Emery: Where, or where have all the Big Boys gone?
By Bob Emery
As I have mentioned a number of times, I am a born and raised Southern California guy with only a few years spent out of state. I have many memories of growing up in “SoCal” and watching it change from a rural setting with millions of acres in citrus, dairy and other agricultural crops to its present status as the suburbia capital of the world.
One of the fondest memories of my early childhood is my father taking my sister and me to the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on Colorado Boulevard in the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles. Those great double-deck hamburgers and thick shakes you had to eat with a spoon, were heaven on Earth.
The Bob’s chain was started just a few miles away in Glendale in 1936 by an entrepreneur named Bob Wian. He created the unique double-deck burger with mayo, lettuce, cheese and that special sweet red relish. To my taste, there has never been a tastier hamburger, and that includes McDonald’s copy cat Big Mac.
My experiences with Colorado Boulevard and Bob’s continued into my early teens. My greatest thrill, and I’m sure, my sister’s greatest humiliation, was to accompany her and her boyfriend when they cruised Colorado in Pasadena and drove through the Bob’s drive-in time after time in his lowered and channeled 1950 Ford convertible with tuck-and-roll upholstery. You see, my sister Joyce is four years my senior and when my folks needed a baby sitter for “Little Bobby,” guess who got the gig. Joyce and I get along famously today, but when I was 12 and she was 16, I could be a real pain in the derriere. To compound the indignity, her boyfriend Hal had a little brother just my age and he got to come along too. Oh joy! But it was all worth it when we would finally pull into a spot at the drive-in and the car hops would hang the trays on the windows with our Bob’s Big Boy burgers and those great shakes.
I ignored Bob’s for many years until they were gone, even the one here in Poway. Then it was gone. The Marriott Corporation bought the Bob’s chain in 1967 and around 1998, they closed all of the Bob’s and changed them into “Allies” coffee shops that lasted all of a year or two. Serves them right. Occasionally a new Bob’s franchise will open and I have been known to drive over 100 miles out of our way to have a Big Boy Burger. The only Bob’s in San Diego County is in El Cajon next to Walmart and yes, I will even go to El Cajon for a Big Boy.
On a recent road trip north to pick up Suzanne in Sacramento, I planned my route around known Big Boy franchise locations. One in Temecula or maybe Norco, one in Santa Paula and again in Fresno. It was going to be a delicious and nostalgic trip with ‘50s music on my satellite radio and the best burgers in the world. But alas, it was not to be. I arrived in Temecula, mouth watering as I turned off Winchester Road only to find a “For Sale” sign on the shuttered Bob’s. Norco was only 40 miles away and I pushed on but again, to no avail; it was now a Taco Bell. Blasphemy! Broken hearted, I lunched begrudgingly at a Mickey D’s and vowed to make it to the Bob’s in Santa Paula for dinner. You guessed it, that Bob’s was closed also, but at least I had the Fresno Bob’s for tomorrow. I drove along Shaw Boulevard to Blackstone in Fresno, stalking the perfect meal only to be crushed once again with a “restaurant for sale” sign.
I have heard there are plenty of Bob’s Big Boy restaurants in Michigan, but it is cold up there. So I guess it’s back to El Cajon where they have the audacity to ask if you want thousand island dressing or red relish on your burger. Oh the shame!
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