Christmas 2013: Stanley Bronstrup with granddaughter Lauren Bronstrup.
Stanley Bronstrup, the original owner of the "famous greasy spoon eatery," The Way Station Coffee Shop in Newhall, California, died Oct. 15, 2014, of colon and liver cancer, at his son's home in Stevenson Ranch, California. He died less than a month shy of his 81st birthday.
Born Nov. 12, 1933, in Springfield, Ohio, Stanley opted to stay on in California after spending four years in the Navy during the Korean war. During his early career, Stanley spent time as a Los Angeles County Sheriff Reserve Officer and later in the Hollywood film industry as both a bit part actor and camera repair technician.
Stanley, a resident of the Santa Clarita Valley since 1967, opened the Way Station Coffee Shop two weeks after the San Fernando Earthquake of Feb. 9, 1971, when his tobacco shop just a block up the street in Old Newhall was destroyed. After quick negotiations with the owner of Curry's Ice Cream Parlor, Stanley moved what was left of his "Smoke Shop and Unusuals" tobacco and antique store into the malt shop and changed the name to The Way Station when the ice cream parlor owner decided to move on. Breakfast history soon ensued ... and fortunately for breakfast lovers, the tobacco store faded into history.
Way Station Cofee Shop, corner Main and 9th in Newhall. Watercolor by Cecily Willis. Click image to read about the artist.
Stanley did keep the odd and rather unique collection of antiques and old signs. You can still see a few there today. Most are in his private collection, including the wooden Indians and old Coke signs that many love and remember.
It wasn't long before Stanley's original Breakfast Club developed. Sorry, Emilio and Molly, Stan's Breakfast Club started way before you guys existed, and by all accounts it was far more colorful and interesting.
The Way Station quickly became the 5 a.m. starting point for many a who's-who of the Santa Clarita Valley. Tom Lee, president of Newhall Land, and many other notables made the Way Station a part of their daily morning ritual, stopping by for a cup of coffee and to talk politics, the weather and local happenings. On a regular basis, you could find the head coach of both Hart and Canyon's football team sitting together discussing what — strategy? You never know. Vic from the hardware store, Milt from the Western store or Dick from the motorcycle shop were always discussing something with Stanley. Nobody quite knew they were talking about; it was too noisy with so many people clamoring for a seat.
Often you would find a line of early risers waiting as Stanley pulled up in his vintage gold Mercedes sometimes before 4:30 in the morning. Coffee and a donut for most, but the hardy or the tardy — Harry Welch and quite a few others included — would wait for the grill and Stanley's famous hash browns. It took well over 40 minutes to get that first batch ready. Jose, a fixture since 1971 (and still there in 2014) or Mamma Sue , followed in later years by Khris, Cindy and daughter Patty, poured coffee for a buck, refills free, while waiting for the grill to get hot. From that moment on, it was bumper-to-bumper people as the morning rush for good, old-fashioned cooking stacked up the order wheel with Stanley behind the grill, tossing eggs and hash browns, and one-liners.
When the first morning rush slowed, Stanley knew who and when his regulars would arrive and prepared their meal just in time, exactly how he wanted it. Yep, at the Way Station, it was how Stanley wanted to cook your meal — not the way you wanted your meal to be cooked. You wanted two eggs over easy with sausage? Stanley would prepare three eggs scrambled with bacon, French toast, and of course those hash browns, with onions, whether you liked them or not. Short-stack of pancakes? (That would be two.) Nope! You'd get three or four, and you had to cut a hole in the middle to pour the syrup, lest it ran off the plate and into your lap.
Most ate what they got while enjoying good conversation about whatever was on Stanley's mind that day. The coffee was hot, and thanks to the girls and Jose, always kept pouring, except for Harry the Shoe repair man. He always got his morning cup of luke-warm black coffee and one donut, yesterday's if you please, for a discount, and sat in silence reading the morning headlines in The Signal. A friendly fellow, a bit odd but friendly. Just another character in the "club" called The Way Station. Next was the boys from Randall Ranch. They came along 'round 10 a.m. or so, looking for an early lunch. Ranch hands started early and often didn't have time to wait for the grill to warm.
Stanley behind the counter in 1973.
Hollywood found Stanley again in 1974, and it wasn't long before A-lister celebs of the time were stopping by for breakfast or just to say hello. Sam Elliot, Willford Brimley, Linda Grey, Gary Busey, even Darth Vader, or at least his voice, James Earl Jones, became fans of Stanley and his Way Station. With Stanley at the grill, The Way Station became a regular stop for an ever-growing, eclectic bunch of characters, all heading off to make their own mark on the world after a full belly and Stanley's "two cents."
Case in point: Paul Reubens, aka Pee Wee Herman, was often spotted at the Way Station, incognito of course. I know I'm missing many more, but you get the point.
After a divorce in 1989, Stanley left the restaurant he created and loved, and moved to the mountains of central California where he opened another well known eatery, The Buckhorn, which he ran successfully until retirement in 2002. Shortly thereafter he moved back to the Santa Clarita Valley but soon began working again, this time as the patriarchal figurehead of his son's construction restoration company.
Stanley was working full-time right through August of this year, barking orders and opining on just about everything when cancer struck him down. Even today, many old friends stop and tell me, "The Way Station was never the same without Stanley." Most everyone agrees; today it's just a nice place to eat. I think they're right.
Before he died, I asked my dad what his biggest regret was. He said: Not being able to see each morning all the many people he called friends, after he left the Way Station. I also think all those friends feel the same way.
Stanley leaves behind his sister, Gene Egloff and her extended family; son Jerry and his wife Gigi; daughter Patty McIntosh; five grandchildren, Justin and Rachael Ward (last year's Mrs. SCV), Erika Bronstrup, Kyle Bronstrup, Lauren Bronstrup, Alli McIntosh; and three great grand children, with one more on the way; God-daughter Tina Crowell; and many dear friends.
He also leaves behind that large turquoise ring he always wore. Those of you who knew and loved Stanley will remember it well. He will be sorely missed.
Memorial Services will be held Saturday, Oct. 25, at 1 p.m. at Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Santa Clarita, California.