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City Lights: Shop still 'Good' to her

October 20, 2010|By Michael Miller

"Surf City, here we come."

That rallying cry from Jan and Dean probably lured many to the intersection of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach's epicenter for surfing culture. Jan Gaffney was among those who answered the call 40 years ago — and her name is now a fixture on Main Street, just blocks from the pier.

On a sandwich shop, that is.

In 1969, Gaffney read a magazine article about a local eatery called the Good Earth, which the magazine called a popular hangout for surfers. Gaffney visited there, saw for herself, and hung around day after day until the owners offered her a job. While the counterculture gathered at Woodstock, Gaffney busied herself behind the counter, slicing vegetables and slathering mayonnaise for a different youth crowd fresh off the waves.

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Three weeks ago, Gaffney finally worked her last day at Jan's Health Bar at 501 Main St., the restaurant that she's owned for nearly four decades. Being an entrepreneur may be in Gaffney's blood — when she was growing up, her mother owned a flower shop — and after she worked at the Good Earth for just two years, she bought it from the previous owners and soon renamed it after herself.

"It was the happening place to be," said Gaffney, a Long Beach resident. "That's what appealed to me about the job."

When Gaffney started work at the shop, she was a surfer herself, often hitting the waves at dawn before work. Later, when an injury kept her off the waves, she bought a race car and hired drivers for it. Her earnings from Jan's, she said, paid for the car and the entry fees.

Whatever Gaffney's extracurricular projects, though, nearly every morning found her behind the counter, slapping together orders. She always had a small staff at Jan's, starting with one employee when she took over, and expanding to about six. Until the last 12 years, she said, she worked at the shop seven days a week, and this year, she was still working five.

"When you own a business, you've got to be there," she said. "We had to work seven days a week. That was the biggest problem, trying to take time off."

Now Gaffney, who never married or had children, is getting around as much as she can. She volunteers to survey bird species on properties for the Sea & Sage Audubon Society and watches horse races at Hollywood Park. The first morning after she retired, she rose early for a bird study — then realized, when she finished, that she actually had time to socialize with friends instead of racing to work.

Still, she's welcome any time she goes back to visit her old business: The staff, she said, has allotted her free food for life.

"I got a sandwich today from there," Gaffney said. "It was the same as it's always been."

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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