Clifford and Nelda Clinton opened the restaurant in 1931 with the motto "Pay What You Wish". Guests could dine for free if they couldn't afford to pay or felt the food or service wasn't suitable.
From the article above:
Long before the Civil Rights movement allowed black Americans to freely patronize white-run establishments, Clifton’s restaurants were integrated. In response to a complaint about his progressive policy, Clinton wrote in his weekly newsletter, “If colored skin is a passport to death for our liberties, then it is a passport to Clifton’s.”
Clifford Clinton never had his sights set on politics, but in 1936, a city supervisor asked for his opinion on the food-service problems at L.A. County General Hospital. True to his nature, Clinton performed a detailed inquiry that revealed huge misappropriations, resulting in the dismissal of the hospital director. The following year, Clinton joined the county Grand Jury as chairman of a committee to investigate vice. Using his customer base as a huge insider network, Clinton tipped the jury off to L.A.’s widespread corruption, demanding a thorough investigation. Only when they ignored his request did Clinton realize how deep the corruption really ran.
Clinton soon had evidence of nearly 600 brothels, 1,800 bookies, and 300 gambling houses. In response, his businesses were suddenly attacked: Notices for phony sanitation violations and false taxes were delivered, new permits were denied, stink bombs were left in kitchens and bathrooms, food-poisoning complaints poured in, and buses full of supposedly “undesirable” customers were dropped off at the cafeterias’ entrances.
Things quickly went from bad to worse. In October, a bomb was detonated in the kitchen of the Clinton home. “It was just a couple of days before Halloween in 1937,” says Don (Cliff Clinton's son), “when the corrupt elements of the police department put a bomb under our house. I was about 11 or 12, and I was sleeping with my brother and sister on the outdoor sleeping porch. The bomb was supposed to be a warning that our dad was getting too close trying to uncover all this corruption in Los Angeles.”
Over the years of operation, the restaurant was visited by such notables as Jack Kerouac and Ray Bradbury, who took advantage of the free meals while still a struggling author.
Cliff Clinton, his family and their restaurant survived the attempts on their lives. Cliff passed away in 1969. The restaurant continued to operate under his children until 2011 when it was sold to the current owner and closed for extensive renovations. The restaurant is poised to reopen this Fall.