Old Town Newhall got a little bit older this week with the death of Geraldine “Jeri” Bronstrup, longtime owner of the Way Station Coffee Shop. She was 73.
A fixture in Newhall for 40 years, Bronstrup died Tuesday at UCLA Medical Center from complications related to her great, big heart. She was scheduled for surgery on her aortic valve but didn’t make it that far, her daughter-in-law Michelle Leeser said.
“She was a delightful angel and I’ll miss her,” said local historian John Boston, a regular patron for nearly the entire four decades Bronstrup ran the diner at 9th Street and San Fernando Road, now known as Main Street.
“In providing the Way Station, she created a place that had more laughter and family and companionship and communion than possibly any building that’s ever been built in the Santa Clarita Valley,” Boston said.
“The outpouring of love has really meant a lot to us,” said Leeser. “I’ts amazing how well loved she was by everybody in the community. Of course people say nice things about her now that she’s gone, but nobody ever said a bad word about her when she was alive.”
“She loved Newhall and she loved that restaurant, and we are going on with the show,” Leeser said.
Bronstrup and her diner were featured in a 1997 article in the Old Town Newhall Gazette, written by onetime SCV Chamber Executive Director Viki Rudolph:
“Weekdays and Saturdays, Jeri opens at 5 a.m. to catch the people who go to work early. She closes at 2 p.m. (3 p.m. on Saturdays) after serving lunch. On Sundays her hungry customers have to wait in line to get a seat between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“But any time you arrive during operating hours, you’ll get a hearty breakfast. Jeri offers a special each day, although her flexible staff will whip up your favorite whenever you drop by.
“The staff consists of thirteen people who have been in Jeri’s employ for a long time — especially the chef, Jose, who has been with her for 24 years. They’re a well-coordinated team and help each other out. Jeri has personally filled in at every chore.
“Jeri takes great pride in her coffee shop and is assisted by her son Eric, who, as a partner, shares the responsibilities of running the operation together with Jeri’s significant other, Tom, who is always around to lend a hand.
“The only time the Way Station doors were shut was after the 1994 earthquake — but by the following Friday, with the help of family and staff, they were back in business.
“An unusual collection of old license plates from all over the country and the world — including Antarctica — enhances the ambiance of the place, as do other memorabilia given to her by returning patrons.
“Near the back of the restaurant, an old jukebox is a reminder of the days when dining was an experience typified by a caring proprietorship and modest prices for quality food. This feeling is so evident at the Way Station that over the years, many movie companies have filmed the interior as a representative small-town American diner.
“Illustrating the success of her business, Jeri figures that she uses 900 pounds of coffee and thirty dozen eggs a week in her generous helpings that keep bringing customers back — sometimes from one generation to the next.
“‘My customers and staff are my greatest assets,’ Jeri says with a big smile. ‘I’m very proud of my business.'”
In 1997 when the article was written, Bronstrup was “anxiously awating” the construction of the Newhall Metrolink Station.
The train station came, as did many more changes.
Even the Way Station is gearing up for a change. The owner of the building, a Newhall-based investment company, has submitted plans to the city to remodel the exterior of the venerable old diner.
With Bronstrup’s passing, the interior will be noticeably different, as well.
A memorial service will be held Sunday, Dec. 18, at 1 p.m. at Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive in Hollywood Hills. The family requests flowers or a donation to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (alzfdn.org). A celebration of life will be held at the Way Station in January; date and details to be announced.