Lou’s Village

(Note: The content on this page was formerly a website created by History San Jose circa 2007, in partnership with the Muller Family, Jack D. Johnson, MightyMinnow graphic & web design, and sponsored by SummerHill Homes. The website is no longer active and all content has been transferred to this page. HSJ’s online catalog includes many more images and artifacts related to Lou’s Village, including a large donation from 2021)

Learn how one family restaurant brought San Jose together for 60 years. When Lou’s Village opened in 1946, it offered a smorgasbord, barbecued dinner, and dancing in its 5,500 square foot building. For decades, Lou’s was known for offering live entertainment in addition to quality food. Over its long and colorful history, millions of guests enjoyed entertainment, parties and fine food at Lou’s Village.

Owners & Staff

For 60 years the Santoro–Muller Family ran Lou’s Village. During their 25 years working together in the San Jose Fire Department, Lou Santoro and Paul Polizzi planned to open a restaurant when they retired. In November 1945, a building permit was issued to Paul Polizzi to construct a single story restaurant at 1465 W. San Carlos Street. Lou Santoro, Lou Ferro, and Paul Polizzi opened Lou’s Village In 1946. In early 1950 the partners began an extensive expansion of Lou’s Village to increase the dining space, create barbeque grounds in the adjacent walnut orchard, and to add offices, an apartment, and a delicatessen the Village Pantry.

The Santoro, Polizzi, and Ferro partnership dissolved in 1951 and Lou’s Village and the adjoining barbeque grounds were sold to Eugene Nelson of San Jose. Later that same year, Lou Santoro and his son-in-law, Frank Muller, bought the restaurant and took over management of Lou’s Village. Together the Santoro–Muller family created a popular dining and entertainment venue whose regular customers could count on Lou’s for a nice evening out. During the 1950s and ‘60s the family persevered in the restaurant business, surviving a fire, remodeling Lou’s twice and changing with their customers’ entertainment and dining preferences.

Brothers Tom and Tim Muller grew up at Lou’s Village, helping in the restaurant and with banquets while they were in school. In the 1970s Tom and Tim took over management of the restaurant while continuing to work with their parents Frank and Gloria. During this time they again remodeled Lou’s several times and expanded the banquet and catering sides of the business.

We’d do summer picnics, barbecues, and we kids would serve the food. We’d go to catering parties with our dad. Those are the memories I have as a kid – good family work.

– Tim Muller, Owner

1st Generation: Lou, Lou, Paul, Alvina

Lou Santoro, Lou Ferro, and Paul Polizzi, former firefighters with the City of San Jose, opened Lou’s Village in 1946. Lou’s Village, a “supper club,” opened in a 5,500 square foot building. Lou’s featured a smorgasbord, barbecued dinner, and dancing. By November 1946, the restaurant was open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cocktails.

Lou Santoro was born in San Jose on April 23, 1898. His father, Innocenzo, moved to San Jose from Tricarico, Italy in 1888. Lou grew up in the Italian neighborhood, “Goosetown” – just south of downtown San Jose. The family had a winery, grocery, and fruit packing business at the corner of Locust and Virginia. After a 25 year career with the San Jose Fire Department, he retired to open Lou’s Village with his partners Lou Ferro and Paul Polizzi. When the partnership dissolved in 1951, Lou Santoro and his family continued to manage the restaurant. He was regarded as the personality of Lou’s Village and could often be found behind the bar serving customers. When Lou passed away in 1967, his wife Alvina continued managing Lou’s with her daughter Gloria and son-in-law Frank Muller.

Alvina Tolberg was born April 25, 1900 in Baltimore, Maryland. At the age of 3 her family moved west to San Francisco. Three years later her family survived the 1906 Earthquake and decided to move to San Jose. Like many women in the Santa Clara Valley, she worked in the canneries, eventually being promoted to the position of “floor lady” in the Barron-Gray and Del Monte canneries. Later, Alvina joined her husband in running Lou’s Village. The experience she gained as a floor lady in the canneries helped her manage the kitchen with an iron-fist. Alvina continued to be involved in the restaurant until her death in 1978.

Lou and Alvina met at a party in San Francisco and were married in 1920. They had two children, Louis, Jr. and Gloria. Gloria was born at the family home September 29, 1922. Louis, Jr. owned Santoro Hotel and Restaurant Supply on Park Avenue, which later moved to Race Street. When Gloria and her husband, Frank, joined the business at Lou’s Village, Alvina and Lou worked the evenings and Gloria and Frank worked during the day.

Lou’s Village had a feeling of community. When you went into the bar it felt like a place where everyone knew your name.

Barbara Johnson

2nd Generation: Frank & Gloria

Gloria Santoro was born September 29, 1922 at the Santoro home and business at Virginia and Locust Streets in San José’s the Italian neighborhood “Goosetown.” Francis “Frank” Muller was born January 14, 1919 and grew up in western New York and New Jersey.

Frank Muller, an Army Lieutenant, came through San Jose in 1944 on his way to an assignment in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Gloria and Frank met at a USO dance in Gilroy. Like many war-time romances, they married a few weeks later at St. Mary’s in San Francisco on January 29, 1944. Not long after the wedding, Frank left to serve in the Pacific Theater.

Following the war, the Mullers started a family. Thomas Francis was born in 1946 and Timothy Louis in 1950. After attempting a career in carpentry, Frank went to work for his father-in-law at Lou’s Village as a bartender and janitor. In 1951 the Santoro-Polizzi partnership dissolved, and the Mullers joined that Santoros as owners of Lou’s Village. Frank and Gloria worked at the restaurant during the day and Lou and Alvina covered the evenings. The Mullers began the catering side of Lou’s business and started serving banquets offsite. The income from the catering helped offset the cost of hiring well known entertainers to perform at Lou’s Village.

Frank was the face of Lou’s in the 1950s and 1960s and is credited with promoting Lou’s Village. He was on the Executive Committee of the Convention and Visitors Bureau which led to close relationships with local business owners. Frank Muller died in 1992. He is remembered as a “ball of energy” and is credited with promoting the restaurant through his connections in the community.

Gloria, always active in the management of the restaurant, was the creative inspiration behind the décor and menu presentations that Lou’s had over the years. She noticed that San Jose was lacking a high quality seafood restaurant and suggested Lou’s fill the void. In the late 1960s, Lou’s Village began to specialize in seafood, a concept that Lou’s became known for, and soon the décor took on a nautical theme. All of the dishes were freshly prepared in-house. The banquets served food direct from the chef to the customer. Gloria continued to be involved with the restaurant until she Gloria passed away in 1997.

When my dad retired from the police force they had a party in the barbecue grounds at Lou’s Village.

Skip Adams

3rd Generation: Tim & Tom

Brothers Tom and Tim Muller grew up at Lou’s Village. Tom has vivid memories from his childhood of the smell of food: French fries, ice cream, and prime rib. He remembers his grandfather, Lou, in his suit, the cooks wearing their white clothes, and his grandmother, Alvina, running the kitchen with an iron fist.

The brothers learned about the restaurant and catering business at an early age. At 12, Tim started working in the restaurant. Tom focused on his band and music, but helped out with the catering side of the business. Both Tom and Tim remember the benefits of having entertainment at Lou’s Village. The brothers were known to play the instruments left on the bandstand by the house band.

Tom attended Bellarmine College Preparatory and San Jose State and then served as a naval officer. He pursued a career in music until 1976, when he returned to San Jose and joined his family in managing the restaurant. Tim attended Archbishop Mitty High School, San Jose City College, San Jose State, and received an MBA at University of Santa Clara.

Tom and Tim were the third generation of the Santoro-Muller family to own and operate Lou’s Village. They continued in the vein of their parents and grandparents in adjusting to the changing needs of their customers. When San Jose’s new entertainment venue, the San Jose Arena opened, Lou’s provided a free shuttle for their customers to and from hockey games and concerts. Due to the size and responsibility of managing and maintaining a 28,000 square foot business and the fact that none of the 4th generation was interested in the restaurant business, in 2005 the Mullers made the decision to close Lou’s Village after sixty years.

I miss the excellent food, Ruben the head waiter, Sion the excellent chef, a feeling of being at a family dinner rather than a restaurant, and taking the shuttle to the Sharks games.

Anonymous

Staff

During its sixty years Lou’s Village had many memorable employees. The staff at Lou’s belonged to the union, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 19, which offered the highest wages and benefits and made it a desirable place to work. Several people worked at Lou’s for many years, even decades.

Memorable chefs from the 1950s and 1960s included Claude Keith, Clarence Keene, and Al Pouchard. In Lou’s final decade Chef Sion Mauamau, Jesus Rodriques and Tony Vividet kept the kitchen running and the diners happy with reliably excellent meals.

Maria van der Sluys was the most popular and efficient waitress from the 1960s through the 1980s. She had more “call parties,” requests to sit at her station, than any other wait person.

Lou’s always had popular and interesting bartenders. One of the first was “Leo the Lion” who worked at Lou’s for 17 years and taught future bartender Artie Theodosis the ropes. Artie outdid his mentor and served drinks to customers for 20 years. Kimo Cramer worked for 30 years as a bartender, musician, manager and handyman at Lou’s. Larry Nevis was a faithful and popular bartender who started in 1985 and stayed until Lou’s closed in early 2006.

Santoro and Muller family members contributed to the restaurant as well. Lou’s sister, Sue Santoro, ran the office and dining room from the beginning through the 1960’s. Frank Muller’s brother, Eddie, helped as a bartender when needed. Eddie even met his future wife, Edie Lampe, at Lou’s. She was the head banquet server from the 1950s through the ’90s.

Mary Donohue was the bookkeeper and office manager who kept the business end of Lou’s Village running efficiently for its final 15 years until Lou’s closed.

Other staff members stayed at Lou’s for decades. Abe Saguid was the main busboy from the 1940’s through the 80’s. From the 1950s through the 1980s George Mammaril was the pantry person and Danny Chew was dishwasher.

Last but not least was Ruben Rodriguez. Gloria Muller hired Ruben as a waiter in 1985. She quickly saw his potential and predicted that he would make a good manager, which he did. Ruben worked at the restaurant for 20 years and was there on Lou’s Village’s last day.

I remember that the waitresses at Lou’s Village called everyone ‘hon’…

Cindy Gilmore

Performers & Entertainment

From the beginning, Lou’s Village offered a full evening of dining and entertainment. Customers could enjoy cocktails, dancing, a quality dinner, and live entertainment. Performers included the house band, comedians, novelty acts, as well as nationally known performers like the King Sisters, Ink Spots, and Lenny and Honey Bruce. Evelyn Singley, a long-time customer, has fond memories, of the Muller family and seeing performers like Scat Man Crothers, and Polly Bergen at Lou’s.

During the late 1950s, television entered many homes and there was decreased interest in the floor shows. In 1961, a fire at Lou’s Village destroyed the kitchen and part of the dining room, which led to a redesign of the restaurant. The stage and dance floor were removed with a new layout including better accommodations for diners and a separate space for banquet customers. In homage to the days of live entertainment, the walls of Lou’s Village were lined with black and white photographs of performances at the restaurant and publicity photos of acts that performed there.

In recognition for the contributions to music on November 12, 1970 the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers’ (ASCAP) and Musicians Local 153 of San Jose presented plaques to Frank Muller and Alvina Santoro. The trophy presented by ASCAP was inscribed: “In recognition of 25 years for always providing the finest music for its customers.”

When I think of Lou’s Village it makes me crave crab.

D. Romero

Local Entertainment

Lou’s Village began offering live music and dancing not long after it opened in 1946. On New Year’s Eve 1946, the restaurant provided a special menu, confetti, noise makers and dancing to Mike “Passy” Passarelli and his band. In the 1950s, Joe Tomasello and his band treated customers to three shows a night. The last great house band was made up of Don Welch on piano, Jimmy Turner on trumpet, Marty Procaccio on bass and Chuck Hughes on drums. The house band played in between performances by singers, dancers, comedians, and novelty acts.

In 1946 and ’47, “Breakfast at the Village” was broadcast live on radio station KLOK, AM 1170,Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 to 9:30 AM. Customers were encouraged to “come out and join the fun.”

Touring

Customers were assured of a night of entertainment at Lou’s Village in the 1950s. Touring signers, dancers, comedians, and novelty acts were booked through talent agents in Los Angeles. Performers frequently starred at Lou’s for a week, performing two times a night. They ranged from well-known comedians and singers like Marty Allen, Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, and The Ink Spots to novelty acts such as Maxine Holman and her Educated Wolf.

Many long-time customers have fond memories of evenings spent at Lou’s Village. Don Butcher who dined there since it opened, remembers seeing Phil Ford and Mimi Himes at Lou’s.

Scat Man Crothers

Scat Man Crothers was an African-American actor and musician. Born Benjamin Sherman Crothers, he was the son of a cobbler who taught himself to play the drums and guitar. He gained the nickname “Scat Man” while auditioning for a radio show in 1932. The director thought he needed a catchier name. Because of his scat singing skill the moniker was born. He formed is own band in the 1930s and toured throughout the Midwest. Around 1945, he headed to California and settled in Hollywood with his family and continued touring on the west coast. Later in his career, Crothers branched out from his music career to include television and movies. Scat Man was featured at Lou’s Village for a limited engagement beginning on April 7, 1950. Also on the bill was comedian, Michael Foster and Carmencita, a dancer.

Joaquin Garay

Joaquin Garay was a much-beloved radio star and nightclub owner in San Francisco from the 1940s through the 1960s. He owned the Copacabana club near Fisherman’s Wharf, a favorite hangout of many Hollywood celebrities. The liner notes of his one known album, released for sale at his club, describe Garay as “a personality so vibrant, so heartwarming, that many of his patrons average three nights weekly in the Copa. They seem never to capture quite enough of his enthusiasm and down-to-earth showmanship.” Garay performed at Lou’s Village for one week starting on August 25, 1959.

The Ink Spots

Starting their career in 1932 in Indiana, the Ink Spots rose to stardom in 1939 with their hit, “If I Didn’t Care.” They were particular successful in the late 1940s and early 1950s, releasing such hits as “To Each His Own,” “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” and “Into Each Life Some Rain May Fall.” The Ink Spots had an enormous impact on the doo-wop groups of the 1950s, and were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1959, The Ink Spots made an appearance at Lou’s Village beginning on September 1st.

The King Sisters

Luise, Yvonne, Alyce, and Donna Driggs were raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. Their father, “Daddy King Driggs” was a vocal trainer, and the girls adopted his name as their stage surname. The sisters were phenomenally popular in the 1930s and 1940s; some of their best loved songs include “I’ll Get By,” “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “Jersey Bounce,” and “In the Mood.” The sisters were also featured in several films in the 1940s and, after fading from public view in the 1950s, reappeared with their own vaudeville show on ABC in the 1960s, “The King Family Show.” The King Sisters performed several times at Lou’s Village in the 1950s.

Marty Allen

Marty Allen was a successful stand-up comedian in his own right, but when he teamed up with Steve Rossi in 1957, his popularity exploded. Allen and Rossi made over 700 television appearances between 1957 and the 1970s, including 44 on The Ed Sullivan Show. Allen’s signature “Hello dere!” greeting continues to be imitated by fans to this day.

Phil Ford & Mimi Hines

Mimi Hines and Phil Ford met in Alaska in 1952, while both were performing at different nightclubs. When Ford’s female partner was taken ill, Hines filled in, and the two became not only married, but a breakout comedy duo. They were staples on 1950s television. In 1965, they went Broadway, with Hines taking over Barbra Streisand’s role in Funny Girl, playing opposite Ford. Though they divorced in 1972, the two continued to perform together on occasion until Ford’s death in 2005. Don Butcher who often dined at Lou’s Village since it opened, remembers seeing Phil Ford and Mimi Himes at Lou’s.

Freddy Morgan

Freddy Morgan was a banjo player who performed at Lou’s Village in the late 1940s and early 1950s, later becoming a member of Spike Jones and the City Slickers. While an accomplished musician and songwriter, he is known for his comedic talents as well. All of which are demonstrated on such classic recordings by the band as “Chinese Mule Train,” “Dance of the Hours,” and “Washington Square.”

Abbey Lincoln

Born Anna Marie Wooldridge in Chicago in 1930, Abbey Lincoln grew up on Michigan farm. Since the family had a piano, Abbey developed an early interest in music and began singing in school and church choirs. She eventually moved to California, where she met Bob Russell, who became her manager. While touring in California she made a stop at Lou’s Village. In 1956, she released her first album Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love. She then moved to New York City and performed at the Village Vanguard, one of the nation’s premier jazz clubs. She was married to drummer Max Roach from 1962 until 1970, during which time she became active in the Civil Rights movement.

Diners and Banquets

Lou’s Village was known as “the place to go” for a quality meal. Excellent food, an evolving menu, and reliable service were the cornerstone to Lou’s Village’s sixty year success. When Lou’s Village opened in 1946 it offered a smorgasbord with 40 varieties of dishes, cocktails, dancing, and barbecued dinners. Soon after opening, the restaurant added a house band and had floor shows in addition to dancing. In 1950 Lou’s was remodeled and new barbecue grounds in the adjacent walnut grove offered a casual outdoor dining option. In the mid 1950s the restaurant added banquets and offsite catering to the services they offered.

After a fire in the kitchen and dining room in 1961, the restaurant was remodeled, eliminating the stage and dance floor. The focus was changed to fine dining and banquets. In the late 1960s Gloria Muller conceived a new menu for Lou’s Village. She noticed that there wasn’t a quality seafood restaurant in San Jose and suggested that Lou’s fill that need. As the menu changed to focus on seafood, the décor began to take on a nautical theme. The restaurant featured fish tanks, model ships, ship wheels, oars, bells, lanterns and seafaring prints. Lou’s continued to remodel and expand into the 1980s and ‘90s until the restaurant was 28,000 square feet.

Lou’s Village had many loyal customers, many of whom began dining there when it first opened in 1946. Long-time customers remember Lou’s as “the place to go” and knew that they would have a pleasant evening with good food and service.

Throughout the seventies my parents dined in Lou’s at least once a week, or so it seemed. They loved the food, but I think that what sent them back there so often was more the warmth of the staff and the personal touch they accorded the customers, now totally disappeared from any restaurant that I have patronized in the last 25 years. I joined my parents there often, and I remember the Muller brothers quite well, particularly Tom who was quite friendly to the customers. Few knew that he was once a part of the Beach Boys Band. I even dated one of the waitresses, named Colleen for a short while. There was also a very warm hostess/waitress of Dutch ancestry and accent who very exceptional (I wish that I could remember her name). In addition there was a Vietnamese waiter who was a linguistics scholar at San Jose State who went into a delightful mock tirade over his disdain for Noam Chomsky every time he saw me as we differed on the linguist’s contributions. Lou’s also provided a meeting place for the then aging San Jose gentry from the fifties, which added a great deal to some dining evenings. Probably what stood out for me as part of the menu was the appetizer tray. Restaurants have gotten away from little niceties like that in their collective efforts to be ultra sophisticated. I miss Lou’s very much.

Dave Hickey

Menus

In its sixty years, the menu at Lou’s Village changed to accommodate diners’ preferences and dining trends. When it opened in 1946, the menu featured a wide variety of choices from shish kebab or stuffed tomato surprise to three-decker sandwiches or barbecued Virginia ham with raisin sauce.

In 1952 the menu at Lou’s was still diverse and offered many selections. The Continental De Luxe Dinner included the smorgasbord or hors d’oeuvres, green or Caesar salad, soup, and a choice of twenty entrees. The most expensive items on the menu were broiled filet mignon or New York cut steak for $4.25. The smorgasbord offered forty-four choices for $1.85 a plate.

In the late 1960s, Lou’s Village slowly changed the focus of the menu toward seafood. Gloria Muller noticed that San Jose was lacking a high quality seafood restaurant and suggested Lou’s fill the void. Lou’s Village began to specialize in seafood, a concept that Lou’s became known for until it closed in 2006. All of the dishes were freshly prepared in-house. The banquets served food direct from the chef to the customer.

My son always wanted to go to Lou’s for Mother’s Day to have lobster.

Barbara Johnson

Banquets

After Lou’s Village was remodeled and expanded in 1950, it began to offer catering through the adjacent delicatessen “The Village Pantry.” Lou’s Village was the first restaurant in San Jose that could cater groups of over 500 people offsite. In August 1956, Lou’s was awarded the contract to operate the cafeteria at the Santa Clara Count Fairgrounds. The income from the catering helped offset the cost of hiring well-known entertainers to perform at Lou’s Village. In 1961, a fire at Lou’s Village destroyed the kitchen and part of the dining room, which led to a redesign of the restaurant. The stage and dance floor were removed and a new layout included better accommodations for diners and a separate space for banquet customers.

Many families celebrated weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and retirement parties at Lou’s Village. For large celebrations Lou’s offered several services including: a dance floor, stage, bar, flowers, music and acres of free parking. Long time customers Mr. and Mrs. Bolds celebrated their wedding anniversary with their ten children at Lou’s Village.

Through Frank Muller’s community activities many businesses and organizations held their meetings and celebrations at Lou’s Village. Active community member Edith Lewis Walter remembers attending meetings for many organizations and businesses including the Rotary Club of San Jose, California Pioneers of Santa Clara County, Sons of Retirement, Soroptimists and State Farm Insurance.

I miss Lou’s Village very much. We have attended weddings, New Year’s Eve parties, Mother’s Day Bruncheon, birthday parties, anniversary parties, organization meetings and just out to lunch or dinner since 1946 when they opened their restaurant.

Edith Lewis Walter

Celebrities

Lou’s Village was known as “the place to go.” The restaurant was very popular with the locals as well as celebrities and politicians. Lou’s Village’s guest books includes signatures by Red Skelton, western movie star Wild Bill Elliott, Mr. & Mrs. Walt Disney, California Governor “Pat” Brown, and boxer Max Baer to name a few. Hilo Hattie, the famous Hawaiian performer wrote, “A keen place to eat. Aloha!”

One of Lou’s Village’s most celebrated guests was Lucille Ball, star of the television show I Love Lucy. From the 1930s through the 1970s (and beyond), everyone in America loved Lucy. Her over thirty-year career on television resulted in thirteen Emmy awards (the most won by any one person). She was the first woman to become the head of her own television production company (Desilu), and I Love Lucy paved the way for how modern sitcoms are filmed and produced.

Politicians were also known to frequent Lou’s Village. California Governor Edmund Gerald “Pat” Brown visited Lou’s while he was in office in 1959. His son, Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown, Jr., also a former California governor, stopped by the restaurant on the campaign trail in the late ‘70s.

In 1979, just slightly ahead of the “80’s “comedy explosion,” Tom Muller took a chance on a group of local comedians just starting out. Performing in the bar area, we started out playing to a room of less than ten patrons, but eventually some Saturday nights packing ’em in! Some of the comedians who performed during that period were Mike Booher, Rick Sanchez, Patrick Reed, Doug Ferrier (who went on to win the 1984 SF Comedy Contest) and of course Kevin Pollack (Actor/Comedian). The Comedy night at Lou’s only lasted about three months, but they will last in the memories of the performers and anyone who shared in the laughter!

Patrick Reed