Formosa Café | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Sue Hwang

Formosa Café

The Formosa Café is a significant L.A. historic and cultural landmark. As one of old Hollywood's legendary and best preserved haunts, the Formosa Café has drawn a steady business since first opening.

In 1925, a former prizefighter from New York City purchased and renovated a retired circa 1902-06 Pacific Electric Red Car trolley (along Formosa Street at the rear of the Formosa Café) for use as a luncheon counter called The Red Post Cafe. Located along Santa Monica Boulevard and Route 66, and across the street from a major movie studio, in 1945 it later expanded and was renamed the Formosa Café. 

With a long association with early Hollywood and organized crime, the walls were lined with 250 photos of stars who dined here. Mobsters Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel were regulars, with Cohen using a backroom on the trolley as a thriving bookmaking operation.

In 1991, the Formosa was threatened with demolition, prompting a campaign to save it. At the time, celebrities helped, with U2 lead singer Bono said, "It's dark in the daylight, you can't see very far/past ghosts of Sam Goldwyn in the old train car." 

In 1945 Lem Quon, a Hong Kong-born chef, became a partner in the business and ran the kitchen. At this time the business became known as the Formosa Café and was redecorated in a Cantonese theme. Quon took over the operation in 1976. When it was at risk of closure and demolition in 1991, Quon and and a Friends of the Formosa successfully rallied to save it.

Last operated by Quon's grandson, Vince Jung, the Formosa Café underwent a remodel in 2015 and the operation closed in December 2016.

With its future uncertain, a search began for a new operator. In early June 2017, 1933 Group was selected to take over the operation, with plans announced to reopen in the summer of 2018.

Places like the Formosa Café are exceedingly rare today, and often threatened by development pressure, high rents, and ever-changing demographics that make them difficult to survive. As a beloved L.A.-area landmark and legacy business, the Formosa Café has an opportunity to return and continue to share its cultural and historical traditions with the next generation.

McDonald's Hamburgers
Photo from Conservancy archives

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