Palo Alto High School's News and Features Publication

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Verde Magazine

Escaping eviction: Mike’s Diner Bar overcomes obstacles

Kensie Pao
The owner of Mike’s Diner Bar, Mike Wallau, sits at a newly refurbished table, pondering what he can do in his situation. “This is a difficult business, you work seven days a week for sometimes [in my case] for 25 years,” Wallau said, “Having this extra stuff to worry about is not desirable.”

As you step into Mike’s Diner Bar, laughter and banter from multi-generational families fill the space, creating a warm ambiance and a sense of community. Old and new customers enjoy the popular dishes, Mom’s spaghetti and the classic hamburger. 

However, just a few months ago, the fate of this community restaurant was uncertain. From July to September, this diner grappled with an eviction case. Having garnered a fantastic reputation in the community in the 29 years of business, loyal customers supported Mike’s throughout the process of overcoming this crisis. 

In a recent interview with Verde several months after the eviction notice arrived, owner of Mike’s Diner Bar, Mike Wallau said that on July 17, his rent was due to Ventana Property Services, the company that collects the rent for the property. Ventana then sends this to Scher Holdings LLC and the Finebaum Surviving Spouse’s Trust, the owners of the property. However, that night, he was in the El Camino Hospital emergency room tending to his daughter, which led him to be a day late on his $22,000 rent for the month of July. 

The next day, he received a letter from Ventana Property Services informing him of his eviction: he would need to be out by 7 a.m. Sept. 11 due to the late rent. 

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“I hired a lawyer and with the emotional toll it takes on you, there’s not much I could do,” Wallau said. “I tried to resign myself to the fact that I could be done here after 29 years.”

 It took a large amount of time and energy from the community and Wallau to fight the eviction. The restaurant business received an abundance of love and support from the community, with a pro-Mike’s petition receiving about 1,500 signatures in one week. Because of the collaboration between the community and Wallau, the landlords agreed to accept payments for the rent for July and August and allowed Mike’s to stay, ending six weeks of uncertainty.

However, the eviction case is not the only problem that Mike’s has faced before.

I was trying to resign myself to the fact that I might be done here after 29 years.”

— Mike Wallau, owner

Overcoming obstacles

Wallau did not always have this supportive and loyal community of customers. His journey of building up a restaurant from scratch was full of obstacles from the beginning.

Before he opened the Diner Bar, Wallau said he worked as a waiter at a family friend’s French restaurant and was forced to learn to maintain a healthy and loving relationship with his family while working 9-10 hours, as there were times when he couldn’t be home for dinner.

“I’ve been able to do it well,” Wallau said. “A lot of families and marriages don’t survive in the restaurant business.”

Despite having little money and guidance, Wallau was still able to open Mike’s Diner Bar in 1995 with inspiration and drive to provide his Midtown neighborhood with an authentic restaurant. He also dealt with his daughter’s health struggles. 

“In 1995, when I opened this [diner], our first daughter was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and hospitalized two days after I opened,” Wallau said. 

Wallau had to educate himself about diabetes and give his all to be there for his daughter. 

Lease terms and tensions

According to Wallau, not only did family and friends support him in his journey, but the property owners showed compassion towards him in the beginning. Two family-owned companies had owned the property since the beginning of the lease, Scher Holdings LLC and Finebaum.

“They loved me,” Wallau said. “I rebuilt this whole building.”

Nonetheless, according to Wallau, many years later, as the pandemic hit and personal struggles were added to his plate, he noticed the owners’ attitudes shifting. Both owners had passed down their company to the next generations which had become irritable and uncooperative with him due to family disputes regarding company share percentages, Wallau said. 

“They just seem[ed] to want to get more and more money out of me [to] then be kind of unreasonable,” Wallau said. “I spent $2 million on [renovating] their building, [so] I would think that they would be a little more grateful.”

In the past 29 years, Wallau has said that he has paid his rent late only a couple of times and was asked by the owners of the older generation to sign a waiver agreeing to his rent not being late again. 

“I actually was one day late [after signing the contract], but they let me pay with no [late] fee,” Wallau said. 

It’s a neighborhood serving facility that is very important in this age of mostly corporate business.”

— Len Filppu, head of Fairmeadow Neighborhood Association

Community connections

Wallau said he is immensely appreciative of the loyal community of customers who supported him in avoiding eviction and that he could not have come this far without the constant flow of love and appreciation. 

“We’ve had an incredible amount of support from Mayor Lydia Kou, to the city manager and the vice mayor,” Wallau said. “Everybody has tried to help with this situation.” 

Len Filppu, a long-term customer and head of the Fairmeadow Neighborhood Association, has always enjoyed watching basketball, eating, and socializing at Mike’s Diner Bar and is among the most active supporters of the restaurant.

“There’s a community atmosphere here; neighbors can walk or bike to Mike’s,” said Filppu, who is married to Palo Alto High School English teacher Lucy Filppu. “We can meet each other, talk [and] share experiences. It’s a neighborhood-serving facility that is very important in this age of mostly corporate businesses.” 

Many long-time customers like Paly alumnus Rick Farmer, class of ‘73, said they believe that Wallau has cultivated a community center that provides opportunities to help many young generations grow and build connections. According to Farmer, he, along with many other customers, enjoys supporting a local restaurant run by a local person. 

“Mike also hired a lot of my friends’ kids,” Farmer said. “A lot of kids who grew up [in the Midtown neighborhood] work here.” 

From establishing a successful restaurant to motivating himself to learn to deal with family issues on the side, Wallau said the key to running a great restaurant is to do his best with what he is in control of.  

“I just take it one day at a time and do the best I can,” Wallau said. “It’s a lot to manage every dish, as you have to make sure the items in it have to be perfect every time.”

Mila Moorhead, waitress

“I made friends with all the coworkers and all the customers have become my second family.”

Len Filppu, head of Fairmeadow Neighborhood Association

“He [Wallau] has put $2 million of his own money into this remodel. This is a beautiful, brand-new, and wonderful facility restaurant.”

Annette Issacson, customer

“It [Mike’s Diner Bar] is right around the corner and we like that Mike’s is local. It’s a nice atmosphere and I like how the people from the neighborhood like coming here.”