The Family That Dines Together...

Erin Jackson |
Food And Dining

With its tin ceiling, crystal chandelier, and decades-old, handcrafted mahogany bar, it's just the place to sit down to a heaping plate of pancakes.

Brian's 24 has always operated with the same guiding principles: family, comfort food, and anything you want, anytime you want it. Serving generous plates of diner-style fare in a warm, welcoming environment has been their formula for success, and locals and visitors alike have embraced the restaurant. Everyone, from the cooks to the customers, gets along like family.

Brian's 24 opened its doors back in 2009, when Steve Epstein and his son, Brian, realized something major was missing from the Gaslamp Quarter: an all-hours spot serving hearty, home-style food. The onsite eatery within the historic St. James Hotel was the perfect location. With its tin ceiling, crystal chandelier, and decades-old, handcrafted mahogany bar, it was just the place to sit down to a heaping plate of pancakes, any time of the day or night.

When Steve passed away in 2010, Brian quickly had to take on a lot more responsibility. "I don't know that I was ready for it at the time,” he admits, “but all of a sudden I had to do it all.” Fortunately, he didn’t have to go it alone. Two of Brian’s four sisters, Robin and Andrea, plus his mother Ida, stepped up, taking on active roles at the restaurant. To keep the doors open at “the restaurant that never sleeps,” they shared responsibilities, supported each other, and worked as a team. "We're all in it together. It's not the cutthroat corporate world. Here, we all take care of each other," Ida says.

Steve’s presence is clearly missed at the restaurant, but it's still felt. Shortly after his passing, and unbeknownst to the family, employees commemorated him by placing a giant thermal cup—his signature beverage vessel—high up on a shelf, where it remains to this day. "He's still there every single day, watching over us," Andrea says.

Brian’s 24 is a family restaurant through and through, from the ownership, to the staff, to the customers. For servers and kitchen crew, many of whom have been with the restaurant since its inception, each day starts and ends with the same ritual: hugs and kisses all around, from the front of the house to the kitchen.

"Everybody who works here genuinely loves each other, and they have become like family," Robin says. “We have such an amazing staff that constantly looks out for one another. We couldn't do it without them.”

Customers are like family, too. The restaurant has more than its fair share of regulars, many of whom have been coming in for years and request their favorite servers by name.

Then there's the food. At close to 200 dishes, the menu at Brian's 24 is a meaty tome of classic diner fare. From breakfast, to burgers, to colossal shakes and malts, the scope of items prepared in the restaurant’s modest kitchen is astounding. Brian says the menu is always evolving. The newest tweaks: four new lunch specials, a happy hour, and a new sangría—just in time for summer.

Another notable addition to the menu is the aptly named Pancake Monster, a dish Brian dreamed up to attract competitive eaters in search of a real challenge. The five-and-a-half pound breakfast behemoth features five giant hotcakes layered with two sausage patties, three eggs, four strips of bacon, and eight-ounces of both ham and country fried steak—all sitting on a pound of home fries. Finish it by yourself in under an hour and it's on the house. How many diners have been up to the herculean task? Upwards of 30, though only three have succeeded.

Speaking of challenges, owning a restaurant that’s open 24/7 poses some unique demands, chief among them the fact that it never closes. In fact, it wasn’t until the blackout of September 2011 that Ida discovered her door key didn’t even turn the lock. Fortunately, the graveyard shift—a time of day affectionately dubbed “work and a show”—has never been a burden for Brian. The night owl happily manages the often-crowded late-night hours in flip-flops and a smile, even when the line stretches all the way down the block.

Considering all of the challenges, Brian, Robin, Andrea, and Ida have found a system that works: mutual support, teamwork, and constant communication. When it comes down to it, running the restaurant doesn't feel like a job to any of them. It's what they love. “It’s the best, craziest decision we ever made,” Andrea says.

Not sure what to order at Brian’s 24? Go with one of these family favorites:

Chicken and Waffles
A crisp and fluffy Belgian waffle served with your choice of half of a fried chicken or boneless tenders and country gravy. With the restaurant selling over 900 orders a month, you can't go wrong.

Pastrami Robin
This "sister sandwich" to the classic pastrami reuben features warm pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Thousand Island dressing on a hoagie roll.

PB&J Cream Cheese Club
A triple-decker sandwich of sweetened cream cheese, peanut butter, and grape and strawberry jellies on thick-cut sourdough toast. It's even better alongside a cup of coffee.

Stuffed French Toast
Three slices of French toast stuffed with sweetened cream cheese and your choice of fruit, topped with powdered sugar.

Peanut Butter Burger
A half-pound patty topped with bacon, American cheese, and—yep—peanut butter.