OAKLAND -- Just three years after reopening to great fanfare, a retro burger joint treasured by generations of Oaklanders is once again shuttered -- perhaps this time for good.
The Park Way Drive In, known to everyone as Kwik Way, closed suddenly last week, surprising even the restaurant's landlord.
"He left just like that without giving any notice," property owner Alex Hahn said of restaurant owner Gary Rizzo. "It's ridiculous. You have to at least notify the landlord."
Hahn also owns the adjacent parking lot and adjacent building that is home to a Bank of America branch in Oakland's desirable Grand Lake neighborhood.
Community leaders who spoke with Hahn said he wants to find a temporary restaurant tenant but is considering tearing down the restaurant and building a retail and housing complex at the site.
"He wants to talk with the community to find something that fits the neighborhood as well as his own business interests," Councilwoman Pat Kernighan said.
The 58-year-old diner at 500 Lake Park Ave. was a popular spot for teenagers in the '60s and '70s, but it has struggled on and off for more than a decade. Neighbors rallied to prevent a McDonald's from going into the spot 10 years ago.
The restaurant was closed and covered in graffiti for years until Gary Rizzo, a celebrated restaurateur, took it over and reopened it in 2011.
Rizzo, who has now closed three Oakland restaurants in the past three years, could not be reached for comment. Hahn said that Rizzo had fallen far behind on lease payments.
Rizzo's rent was $9,000 per month, a sum that Kernighan said was "pretty challenging."
A letter posted at the restaurant indicated a split between Rizzo and Hahn.
"The owner drove out Kwik Way/Park Way because he wants to build condos here," it read. "Today in front of the shuttered Kwik Way/Park Way he insanely and almost criminally claimed it was low-quality when in fact its quality was among the best in the nation for a diner."
Ken Katz, who lives near the restaurant and is active with local businesses, said that Rizzo last year tried in vain to get a rent reduction.
Katz said the reopening of Kwik Way had contributed to the renaissance of Lake Park Avenue, which is now thriving with new bars and restaurants.
"Before it reopened, it was totally blighted, covered with graffiti with trash everywhere," Katz said. "If it's vacant again, it's an open invitation for all kinds of problems."
Rizzo packed up the restaurant last Wednesday night and hauled out equipment in a truck early Thursday morning, a neighboring business owner said.
For the restaurant's legions of fans, the "Closed" sign was tough to take.
John Gordon, a self-described "foodie," has lived in the Lakeshore neighborhood for 20 years. He said it's "embarrassing" how often he and his wife, Rita, ate at Park Way Drive-In.
"Rita picked up chili and beet salad at 9:20 p.m. the night before it closed and by noon the next day it was completely gutted," said Gordon, whose wife saw a truck loading up refrigerators while she was there. "It's shocking that it's closed -- we are in mourning."