Walter’s Restaurant celebrates 50 years: Part 2
by John Neiuber | Special to the Courier
The space into which Walter’s Restaurant expanded was one of six units in what was only one of three bungalow courts built in Claremont. The entire bungalow court is now occupied by Walter’s, and when dining in the courtyard one can still see the eyebrow eaves over the doorways to what were once the individual bungalows. As the units became available, Walter’s would expand the dining room into another bungalow. Nangy even found time to dig under the bungalows and create a wine cellar and bakery. Digging one bucket at a time, it took two years to complete the task.
Tragedy struck in 1987. Awakened by a call at 2 a.m., the police department informed the Ghafarshads that the restaurant was on fire. They rushed to Walter’s to see the building engulfed in flames. The woodwork in the building was destroyed, as was the stained glass by Claremont artist Mike Hill. As morning came, the workers were all let go and Walter’s was closed. A few days later they started to remove the debris from the fire. The kitchen staff came back and offered to work without pay. Debris was cleared, and neighbors and customers provided lunch for the entire crew. The landlord, Herb Hafif, helped with the rebuilding costs not covered by insurance. Kay Hafif introduced Fahima Ghafarshad to Austrian and French pastries and Fahima’s desserts have become legendary.
With the help of friends and customers a new restaurant was built. Out of the ashes of Walter’s Coffee Shop, a restaurant, Walter’s, was born. And the business grew its reputation. For a restaurant, it is about the quality of food, beverage, service, and ambience. But there is also another intangible at work in the backstory of Walter’s. From the early days, the residents, students, and faculty, were interested in Nangy’s background as a pilot, a flight instructor and his and Fahima’s lives in Afghanistan. The customers also connected with the young couple’s family and watched the children, Asya and Dawoud, grow. The restaurant became a family business. The connections that were made became the relationships that created a loyal customer base. The customer was not only offered excellent food, drink, and service, but also the care and attention of owners who cared about them as people, who always offered a warm greeting, who asked about them and their family, and who offered a comfortable place to eat and visit and linger.
It is that comfort of Walter’s that has created a place for friends and family to gather, to visit and to celebrate life’s benchmarks. On any given day, there are numerous birthdays, anniversaries, wedding showers, and receptions celebrated at the restaurant. The decor consists of works by local artists, further connecting the restaurant to the community. For many years, Walter’s was the weekly meeting place for the “four friends,” renowned artists Harrison McIntosh, Rupert Deese, Sam Maloof, and James Heuter.
The connection between the restaurant and the community remains strong. Longtime Claremont resident Jil Stark said Walter’s has been a training ground for many of the children and grandchildren of Claremont residents, noting that at least six of her children and grandchildren can claim Walter’s as one of their first jobs that taught them important life skills and lessons. As the restaurant struggled during the pandemic, the landlord, Greg Hafif, helped with the rent to ensure the business survived. It was a chance meeting at Walter’s that led to the creation of this column.
From a 35-seat coffee shop in 1973, Walter’s has grown into an iconic Claremont landmark that today is a restaurant, bar, lounge, and event space with a capacity of 500. It has truly become a Claremont institution.
History is not only about the people, the events, and the architecture of a city, but also about its culture, and the role of place in that culture. “Let’s meet at Walter’s” is a common phrase heard between family members, colleagues, and friends. The utterance of those words captures the essence of how a place has become a cultural icon within a city. Walter’s is such a place.
Please join with Claremont Heritage on Sunday, December 3, as we honor Walter’s Restaurant owners, the Ghafarshad family, for their 50 years of advancing the gastronomy, art, culture, and community of Claremont. The restaurant will close at 3 p.m. that day and the event will take place from 4 to 8. Food, drink, and entertainment will abound. Heritage staff, in cooperation with the family, are soliciting and collecting photos from throughout the years for the event. The Claremont Chamber of Commerce is arranging special presentations to commemorate the milestone. Proceeds from the event will benefit Claremont Heritage.