Marilyn Lewis, Co-Founder of Hamburger Hamlet, Kate Mantilini Restaurants, Dies at 87

Marilyn Lewis at the Cardinali Fall/Winter
Penske Med/REX/Shutterstock

Marilyn Lewis, who with her husband Harry Lewis, co-founded the Hamburger Hamlet restaurants and later industry hang-out Kate Mantilini, died Wednesday. She was 87.

Born Marilyn Friedman in Cleveland, she moved to Los Angeles with hopes of working as a movie costume designer. When she met young actor Harry Lewis, the pair began dreaming of opening a restaurant on their very first date.

Aiming to appeal to actors who wanted something simple and comforting after working all day, they opened the first Hamburger Hamlet at Sunset Blvd. and Hilldale before they were married, drawing customers including Ronald Reagan, Sammy Davis Jr., Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Curtis.

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Hamburger Hamlet opened more locations, including in Beverly Hills on Beverly Drive, and the restaurant became known as the first place to serve gourmet, customizable hamburgers with unusual toppings. Other memorable dishes included “Those Potatoes” and the Lobster Bisque.

After helping conceive the look of the restaurant and the sophisticated slant of the menu, Marilyn Lewis launched the Cardinali fashion line in the 1960s. The expensive, luxurious clothes were worn by socialites and stars, most famously by Marlo Thomas on the show “That Girl.”

The family sold the chain in 1987 and went on to open Kate Mantilini on Wilshire Blvd., which also became a favorite casual industry eatery until its closure in 2014.

Harry Lewis died in 2013. Marilyn Lewis is survived by sons Adam and David and five grandchildren.

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  1. Grand Mesa says:

    Good relish.

  2. Platypuss says:

    “Hamburger Hamlet was one of the first restaurants to employ African-American women as waitresses. Marilyn opened a waitressing school for them in the restaurant and offered them good salaries and benefits. This did not sit well with some whites in the city. When the Westwood location opened, the couple found their restaurant windows pelted with tomatoes. During the Watts riots in 1965, many of their employees could not get to work because of the civil unrest. The couple hired transportation to go into Watts and south central L.A. to pick up employees and bring them to the restaurants. They also put many of them up in motels nearby so they wouldn’t miss out on work. Because of this, Marilyn and Harry received death threats.”

    Marilyn and Harry were more than restaurateurs. They were activists and pioneers. I enjoyed many meals at HH over the years. Was very sad when that era ended. Am equally as sad about Marilyn’s passing. May she Rest In Peace.

    • Lisa Marie Cross says:

      I think it’s meaningful to read such admirible remembrances in the lives of others that might not otherwise be known by those of a later era.
      Every life holds threads of length, some deeply entwine, reinforce those around them.
      Thank you Platypuss for sharing.
      Rest in peace to both Marilyn and Harry Lewis.

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