Rita Hilton’s voice carries across the room at Abby’s Diner in Eagle Rock. Her brand of hospitality is familiar even if you’ve never met her before. She makes the tiny restaurant feel like a home. Hilton was a singer for a brief time out of high school and though she toured, she decided on making a home for her family. When she’s not waiting tables at Abby’s or taking care of her children, she’s playing pool, or playing parties as a clown for hire.
Hilton grew up in Glassell Park, though she spends most of her time in Eagle Rock at Abby’s. If it wasn’t for her there would be no diner atmosphere, as she is the ultimate cheerleader for burgers and fries.
What do you learn about people when you’re serving them food?
I learn about their personalities, about them as individuals. They’re usually nice to me, because I’m bringing them food, but also because I present them with a smile. Treat them like I want to be treated.
How would you say you came up with your personality?
I’ve always been like this. It was my sixth grade teacher, who I am still close to that taught me manners. She was my mentor at Fletcher Drive Elementary in Glassell Park. She’s retired now, but she went to my 50th birthday party. She taught me everything.
You had a singing career right out of high school? Why’d you stop?
In high school for six months I traveled around. I still sing once in a while. I wanted to provide the right tools for my kids, and I couldn’t do that on the road. Now I’m providing something for them.
What were you like as a child?
I was a tomboy. I played volleyball, softball, basketball, track. I was very competitive, and now I play pool.
What do you think makes a diner inviting to customers?
Friendly and clean atmosphere. When the people come in we want to make sure that they will be liked and we want to make sure we make them a real diner burger.
When was the last time someone was hospitable to you?
Last night at my birthday. It was real nice. I usually don’t remember my birthday, and my teammates got me a cake and sang to me. And they knew that my pool cue broke, so they bought me a new one.
Five Questions poses the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Want to know more about people in your neighborhood? Send suggestions to [email protected]m
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.