By Jim Tortolano
For more than half a century, Garden Grove’s downtown has had a place “where everybody knows your name.” It may not be as world-famous as
“Cheers” but Louie’s on Main is well known in the area both for its history and its bon homie.
Angelo Tavlarides, 66, is the owner and operator of this hot spot in the Big Strawberry’s historic Main Street, continuing in a building over 100 years old and in a local business with more than a half-century of heritage.
“We have the best clientele here,” says Angelo. “It brings people together. There is a great camaraderie here, not just the people who come here to eat, but between the staff and those people. That’s what makes this special: the staff knowing the people, interacting with them and knowing what’s going on in their lives.”
It might seem that, with all this tradition and company that Angelo might have been born into the restaurant business, but like the place he runs, there have been many paths to the present.
Born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona as a youth. His twin interests in medicine and architecture led him to the University of Arizona in Tucson. He enrolled as a biology major until he “met an anatomy professor who told me I should become a nurse.”
At that point he met his future wife, Mary, and moved to California where he finished his degree in biology at California State University, Long Beach in 1980. After school he worked managing a fish and chips eatery, and eventually landed a job at a laboratory in Irvine. From there he started a floor covering business with his brother-in-law, but carpal tunnel syndrome took that career path out of his hands, so to speak.
It was then that he came into the business of providing food and drink for a rapidly-growing town in West Orange County. His father-in-law, Louis Stravros, operated what was then called George and Louie’s, a partnership of two brothers. That piece of the story started in 1953.
Long-time residents of Garden Grove may remember the place as the Rainbow Room. It got its name from a popular gathering place in France where Louie served in the Army during World War Two called “The Rainbow Corner.”
When the brothers agreed to rename their business, they decided to do honor to that memory. “They couldn’t call it a corner, so they called it the Rainbow Room,” said Angelo.
It was always a family place. In fact, now it’s three generations of family there, with sons Chris, Matthew and Nick assisting in staffing the restaurant.
Starting in 1987, he and his father-in-law worked together, splitting the shifts at a place open from 6 a.m. to – on weekends – 2 a.m. “Louie pulled the morning shift and I worked the night shift,” said Angelo. “We cooked and served.”
As time went on, the operation evolved from what was basically a bar, adding a limited food menu, and it prospered. However, more changes were coming. Louie retired from the business in 2004 and he would soon develop cancer. He passed away a few years later, but there would be more shocks to come.
“On the day he died,” recalls Angelo, “we came back here and the city had red-tagged it as unsafe. No one was allowed to enter.” It all was part of a statewide effort to eliminate the structural risks posed by construction of unreinforced masonry, which led to retro-fitting many of the buildings on a street that can trace its origins to the founding of Garden Grove in 1874.
“The building was probably built around 1910. It once had a hitching post outside for people to tie up their horses,” recalled. He had heard of an incident in which a man rode his horse through the place, front to back.
The Rainbow Room was closed for 19 months while it was brought up to current earthquake safety standards. When that was finished, “We decided to change the name, to give us something to take us forward. We decided to include Louie’s in the name to honor him, and we shifted the emphasis more toward a restaurant. The reaction was better than I anticipated.” A remodel of the interior with a lighter atmosphere and installing larger windows facing Main helped in the change.
Louie’s On Main is now popular as an eatery as well as for its assortment of spirits and craft beers. The regulars now include employees of the city and school district as well as local residents.
Angelo lauds the spot on Main, in downtown Garden Grove, as part of the success story. “I think it’s a great location,” he said. “This business is tied to this location.”
The business has at least one more hurdle to overcome: the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s been a real trial,” he said. “But we’re working through it.” The crisis has allowed them to expand outdoor seating and – before the latest shutdown – “On Friday, this place is packed. The wait times are 40 to 45 minutes. The outside seats make all the difference.”
Normal life will eventually return, and when it does, he has intentions to remodel his restaurant and expand the kitchen. He also plans to open a second location on 2nd Street in Long Beach.
And when that happens there will be more room for people who want to go where everyone knows their name.
Categories: Garden Grove