Retorts: Two old and new “places to be”

THE BOB’S BIG BOY in Burbank (Flickr/Brian Wallace).

The past may live on forever in the South, but here on the West Coast in general and in Orange County in particular, it disappears storefront by storefront.

Two iconic eateries in Garden Grove and Westminster are in the news this week. The Coco’s Restaurant and Bakery on Harbor Boulevard south of Chapman Avenue – originally a Bob’s Big Boy – is poised to receive the wrecker’s ball, and at Beach Boulevard just south of Westminster Boulevard, more history has been erased and is set to be replaced.

Let me start by saying that I’m not holding a lodge of sorrow over either case. The restaurant business is always changing and it’s always a matter of “the devil takes the hindmost.” Still, there are a lot of memories, sweet and bittersweet, associated with the passing of familiar places.

Proposed for the Coco’s is a new, In-N-Out restaurant – with a large dining room and drive-through lanes. Located there in the hotel district and only a short jaunt from the Disneyland resort, it looks like a winner, assuming that it gets approval from the Garden Grove Planning Commission.

I don’t mourn the passing of Coco’s. In recent years, the food and service there has been poor. Three other Coco’s locations in the area have closed in recent years, the victim of changing trends and weak management.

But Bob’s Big Boy … that was THE place to be in the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and even into the early Eighties, if you were a high school kid. After every Friday or Saturday night football game or basketball contest, students from Garden Grove, Santiago and other campuses crowded the booths. It was even a place to show off your dates after proms and coed dances.

“Going to Bob’s” was the quintessential baby boom date. More than one romance that led to the altar started there. Many of the millennial generation of today probably owe their very existence to flames ignited over their double-decker hamburger and a basket of Pappy Parker fried chicken.

Now, personally, I was never a big fan of the place. The burgers were dry and the three slices of bread in the bun made for some tough chewing unless you had choppers like Mister Ed.

But, as I said, Bob’s was the place to be and was as much a part of Garden Grove culture in that time as Belisle’s or the Jolly Knight.

I have fewer memories of the spot on Beach that looks like it will be a Starbucks in Westminster. The building knocked down earlier this year was built in the Tudor style, in a three-building development called Keystone Square.

Originally the Ha’Penny Inn, it was later a Victoria Station in the Carter era. It had an excellent salad bar and prime rib, but none of that was enough to keep it alive as trends in eating gnawed off its audience. In its last incarnation it was Westminster Manor, a banquet hall.

Bob’s Big Boy, still survives, but not locally. There are only five left in Southern California, and none in Orange County. Founded in 1936 in Glendale, the chain is most popular now in the upper Midwest.

Social media comments about the changing of the guard center on fond memories and nostalgia, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But even as Garden Grove works to further develop Harbor and Westminster labors to give a boost to its civic center zone, this can all be good news.

I wouldn’t be surprised if before long, we had two new locations that are “the place to be.”

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on Wednesdays.




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