Recently, we connected with Peter Conway, who says he was once a cook at the Cockatoo Inn. Peter was nice enough to let us ask him a few questions about his time there!
Where are you from originally?
Peter: I was born in Hawthorne Hospital, and we lived in Inglewood. We moved in with my grandparents, near Slauson and Crenshaw about 1948, then to Manhattan Beach in 1952.
How did you come to be a cook at the Cockatoo Inn?
Peter: I was a cook at the Cockatoo for a brief period in 1965, during its heyday. I was 20 at the time. I got the job through my mother’s boyfriend, Ted Benveniste and his partner. Ted owned a catering truck and covered the docks in Long Beach. Specifically C-deck, where all the heavy containers full of merchandise were. He always had a trunk load of suits or Italian shoes, etc. He was also a gambler and lived in Garden and hung out at the Casinos.
He owned a harness racing horse with his partner, a retired LAPD Detective. The ex-cop and Ted were always hanging out at the Cockatoo. They got me the job. I knew Andy Lococo and he treated his workers respectfully; always saying hello. I used to go to the harness races with Ted and his partner. Ted always said harness racing was easier to fix , than thoroughbred racing. Interesting times.
Do you remember the name of Ted’s ex-LAPD detective friend?
Peter: I believe his first name was Richard (Dick). I do not remember his last name at all. My mom new him well, but she died in 2008 at 89. But we all used to hang out Hollywood Park during the harness races. He had arrested Ted, several times in the old days, but now they were friends and partners in a horse!
Was it your first job?
Peter: No, I had been working as long as I can remember. When I nine, I was too young for a paper route, so my neighbor and I washed windows on the strand in Manhattan beach in the summer time. Got a paper route when I was ten. I started working as a dishwasher and bus boy in restaurants when I was twelve. My first restaurant was Whitmore’s House Of Stakes, in Hermosa Beach. Years later it became Fat Face Fenner’s Falloon. Very famous night spot. Later, I started working at The Skillet and the Bay 90’s in Manhattan Beach. Both were owned by the Artchler family. By the time I was fourteen, I was cooking there. Later I would become a cook at the Hibachi, near the Manhattan Beach pier.
Other than Andy Lococo, do you remember any of the names of your coworkers?
Peter: Not really. I remember one guy that was always hanging around the kitchen named Tony. Short, heavy set, smoked a cigar. He was funny, nice and very talkative. I never knew his last name. The head chef, was older. He rarely spoke and never smiled. The only other person I remember was Andy’s brother. Someone told me that it was his younger brother. I think it was Nick, but in truth, I’m not sure. I had only worked there a couple of days. This guy comes into the kitchen and tells me to make him something. I was swamped and told him I was too busy, maybe later. Keep in mind, I was only 20. He just stared at me. He actually scared me. Tony looked at me a laughed and said this is Andy’s brother, so I apologized and made him something. Tony thought it was pretty funny.
About how long did you work there?
Peter: I only worked there about seven or eight months. I came in around the holidays 1964.
Did Andy Lococo go with you and Ted to the harness races?
Peter: No, I never saw Andy outside of the Cockatoo.
What did you enjoy most about working at the Cockatoo?
Peter: Andy always treated me well. He didn’t say a lot to me. But always had a hello and treated me with respect. Not like kitchen help. Sometimes he would have a small group of friends in the restaurant and would have me make hors d’oeuvres. He would have me bring them out, so they would know they were made just for them.
Did you see any persons of note while you worked there?
Peter: Not that I can recall. I spent about 99% of my time in the kitchen.
Why did you eventually leave the Cockatoo?
Peter: My girlfriend’s brother was going to get married on July 3rd 1965 in Las Vegas and my girlfriend wanted us to go. I had made arrangements to take off for a few days. The week before, we decided to get married on the 4th of July in Las Vegas, since we’d be there anyway. On Thursday as I was leaving the Cockatoo, I reminded the chef, I would be gone for a few days. He said there was a change of plans. That the restaurant was throwing a big 4th of July party and it was all hands on deck. I tried to reason with him, but he was not having it. So when I left, I had to decide on the Cockatoo or my soon to be wife. I never went back.
After the Cockatoo, I understand you had other interesting jobs in the South Bay/LA area?
Peter: I have done so many things in my life. None of them to any great degree. I could never could stick with one thing for very long. I would see something and want to try it. Either I was very restless or had ADD. The latter, I think. lol. But reading your page, I saw several connections. (Kevin Bacon’s 6 degrees, right?) I spent two days with Quentin Tarantino on a commercial for Japanese television. I used to work for Mattel Toys. I knew Ruth and Elliott Handler and had met their children Barbara and Ken. And played in a band with the Beach Boy’s Mike Love’s, brother in law, Winston Searls. I am an award winning cowboy poet and entertainer and will be publishing my third book of cowboy poetry soon (link to Peter’s cowboy poet books on Amazon).
Your page did bring back memories that I have not thought of in years. Thank you.
Thanks for emailing us your memories, Peter. Sometimes the most interesting lives are the ones that bounce around and do a lot of different things!
Wow, we just love hearing about the history of Cockatoo – all its personal stories and the people connected to it. Were you or someone you knew a former Cockatoo employee? Maybe you were just a patron who had an unforgettable time there? We want to hear from you! Send us your memories at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Post has been edited for clarity.