Little Joe's, Los Angeles 1955
Little Joe’s restaurant was established in Los Angeles in 1897 by Italian immigrant Charley Viotto. Its first location was at the corner of 5th and Hewitt Streets, and it was simply named the Italian-American Grocery co and sold imported groceries and liquor.
When the city’s Italian-born community relocated to the North Broadway area after the turn of the century, the store followed and established itself on the ground level of a three-story hotel on the corner of Broadway and College Street in 1927.
In the 1930s Prohibition was in force but the family, like many restaurateurs, found ways to get around the ban on the sale of alcohol. The stage and screen comedian W C Fields, a heavy drinker who being treated at a nearby sanitarium for cirrhosis of the liver and other medical conditions, was one of the Hollywood elite allowed through the wooden door.
The idea for a restaurant came in the 1930s when railroad workers constructing the nearby Union Station began to drop by, looking for lunch. Their rough manners and dusty clothes were not appreciated by ladies shopping for food so a dining room for men was opened by knocking through a wall into another room.
The grocery company changed its name to Little Joe’s after the then-maitre d’ and co-owner Joe Vivalda in 1940 to avoid the wartime stigma against anything Italian. At the same time, the city’s Chinatown district was relocated to the area.
This 1955 menu shows the extensive a la carte menu offered and the big key hints at a generous wine cellar. In the 1960s and 70s the place became a hangout for Dodger players, their fans -who would go before and after games - and the downtown crowd.
The Italian restaurant in the middle of Chinatown was so popular (and generous) that it was estimated some 900 customers kept tabs at Little Joe’s over the course of its existence.
Bob Nuccio, the great-grandson of the restaurant’s founder, his brother Steve and their mother Marion were the final owners of Little Joe’s. In 1998 they decided to close because it would be too expensive to retrofit the 112-year-old building to make it earthquake resistant and comply with the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Nuccios went out on a high, however, and invited people who had been customers for decades for a final meal, when everyone mourned the passing of one of Los Angeles’s oldest family businesses.
Thanks to the information contained in a report by Bob Pool in the Los Angeles Times who covered the closure of Little Joe’s in the newspaper in 1998.
Each order includes a print of the interior menu.
All printed in USA.