of its loyal customers, around 12 years ago Van Amburgh began taking pictures of customers or having them bring their own to place up on the walls of Uncle Bill’s.
“We have been blessed to be around this long,” Van Amburgh said. “It has become a destination for so many people.”
So many have in fact come through the doors of 1305 Highland, that Van Amburgh said he has run into Uncle Bill’s customers in Hawaii, Mexico and even London.
While Van Amburgh said that opening other Uncle Bill’s has crossed his mind, something his dad said years ago has stuck with him.
“My dad used to say ‘Replication can be a trap for mediocrity,’” Van Amburgh said. “And that is something that I have always thought about.”
And replicated, it sure hasn’t, because in the South Bay, Uncle Bill’s is one of a kind.
Fast Food Facts:
With lines out the door and down the block many times a week, Uncle Bill’s goes through it’s fair share of breakfast staples. Here are just a few of the amounts the restaurant goes through in a given week:
- 200 pounds of pancake mix
- 100 pounds of waffle mix
- 540 eggs
- 100 pounds of bacon
- While you can get nearly anything with your eggs at Uncle Bill’s, including pork chops, New York steak and chicken breast, many patrons tend to go for the bacon and eggs or one of Uncle Bill’s 17 omelette choices.
- Uncle Bill’s is also known for their famous potatoes stroganoff, which includes hash browns sauteed with crumbled bacon, melted american cheese and topped with sour cream.
- Known just as much for their pancakes, Uncle Bill’s gives customers a choice of 10 different types, with the highlights including: apple cinnamon, macadamia nut, strawberry and banana nut.
- Anyone making the trek to Uncle Bill’s later in the day for lunch has a choice of over 20 different sandwiches and countless burgers and salads.
- Before being opened as Uncle Bill’s Pancake House in 1961, the location was used as a flower shop and real estate office.
- While Uncle Bill’s expanded in 2000, before renovations, it had only around 10 tables and a counter.
- On tripadvisor.com Uncle Bill’s is ranked as the second best restaurant in Manhattan Beach. On yelp.com it is ranked at the second best breakfast joint in Manhattan Beach.
- Not just finding acclaim in the South Bay, Uncle Bill’s has been featured on the Travel Channel.