Saturday, January 4, 2003 Airport's restaurant shuts down By Cindy Arora The Whittier (CA) Daily News EL MONTE -- Diane Hershkowitz took a leap of faith about a year ago when she left her job as an accountant and followed her passion for cooking. For seven months, Hershkowitz and her nine employees from Mallard's Sky Dive Cafe gave El Monte residents, employees and pilots fine-dining cuisine in the unusual location of a small airport. But on Christmas Eve, the 49- year-old Hershkowitz made her last "Tomahawk,' a hamburger with Ortega chilies and jack cheese and closed the door of the kitschy aviation-themed bistro. "We didn't have enough capitalization ... we just couldn't stir up enough business,' she said. "It's been heartbreaking.' Mallard's Sky Dive Cafe at 4233 Santa Anita Ave. opened its doors May 30 in the new administration building at El Monte Airport. The building was intended to serve as a focal point for airport users and to provide meeting rooms and a restaurant. El Monte was the only airport in Southern California that did not have a restaurant. Hershkowitz, a pilot and a graduate from the California Culinary Arts School in Pasadena, approached the county with her idea of an aviation-themed restaurant, which they quickly snapped up. Combining her zeal for cooking, her background in accounting and El Monte's lack of high-end restaurants, Hershkowitz had high hopes. She leased 2,625 square feet of the terminal for $1,705 a month,invested $6,000 of her own money, put a second mortgage on her home and received more than $60,000 in capital from investors and her mom. But it wasn't enough. "People would tell me I wasn't charging enough but then people would come in and tell me I was charging too much for the $3.95 breakfast,' Hershkowitz said. "If I was in Santa Monica I could have charged more but here you have to cut down more and simplify the menu.' The restaurant is being sold for $75,000, but because of the location it could be a challenge to find a buyer. "It's in an oddball location ... I don't know if there is enough traffic in the airport to sustain a high-end restaurant,' said Mario Carron, the real estate broker selling Mallard's. According to officials from the Small Business Association, starting a new restaurant business has an 85-percent failure rate. But Carron said all businesses in the hospitality industry are struggling. "The restaurant business in general is in trouble,' he said. "It's such a tough and difficult business right now.' Add an unusual location and a lack of advertising and this put Mallard's at a major disadvantage. "Nobody even saw the signs out there,' Hershkowitz said. "But when people would come in and see the room they were enchanted.' The bistro sat in a corner of the airport with a huge window and patio that allowed customers to watch planes arrive and depart from the airport. "We don't have too many good places around here to eat ... we'll have to change that,' said Harold Johanson, city manager for El Monte. While the city and the airport look for a new restaurant to take the place of Mallard's Sky Dive Cafe, Hershkowitz said she's going back to accounting and recovering from her experience as a restaurateur. "You don't think about the reality of how it's going to be,' she said. "We were so close to making it ...' Attached Photo: Planes on El Monte Airport's tarmac are reflected in the windows of the Mallard's Sky Dive cafe as Elena Trevino serves the first customers after ribbon cutting ceremony.