Santa Paula Times

The posting underneath the woman’s photo on Facebook says it all: “So this beautiful lady is hanging up her tongs officially Saturday February 22nd. Above are left to right: Samuel Bennett III, Fillmore; Peggy Alsup, originally from Santa Paula and now lives in Fillmore; and Granddaughter Summer Bennett. The three are holding the original Mary B (Mary Bevill) photo taken on opening day in 1977

Mary B’s Peggy Alsup passes the spatula of iconic eatery to grandson

February 19, 2014
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times 

The posting underneath the woman’s photo on Facebook says it all: “So this beautiful lady is hanging up her tongs officially Saturday February 22nd. We will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that Saturday and every Saturday after that. So save the date and spread the word and come give Peggy your love or give her some hell one last time.”

Foodies everywhere beware: Peggy Alsup, AKA Mary B’s, is retiring from behind the counter of the little restaurant with the big hamburgers and foot-long chili dogs served up to generations of devoted diners.

The restaurant, located on a sliver of a corner at 1330 E. Harvard Blvd., has been doing business for decades behind the same Mary B’s sandwich board sidewalk sign decorated with a hot dog and the word Open... the main sign notes the establishment, founded God knows when initially opened with the mouthwatering name of Dirty Al’s, is the home of  “Famous Chili Dogs and Burgers”.

The cramped interior has just enough room for a few tables, some facing the counter decorated with a variety of bumper stickers. A screen door, yes, a screen door, opens and closes incessantly as customers hustle in and out to dine or to take out.

Mary B’s menu is sparse but features the six basic food groups: burgers, hotdogs, cheese, French fries, bacon and chili.

Over the years, Peggy has flipped probably hundreds of thousands of burgers.

“My lands, I really have no idea,” said the Fillmore resident. “Back in the 90s I used to go through 80 pounds of hamburger patties a week... “ 

Later, even though the sagging economy and sagging bellies of consumers growing more health conscious impacted business, Peggy said she still flipped at a furious rate.

Peggy started working at the store for her mother Mary Bevill - the original Mary B’s - in 1984, about seven years after her mother acquired the establishment from Al Hahn and his wife Bonzel. 

When Peggy’s family moved to Santa Paula in the mid-1950s Dirty Al’s was a “little hot dog stand on Harvard and 8th and my dad loved chili dogs,” a craving soon regularly fulfilled when Mary started working at the restaurant.

The store has now been at its present location for decades: “The property originally was rented from Lucy and Rufus (her late husband) Dominguez ... and we still do,” said Peggy.

Ten years old when the family moved to Santa Paula, Peggy said “I grew up at Dirty Al’s,” and started cleaning house for the couple when she turned 11.

Peggy’s parents moved to Newhall in the 1960s but in 1974 Peggy’s father passed away, and her mother Mary moved back to Santa Paula and started working again at Dirty Al’s.

The next year Bonzel Hahn passed away and two years later Al Hahn died.

His son Walter had no real interest in the business and sold it to the woman, who christened it Mary B’s.

In 1984 when her mother was ill Peggy started working at the restaurant, a job she hoped would be temporary: “Mom begged me to come in. I never had any interest in it, I didn’t want to work there... and that’s where I’ve been forever,” owning the restaurant since 1985.

And she also owns the legend: “As many years as I’ve worked there, there wasn’t one week that someone didn’t come in and reminisce about Al, he has such a legacy in Santa Paula. It was always very touching to me because Al had no idea the number of people that would remember him.”

The generational beat of Mary B’s food lovers goes on: “It was fun watching the customers I inherited from mother,” said Peggy, “then getting my own and watching their children grow and then have them come in and bring their children... and then when their children started bringing babes in I thought ‘what is wrong with this picture!’ “

Peggy, who due to a health issue quit in recent months, would scoff if she was called a legend, but if the reaction she’s getting from people is any indication she is.

“Just to walk out and hang it up... well, people were very upset with me. It’s nice when I run into people or go into the shop people hug me and say they miss me, really make a fuss.

“I formed relationships with a lot of these people, served them for years and they mean something to me.”

The business is staying in the family with Peggy’s grandson Samuel R. Bennett III taking over with help from his sister, Peggy’s granddaughter Summer Bennett.

“Summer helps when he needs it,” said Peggy. “Summer worked with me for quite a while, I really thought she would be the one to take it over. Samuel never really showed an interest, he was always so quiet,” but he showed strong determination when Summer said she had other interests.

Her grandson, noted Peggy, “Said ‘I want it,’ I was just shocked but he took right to it and loves the people, he’s so friendly with them.

“I was,” said Peggy, “just absolutely elated! Overall, just the legacy that is Mary B’s had always meant something to me and I see that the thing I am most proud of is that it means something to Samuel. I think the people can see that.” 

Peggy is also proud that “The kids have heard the story about the business,” from the days of Dirty Al’s to Mary B’s, “so many times they’ve got it down pat!”

A standout incident Peggy remembers occurred years ago, when, “A woman I’d never seen before came in and ordered,” a meal.

When the woman received her food, “She said ‘these fries aren’t hot enough!’ threw fries on the floor and stormed out. I thought ‘well, my gosh!’ “

Peggy said she followed the woman out: “I said ‘hey lady, what’s wrong?’ and she said ‘it isn’t you, it’s just me.’ 

“I said ‘do you need a hug?’ and she just threw her arms around me and cried and cried,” telling Peggy through her tears she had just lost her job and been served with divorce papers.

When Peggy followed the woman out customers thought, “I was going to clean her plow... I got teased about that for years. But the experience left me with the lesson that when people act like that you don’t know what kind of day they’ve had. I never saw her again but hope she’s okay.”

Peggy will be attending the celebration at Mary B’s Saturday, munching on her favorite menu item, the chili fries, and greeting generations of friends who also happen to be customers giving her love and affectionate hell.

She admits it took a few years to decide to retire, “Because I didn’t want to sell my business... I knew if I did it wouldn’t be the same. I knew Mary B’s had to continue with family. You could say we were family with Al and his wife, Samuel is family, it’s an easier transition. 

“Plus,” added Peggy, “Samuel will bring in new people... and it’s just time for new blood.”