‘Pomona A to Z’: T is for Turkeys

[Somewhere along the line I’d heard Shelton’s was a cult favorite and thus its product was tailor-made for the letter T.

Of the runnerups, the trompe l’oeil paintings were nixed because it was hard enough getting one photo into print, much less two. There was also a lobbying effort (an e-mail or two) by the Tony’s French Dips people, who contacted me several letters in advance to make a pitch. Tony’s would have been worthy too and will probably make my column at some point this year.

This column was published Feb. 6, 2005.]

Calling today’s ‘A to Z’ column a turkey is fair game

For Super Bowl Sunday, “Pomona A to Z” touches down on T.

Yes, this series’ trajectory means it’s time to pay tribute to the alphabet’s 20th letter.

Let me tell you, Pomona is a tableau that’s teeming with T’s, each contributing to the texture of that tremendous town, each a triumph that ought to be trumpeted.

Tingle at these tidbits:

* Twinkies at the L.A. County Fair — deep-fried, of course.

* Trompe l’oeil (“trick of the eye”) murals: one on the wall of a city parking lot at Second and Garey and another on the Sign-Wize office at Park and Monterey.

* Totem pole towering in the front yard of the home at Arrow Highway and Wilkie Drive.

* Two Thai restaurants in the same block of South Indian Hill: Sanamluang and Mix Bowl. They’re tip-top.

* Todd Memorial Chapel, a funeral home owned and operated by the same family since 1907.

* Tony’s French Dips, a Police Department favorite that’s served sandwiches since 1958. Cook Angie Campos has been dipping for three decades.

* Tacos, tortas and tortillas at Tropical Mexico (often known as Trop Mex) and other traditional taquerias.

Treasures all! And now that you’ve got the thrust of my theme, let me thrill you by revealing the T we’re tackling:

Turkeys from Shelton’s Poultry.

Getting a turkey from Shelton’s is an Inland Valley tradition. As Thanksgiving approaches, there’s often a line out the front door and around the corner for Ben Franklin’s favorite bird.

“It’s a social event,” said chief financial officer Ruth Flanagan, whose family owns Shelton’s.

Some customers have been coming for decades, and they love to share their memories of past purchases — talking turkey, as it were — with the staff.

Rich Havlena of Montclair has been buying Shelton’s turkeys for 30 years.

“You can taste the difference,” the retired phone company man, 62, told me. “And you can’t hardly screw ’em up.”

Good news for once-a-year turkey chefs everywhere.

Fresh turkey wasn’t such a rare commodity in the olden days. The Pomona valley once had five turkey ranches, until they were gobbled up (har!) for development.

Shelton’s began in 1924, when newlyweds Margaret and O.J. Shelton got a unique wedding present: two turkeys. Hey, it beats another blender.

The couple bred their hen and tom and later began selling turkeys for meat. They had a ranch of about 15 acres at Franklin and San Antonio avenues, near today’s Simons Middle School.

O.J. Shelton died and in 1969 so did Fred, their son — the product of their personal breeding program.

Egg distributor Ken Flanagan and his family bought the business from Margaret that year. The Pomona natives have owned it ever since. Ken is retired, but four Flanagan sons and a sister-in-law share the business equally.

Shelton’s got out of the ranching business in 1970, when a farm in the middle of a suburb had become impractical.

“You need to be in a rural area. This isn’t rural anymore,” CEO Gary Flanagan said.

Turkeys are now raised in Fresno and slaughtered in Turlock, then shipped south. The Pomona facility on Loranne Avenue does cutting, boning and packaging, as well as retail sales.

Shelton’s sells 150,000 turkeys a year and 650,000 chickens, for $15 million in gross revenue — a decent output, but a far cry from Foster Farms.

“We’ve survived because we’re a niche market,” Gary Flanagan told me.

All Shelton’s turkeys and chickens are free range, meaning they’re raised outdoors and get more exercise, Flanagan said. Their food is natural and they aren’t given any chemicals.

As a company motto goes: “Our chickens don’t do drugs.”

(I believe their turkeys are warned: “Just gobble no.”)

Natural food stores and specialty markets such as Whole Foods and Wolfe’s in Claremont stock Shelton’s products, which include broth, canned chili and frozen entrees.

“We’re kind of the Tyson’s of the natural food business,” Flanagan said. “We sell natural food products in all 50 states.”

Some high-end restaurants, notably L.A.’s venerable Pacific Dining Car, serve Shelton’s chicken.

To my knowledge, Shelton’s did not supply any turkeys to “WKRP in Cincinnati” sitcom character Arthur Carlson for his radio station’s ill-fated Thanksgiving promotion.

You may recall how a shopping center was bombed with live turkeys from a helicopter, leading to Hindenburg-like chaos.

“As God is my witness,” a shaken Carlson said later, in a classic moment of television, “I thought turkeys could fly.”

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, three more turkeys.)

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  • Charles Bentley

    I just feel the need to respond to this turkey of a column!

    Actually, I would be one of those who advised David back when he was putting together his “Pomona A to Z” series that Shelton’s is a local tradition. I can still recall visiting the Turkey Ranch on several occasions as part of elementary school field trips (and once, I believe, with the Cub Scouts). Knowing that the Ranch went bye-bye in 1970, I guess that immediately dates me.

    David’s close, with the Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) phrase from WKRP in Cincinnati, is terrific. While I can’t find a video recording of that, there is a terrific audio clip (the video has been removed from the site) of the chaotic scene involving the infamous turkey drop at this site: http://radio.about.com/library/blwkrpturkeydropaudio.htm.

    For those who’ve watched it before, it’s a classic. For those unfamiliar with it, this is one of the funniest episodes in television sitcom history. For me, it ranks right with Taxi’s “What does a yellow light mean?”, Cheers’ “Thanksgiving Food Fight” and The Bob Newhart Show’s “More Goo to Go.”

    Hey, three of those — WRKP, Cheers and TBNS — involved Thanksgiving. Is there a hidden comedic message here? Or maybe it’s just my sense of humor that’s fowl.

    [I loved the WKRP bit, especially newsman Les Nessman’s Hindenburg-like narration. Oh, the humanity! It was a silly way to end the Shelton’s column, which was all the more reason to do it. — DA]