From High Chairs to Bar Chairs

| December 31, 2013 | 0 Comments

Dan Thomas Shares Fond Memories

As we start a new year, 2014, some of us will be setting our sights for new personal and professional expectations and goals. However, one of my dear friends, Dan Thomas, will be closing a chapter in his life. He’s retiring. Before he retires, he plans to go out with a big bang, to celebrate and share his memories, and to hear from his friends, family and staff who are willing to share theirs. On January 5, 2014, Thomas, owner of The Gathering, located at 902 West Washington Street in Mission Hills is going to be “roasted and toasted” by his friends and family and be on the receiving end of special stories. Ginny Ollis, another good friend of mine, has been helping to coordinate the day’s activities. Ollis and I have been secretively reminiscing about the Gathering and being thankful for all the years that Thomas has been an instrumental part of the community. Recently I joined Thomas at The Gathering to enjoy his magic tricks and to listen as he shared some fond memories. That’s when he told me that he has come to realize that he’s been in Mission Hills for 28 years. He’s seen his clientele grow up and grow older.

He’s seen kids grow in to adults, “from high chairs to bar chairs,” which I thought was quite amazing and realistic. He reminded me of his standing promotion of 1/2 price drinks when a fire truck goes by with its siren blaring. Thomas laughingly commented, “Needless to say we have seen people do some very strange things to save a couple dollars, like call and say they are on their way down and to please save them a spot at the bar.” Thomas said that guests have often sat at the bar and complained that the fire truck never goes by. They leave only to rush back to the restaurant when a fire engine goes by. Sometimes they are half way down the street before returning for the ½ price drinks. He also shared with me the skunk incident. This happened during Sunday brunch. So the crowded restaurant was suddenly the site of hysteria as guests jumped on to their chairs to avoid contact with the skunk. Again, thanks to the local fire department, the skunk was coerced out of the restaurant and invited to never return. The fire department also had their hands full when The Gathering caught fire in 2006. Thomas said he can still recall how he felt as he drove up the hill towards the restaurant to see helicopters hovering above and fire trucks surrounding the building. And, though the restaurant was closed from 2006 to 2007 for repairs, 24 of 25 of the staff returned to work again at The Gathering after a year of being closed. We reminisced about the Mission Hills Music and Arts Festival which was an annual summer event for the community and how the Gathering benefitted from all of the guests who sought food and drinks at his establishment. I knew Thomas before he moved to Mission Hills and opened The Gathering. I first met him at The Café in the Valley in Mission Valley, which used to be the center of lots of restaurant and bar activity. Thomas grew up in the restaurant business, starting at Oscars, then to Pied Piper Pies, next to the Ivy Barn and then to the Spice Rack. After that, he moved to Miami Beach, Florida to open a restaurant. He shared with me photos of the interior that had a water theme and some of the unexpected challenges of water-like treatments that caused guests to get sea-sickness. He said it comes with learning what does and doesn’t work in a restaurant establishment. Thomas is grateful for his long-standing clientele, friends and staff. He is especially grateful to his sister Denise Komlenic who has been with him “from day one,” 28 years. She is currently his assistant manager. He also spoke of Jack and Wendy Coleman who have been with the restaurant for 18 years. Jack is the restaurant manager and Wendy is the head waitress. Thomas said that all of them deserve to be hired for their professionalism and devotion to clientele and the restaurant. In a closing statement, Thomas said, “All in all it’s been a wonderful journey and I’m going to miss so many of the people I’ve grown to know and care about. Like you! But I’m still the landlord so I’ll be around. I’d be interested to get the new owners response to the first time a fire truck goes by and a few people ask for a 1/2 price drink!” Dan Thomas, you are very important to many of us in Mission Hills and have become a part of our community family. I’m looking forward to seating next to you at the future establishment, which was The Gathering, and share bar seats as guests. It’s time for you to be on the “other side” of the bar. Congratulations and best wishes, Dan Thomas, and special thanks for all the memories you’ve helped to create.

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