A Short-Order War

For years Harry Rogers ran the eccentric Malibu East diner. Now that he's gone, three former employees are waging an ownership battle that may destroy his legacy.

Bruce Godfrey is sitting at a booth in the Malibu East Restaurant and Coffee Shop. Behind him is a shrine to The Wizard of Oz, adorned with images of Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Wizard himself. It is topped with a dusty papier-mâché rainbow. Godfrey sits near the door -- in case he has to make a hasty exit.

The smell of eggs and grease clouds the air as the Malibu East equivalent of the morning rush hour trickles past Godfrey's booth. The dozen or so customers are mostly regulars, immune to the smell and the irregular quality of the food. Each one pauses to exchange pleasantries quietly with Godfrey, who is unsuccessfully attempting to procure some service -- and making a show of his frustration. "Where's my coffee?" he demands of the waitress, between puffs on a never-ending procession of Marlboro menthol cigarettes. The service at the Malibu East is notoriously slow, and unapologetic rudeness is part of its charm. But Godfrey is being left coffeeless for a reason.

Judy DeForest, the 20-year-veteran waitress who now runs and claims ownership of the diner, glares at him from behind tinted, octagon-shape glasses. Earrings as big as egg yolks frame her face. "All the problems you give me," she says, a hint of her native Texas still discernible, "I can't believe you even come in here."

Circus posters and faux-cacti are among the items crammed into the Malibu East
Melissa Jones
Circus posters and faux-cacti are among the items crammed into the Malibu East
When Harry Rogers (pictured with an unidentified woman) died in June, he left behind a financially troubled Fort Lauderdale institution
When Harry Rogers (pictured with an unidentified woman) died in June, he left behind a financially troubled Fort Lauderdale institution
Hairstylist Joseph Dixey used to recommend the Malibu East to his customers, but now he won't set foot in the diner
Melissa Jones
Hairstylist Joseph Dixey used to recommend the Malibu East to his customers, but now he won't set foot in the diner
Judy DeForest continues to serve breakfast and lunch six days a week
Melissa Jones
Judy DeForest continues to serve breakfast and lunch six days a week

Until May, when Godfrey announced that he was the rightful owner of the Malibu East, he too was a waiter at the diner in the Gateway Shopping Center in Fort Lauderdale. On the table in front of him is a sheaf of self-produced legal papers that make his case for ownership. One document, dated May 27, demands that the diner immediately cease doing business under the name Malibu East. Another, addressed to DeForest, lays out the legal actions he is prepared to take if the matter is not settled to his satisfaction.

Unable to ignore his presence, DeForest eventually snaps at Godfrey's bait. "I wish you wouldn't be discussing my shit in the newspapers, Bruce," she says, paying no heed to the sign behind the counter that reads, "Please do not use profane or obscene language."

"It's not your shit," is Godfrey's retort.

"It's got my name on it," she says.

After another run of dropping off orders and filling coffee cups -- DeForest's multiple faux-pearl necklaces tracking her path through the restaurant -- she is back at Godfrey's booth. "Yeah, he was real classy," she says to a reporter, ignoring her former coworker's presence. "He brings this all up while poor Harry's not even in the ground yet."

On June 9 Harry Rogers died at the age of 74. For months the former owner of the Malibu East had been bedridden, suffering from dysentery, liver problems, skin lesions, and dramatic weight loss. His wake was held at the diner, and the main course was Texas beans and cornbread, in honor of his Lone Star State upbringing. Close to 70 people crowded into the tiny diner, where Rogers' ashes sat in a container near the counter, surrounded by pictures of his beloved Marilyn Monroe.

Rogers had dreamed of being a movie star, but had only a few screen credits, including a TV commercial for a health insurance company. Instead he brought drama and flair to the small stages of his Malibu restaurants. From 1959 until his death, he, along with partner and lover Carlos Gonzalez, ran several versions of the Malibu. The first was situated along the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California, where Judy Garland, Steve McQueen, and Monroe were among the celebrity regulars. Rogers himself was famous for his cock-a-leekie soup, a predilection for gambling, and an affable, if irascible, temperament.

For the last two decades, he and Gonzalez served breakfast and lunch to a less glamorous clientele at three locations in Broward County. Aside from the prices, not much changed over 40 years. The food at the Malibu has always been standard diner fare, and the shtick has always been movie stars -- whether in the flesh or on celluloid.

But even before Rogers' death, the Malibu East had begun to fall apart. Weakened by illness in his final months, Rogers was unable to stabilize a financially troubled business that each of his once trusted lieutenants -- DeForest, Godfrey, and Gonzalez -- now believes he or she owns. Personal attacks, accusations of fraud, and threats of lawsuits are legion. Even the mail addressed to "Malibu East" is in dispute, piling up at the post office until an owner is officially declared. Meanwhile the quality of the food has suffered -- a detail supported by health-code violations -- and some neighboring businesses accuse the Malibu of buying stolen merchandise, including food.

With the Malibu East in a shambles, the feud is the equivalent of in-laws fighting over a dead relative's snake-infested trailer in the middle of the Everglades. Just who will win the fight remains to be seen, but considering Rogers' inextricable ties to the Malibu legacy, probably no one will end up a winner.


Carlos Gonzalez does not look fit for a fight -- legal or otherwise. He's sitting this weekday morning at a booth in Tommy D.'s American Eatery on Sunrise Boulevard, slowly sipping a cup of coffee. At the age of 77, he no longer sets foot in the Malibu East, where he worked as a cook. A white fringe of hair surrounds his head, like moss on a stone. He wears a pastel-color plaid shirt and blue shorts. White socks protrude from yellow loafers. Glasses hang around his neck from a thick, faux-gold chain. He looks like a stock character from Miami Vice -- which he was.

Like Rogers -- his partner for 54 years -- Gonzalez pined for stardom. When he was a kid, his family performed as acrobats, first in South America and later with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Gonzalez's mother was renowned for catapulting from a springboard, executing a midair somersault, then landing atop three men perched on each other's shoulders. Despite Gonzalez's absence, circus posters touting the Gonzalez family's acrobatic prowess still adorn the back wall of the Malibu East.

In the late '30s and early '40s, Carlos toured the vaudeville circuit with his two sisters as the Gonzalez Family. The act included dog tricks and conga dancing. But a stint in the Coast Guard during World War II cut short Gonzalez's performing career, and afterward his involvement with the Malibu restaurants prevented him from pursuing show biz full-time. In recent years, however, Gonzalez has scratched together bit parts in quickly forgotten films: a janitor in 1988's Cocoon: The Return; a bouncer in the 1991 movie Pure Luck, starring Martin Short and Danny Glover.

When Gonzalez speaks of Rogers, the muscles in his face sag. "He had such a beautiful smile, and he was so good-looking," he says wistfully. His square jaw trembles, and tears well up in his bloodshot eyes. "I sat with Harry an hour before he died," Gonzalez whispers, lamenting that he had to leave Rogers to work the grill at the Malibu East. "I left the house at six o'clock. I kissed him. I said, 'I'll be back.'" An hour later, Rogers died.

"That was the end," Gonzalez says, "the end of Harry and Carlos."

Even before Rogers' death, the Malibu East he'd created with Gonzalez was in trouble. On May 18 at about 11 a.m., two agents from the Florida Department of Revenue entered the diner looking for money -- $7881.25 to be exact, the amount owed by the diner for unpaid sales taxes. Gonzalez was behind the grill, Godfrey was waiting on tables. DeForest was in Texas on vacation, and Rogers was at home in bed. When no one stepped forward to offer to pay the bill, the Malibu East was effectively shut down.

Until he became very sick, Rogers had always taken care of the business side of the operation. The exact nature of his illness remains unclear. Public records do not specify cause of death, and those close to Rogers either can't or won't share that information. But one thing is for sure: Rogers appeared to be in desperate financial straits.

On February 1, spurred by illness and rising debts, Rogers signed a contract to sell the Malibu East to Godfrey. According to documents provided by Godfrey, the 42-year-old waiter paid $2500 upfront and planned to put up an additional $52,500 over the next three months. In return for the $55,000, Godfrey would take over the Malibu East lease and gain control of everything in the restaurant, from frying pans to the sign behind the counter that reads, "Don't criticize the coffee, you may be old and weak yourself someday." Although Godfrey didn't actually have the remaining $52,500, he says he'd lined up a handful of potential investors to help cover the costs.

Before signing the contract, however, he'd failed to investigate the solvency of the business he was about to purchase. In March, as he prepared to take over the Malibu East, Godfrey discovered that the diner had substantial outstanding debts. In an attempt to salvage the deal and free himself from responsibility for existing bills, he drew up a second contract. Rogers refused to sign it, and Godfrey never paid the $52,500.

Although the transaction was aborted, Godfrey continues to proceed as if he's the owner of the Malibu East Restaurant and Coffee Shop. As required by law, he published a notice in the Sun-Sentinel on June 19 declaring his intention to operate a business under the name. A certificate of registration and tax identification number were issued to him by the Florida Department of Revenue. Godfrey even obtained a license to provide food and drink.

Despite these steps, Godfrey does not have much to back up his claims of ownership of the business -- or even the name. According to the Florida Division of Corporations, any number of people can register and operate a business under identical names. "When it comes to fictitious names, there is no presumption of ownership," says Jay Kassees, assistant division director. "Fifteen thousand people could use the same name." The same holds true for registering with the Department of Revenue. "There is nothing in tax law that precludes two businesses from using the same name and the same address," says Dave Bruns, a spokesperson for the agency.

When DeForest returned from Texas a few days after the visit by the revenue agents, the diner was still closed, and no one was taking steps to pay off the debt. Within a week the 50-year-old waitress scraped up enough money to cover the back taxes owed the revenue service. She also squared up the rent with the landlord and began making arrangements to pay off the restaurant's other debts. (Where she got the money from, DeForest says, is nobody else's business.) On Thursday, May 27, nine days after the Malibu East had been shut down, it reopened for business with DeForest at the helm.

"Harry begged me to do this," she says. "He made it like a little family. You don't walk out on your family."

She adds that, in return for saving the Malibu East, Rogers transferred 51 percent of the business to her. As evidence she points to a certificate of registration on the wall of the kitchen from the Department of Revenue, dated May 25, 1999. It is inscribed with the names Harry Rogers and Judy DeForest. Like Godfrey, she too is registered with the Division of Corporations, but under the name J.D. Malibu Beach Restaurant. But she offers nothing to prove her ownership of the assets of the diner itself -- the pots, pans, porcelain dolls, and sepia-toned pictures of movie stars that comprise the Malibu East.

Pressed for proof of ownership, DeForest gets defensive. "I don't see anyone in here helping me," she says. "Who paid $500 this morning for a new hot-water heater?" She claims the documents proving her ownership are in a safe-deposit box, where she intends to keep them. "I don't have to prove I own it," she scoffs. "I know I own it. I'm the one paying the bills here."

The third claimant to the Malibu East mantle is Gonzalez, who says he had a business partnership with Rogers for 40 years. But when Rogers died, almost all the paperwork for the Malibu East was in Rogers' name. His was the only signature on the restaurant's lease, and the occupancy license filed with the City of Fort Lauderdale lists Rogers as the sole owner. The registration certificate from the Florida Department of Revenue makes no mention of Gonzalez.

"Harry was always the businessman," says Gonzalez. "I have nothing. No papers, nothing -- except Harry's will."

The will. Gonzalez says that when Rogers died, all assets were left to him, including the Malibu East. Like DeForest, though, Gonzalez doesn't offer much evidence. He at first promised to furnish a copy of the will but then reneged. And a will has yet to be filed for Rogers with the Broward County Clerk of Courts. By law it was supposed to have been filed within ten days of his death.

"Forget about the will," says Gonzalez. "It's my will and Harry's will. I don't want anyone to see the will."

Gonzalez claims that he's contacted a lawyer about taking legal action to gain control of the restaurant, and Godfrey also is threatening lawsuits: one against DeForest for $165,000 for illegal use of the name Malibu East and another for $135,000 for slander and defamation of character. He claims she has blackballed him, thus preventing him from landing another job. The dispute is not likely to end until all three parties are forced to show their cards in a court of law, a process that could take years -- and cost more in legal fees than the restaurant itself is worth.


At first glance the Malibu East hardly seems worth the trouble of legal bills and court battles. The restaurant is flanked on one side by an adult video store and a defunct pet-grooming business and on the other by a bike shop. One of the front windows has been broken for months, replaced with a piece of plywood painted white. On the sidewalk in front, the plants are turning brown and spilling out of their pots.

The Malibu operation has seen grander days. When it was founded by Rogers and Gonzalez along the Pacific Coast Highway in 1959, it was known as the Har-Los Malibu Colony Coffee Shop. Rogers had previously been a waiter at Schwab's on Sunset Boulevard, where he first breathed the refined air of a celebrity haunt, and he brought that experience to the diner. As depicted in newspaper accounts and as remembered by Gonzalez through the spit-shined prism of time, the Malibu Colony Coffee Shop was the neighborhood diner for the glitterati. Judy Garland ate there ("Such a lovely little lady," says Gonzalez), as did Paul Newman and Shirley MacLaine.

Gonzalez fondly recalls Anthony Quinn leaving his dog on the sidewalk outside while he dined. Each time someone opened the door, the pup would race inside. "Anthony Quinn, get the goddamned dog out of the coffee shop," Peggy, the diner's gravelly voiced waitress, would bark out.

Because the cook at the coffee shop couldn't stay off the bottle, Gonzalez left his job as a hairdresser and took over the grill. Rogers and Gonzalez built a home in the Malibu hills and opened a second restaurant just a couple blocks from the coffee shop. But during the '60s and '70s, Malibu began to transform from a somewhat sleepy hideaway for the stars into a Los Angeles suburb that included Pepperdine College. Gonzalez and Rogers grew weary of the place.

Their frustration was compounded by other changes in the mid-to-late '70s. The house they'd built was destroyed by mudslides, and their landlord threatened to triple the rent for the coffee shop. Deciding it was time to move on, they headed to Broward County, where Gonzalez had family and where the two lovers had first met almost 25 years earlier, in a Hollywood bar.

The doors to the Malibu East Coffee Shop were opened in 1979 on State Road 84, just off Federal Highway. Judy DeForest, one of the original waitresses hired, was immediately smitten by Rogers, who shared a Texas accent. "Where the Stars Meet to Eat" was the restaurant's slogan, even though the only movie stars to be found were hanging in frames on the walls or laminated onto the tables. The Malibu Country Special -- three eggs, home fries or grits, pork tenderloin, biscuits, gravy, and coffee -- cost $4.95. Although the diner's location wasn't too glamorous (next door was Cole Muffler), Rogers and Gonzalez hoped to create a mini-Malibu in South Florida, where run-of-the-mill patrons could momentarily feel worthy of a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The restaurant lasted for seven years, and a few months after it closed, the Malibu Ritz Coffee Shop popped up in Wilton Manors, just across the street from Fort Lauderdale High School on NE Fourth Avenue. Every day, the cozy diner was overrun with schoolchildren on lunch break, and DeForest continued to wait tables, Gonzalez to work the grill. But when the high school added a second lunch period, the restaurateurs decided the Malibu Ritz was no longer worth the headaches.

The Malibu East Restaurant and Coffee Shop opened in the Gateway Shopping Center in 1994. The place is packed with enough stuff to make a junk dealer consider a yard sale. A Greek-style plaster bust sits atop the soda machine, and life-size cutouts of John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe compete for space with a bear alarm clock forever frozen at 8:24 and a footlocker emblazoned with the name of Lana Turner. If you loaded up the contents of the diner in a truck and hauled everything to the Swap Shop, the merchandise would not look out of place.

At the rear of the restaurant is a baby grand piano draped with a gay-pride flag. An archway of Christmas lights separates the piano from the rest of the diner. Until his death last year, Dominic Perry played the piano every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon. "He played all the old ragtime stuff that everybody loved," recalls DeForest. "He always missed a note, but everybody loved it." She recalls that once when she went to Texas for three weeks, Rogers called her every weekend and had Perry play "New York, New York" into the phone.

After Perry's death, Johnny Jones, another Malibu East waiter, took over as house musician. He played show tunes and standards from the '40s and '50s. Gonzalez would often step away from the grill to sing along. Rogers loved to hear him croon the Irving Berlin classic "Chasing the Blues Away." Since Jones' departure earlier this summer, the piano has been mostly silent.

Although the days of Hollywood celebrities dining on Malibu diner food were already long gone, Rogers continued to grasp at celebrity while he was in charge. In an alcove at the front of the diner is a chair with the words Carol Channing emblazoned in red marker. Behind the counter is a plate from which Channing ate during a visit in 1998. The 78-year-old star of stage, TV, and screen is a North Palm Beach resident who was introduced to the restaurant by Robert Leininger, owner of Grand Central Stationery on East Las Olas Boulevard, and Tim Smith, the Sun-Sentinel's classical music critic. They thought Channing would appreciate the diner's camp appeal.

"She was just overwhelmed with the place," recalls Leininger. "We got better service than we ever got in our life." They drank mimosas and posed for pictures with Gonzalez, DeForest, and Rogers. The alcove is now a shrine featuring pictures of Channing at the Malibu, dressed in a bright white outfit and oversize sunglasses. A framed note from Leininger and Smith, commemorating the event, reads: "She loved the attention, loved the piano playing, loved Carlos' singing, loved the food, and loved Judy's autograph!"

Elsewhere in the diner, among the hundreds of faded photos, is a picture of Von Ray, the "Texas Tornado" and a regular patron of the diner. Von Ray is more typical of the type of celebrity who haunts the Malibu East nowadays. The self-proclaimed "tassel-twirling flaming redhead" once crisscrossed the nation doing "Western novelty" shows in which "I slapped my boobs with fire twirlers, stood on my head, and wiggled my fanny." Her old business cards, dating from 1966, boast bodily dimensions of 342443 and feature a cowboy-hatted Ray with a revolver shoved into the front of her bikini bottom. At the age of 72, Ray may have lost a move or two, but she has occasionally been known to stand on her head and wiggle her fanny for the patrons of the Malibu. Rogers apparently had a keener appreciation of this talent than anyone else.

"He'd always announce, 'This is Von Ray, the Texas Tornado,'" recalls Ray. "He was a very jolly person."


Among the less exalted patrons of the Malibu East is a man known only as "Dumpster Danny." There is no picture of him on the wall or plate bearing his signature, but he is a regular visitor.

It's a Friday morning, and Danny's pushing a shopping cart along the sidewalk of the Gateway Shopping Center. The cart is loaded with cardboard boxes of food and a plastic freezer box containing cheese. His face is grimy and sunbaked from his living on the streets. Danny stops in front of the Malibu East and takes one of the cardboard boxes inside. A few minutes later he emerges emptyhanded.

"Judy bought about $10 worth of stuff," Danny says, as he continues down the sidewalk. Her purchases: packaged lettuce and green-apple gummi rings. Danny is in a hurry to find a safe place for his cheese before it goes bad in the late-morning sun. He says that he gets the food from Winn-Dixie in return for helping to unload trucks. (A spokesperson for the closest Winn-Dixie store will later deny that such an arrangement exists or that anyone there even knows Danny.) But the assumption among many business owners at the Gateway, as Danny's not-so-flattering moniker suggests, is that he pulls the food out of area dumpsters.

Godfrey concurs. He says that, while he was working at Malibu East, DeForest and Rogers constantly bought items from people who came into the restaurant with wares to hawk. Their purchases ranged from jewelry and clothing to eggs and meat. "Every day they were showing up, selling more and more and more shit," he says, adding that he'd warn customers away from menu selections containing ingredients of dubious origin.

Joseph Dixey, owner of the Gateway Barber/Hairstylist, says that, for a couple of years, he suggested to customers that they visit the diner while waiting to get haircuts. "I'd say, 'Why don't you go have a cup of coffee next door at the Malibu? It's like stepping back in the century.'"

Nowadays, though, Dixey himself won't enter the Malibu East. He says that, while the rest of the merchants in the Gateway attempt to rid the area of people selling stolen merchandise, the diner has thwarted their efforts by providing a market for such goods. He recalls eating breakfast in the diner one morning when a man known to deal in stolen merchandise entered and was welcomed by Rogers. "I picked up my food, and I went to the other counter, and I finished eating and I walked out," Dixey recalls. "Harry looked at me. He said, 'Whatsa matter?' If I have to tell him whatsa matter, it doesn't make no sense."

DeForest emphatically denies serving food bought off the streets. She does indeed purchase food from people who stop by the restaurant, but she says it is solely for consumption by animals -- the 14 iguanas at her house and the pigeons for which she and Rogers used to buy. "If they're saying I'm buying food off the street to serve in the restaurant, they're out of their minds," DeForest says. "I don't do that."

Sgt. Frank Miller, head of the Fort Lauderdale community policing unit that covers the Gateway Shopping Center, says that he is not aware of any problem with people dealing in stolen goods there.

The diner has also drawn complaints about its less-than-rigorous commitment to cleanliness. One neighboring storeowner half-jokingly advises diners to "take your penicillin" before eating at the Malibu East.

The gripes about hygiene are backed up, to some degree, by reports from the state Division of Hotels and Restaurants (DHR), which inspects restaurants for health-code violations at least three times each year. The Malibu East has been consistently cited for problems over the last three years -- as far back as records are available. The violations range from the mundane (storing milk in the ice chest) to the grotesque (live roaches in the cupboards). The restaurant has been repeatedly reprimanded for failing to degrease the stovetop and for storing foods at potentially dangerous temperatures.

An official with the DHR says some health-code violations are inevitable -- especially in restaurants such as the Malibu East, where most food is prepared on the premises. "It's the nature of the beast," says Lee Cornman, technical coordinator for the agency. Even a roach problem, she says, should not necessarily scare off diners. "We are in Florida," Cornman notes. "The more food you're cooking, and the more ingredients you're using, the more likely it is that you'll have a vermin problem."


Bruce Godfrey says bugs will not be a problem in his Malibu East -- if it ever opens. Since mid-May, when the revenue agents arrived and the diner was temporarily shut down, Godfrey has been without full-time work. He's applied for jobs at dozens of businesses (approaching 150 by his count) but without much luck. He currently works part-time as a security guard at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport at $5.50 an hour. Godfrey's credit card bills total more than $8000, he receives $125 in food stamps each month, and he's planning to move out of his Victoria Park apartment to find someplace cheaper. "I'm below the bottom right now," Godfrey says.

Yet he is still determined to run a restaurant called the Malibu East -- either at the diner's present location or elsewhere. He considered a lot in Wilton Manors now occupied by Legends Café (and previously by the Malibu Ritz Coffee Shop). But Godfrey is most intrigued by the possibility of opening up shop in the Gateway Shopping Center, just yards from the present Malibu East. A vacant store, where Dandy's Café used to be, is for rent. His plan raises the surreal possibility of two Malibu Easts operating in the same strip mall.

"Once they get a taste of my place, who would want to go in there?" Godfrey boasts.

He admits, however, that his investors now have cold feet, thanks to the prospect of legal battles. But Godfrey says that he's expended so much time, energy, and money in his battle with DeForest already that he can't simply give up.

Godfrey is not alone in searching for ways to make ends meet post-Harry Rogers. Carlos Gonzalez is also near bottom. It's a weekday afternoon, and he's sitting in the Fort Lauderdale house he shared with Rogers for the last four years, drinking from a can of Busch beer. The house is stuffed with an assortment of ornamental oversize lamps, tattered throw rugs, and landscape paintings in thick wood frames.

Although he has always aspired to be a Hollywood actor, Gonzalez was basically a short-order cook for 40 years. He is now looking to move out of the house because he cannot pay the bills. Along with Johnny Jones, Gonzalez has taken on a new cooking gig, serving breakfast and lunch at the Curve Club. The club advertises the pair as "formerly of Malibu East" and is directly across Sunrise Boulevard from the diner. As for Rogers' will, which supposedly turns all of his assets over to his former lover, Gonzalez says it's almost worthless. Rogers' frequent gambling sojourns and costly medical bills wiped out most of his savings.

Gonzalez gets succor now from Jones, who moved in with Gonzalez prior to Rogers' death. The two spend most evenings at the Curve Club, where Jones plays the piano and Gonzalez sometimes sings. (Jones -- one of many aliases, according to people who know him -- was out of town during the reporting of this article.) Gonzalez has consulted a lawyer to figure out what legal action he might take to get the Malibu East back, but he's wary of trouble.

"I hate to make problems," he says. "John is the one that pushes me now, into doing things that I don't want to do. John is very good to me and very nice to me, and that's what I need. Everyone needs somebody to love them."


Judy DeForest would argue that she's the only one who takes care of the Malibu East. On a recent afternoon, right around closing time, the dregs of the diner crowd are all that remain. A young family of three is finishing lunch, and DeForest keeps the little girl entertained by repeatedly setting off a flowerpot that spins around and plays "In the Mood."

It's DeForest's belief that nothing has changed at the Malibu East, that the spirit of Harry Rogers lives on. A motley assortment of cooks and waiters, varying from day to day, has taken over the workload that Godfrey and Gonzalez once shouldered. Most of the regular breakfast crowd -- a dozen or so patrons at a time -- continue to show their faces.

"The food is here, but half of 'em don't come for the food," DeForest says, seemingly repeating a mantra passed on by Rogers. "They come for the entertainment. There's always something happening."

But at the moment very little is happening. A woman who sometimes waits tables at the Malibu East is visibly drunk at the counter. She scrutinizes a lottery scratch-off card, then celebrates as she wins $70.

DeForest is well into her own cocktail, a vodka-and-whatever's-available, sipping from the drink between wiping down tables and putting away food for the day. She pauses from the work, takes a puff on a Winston cigarette, and declares herself nothing more than a loyal employee, adding, "I only did what Harry asked me to do."

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