Remembering RoVal’s

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RoVal’s was a steakhouse in what’s now Rancho Cucamonga from the ’50s through the ’70s. The co-proprietor, RoVal Jones, died Jan. 23 at age 89, according to an obituary in the Bulletin today. She and her late husband, Jack, ran RoVal’s.

RoVal’s opened in 1955 at 8689 9th St. in Cucamonga and remained there until about 1960. (The address went on to become Red Griffin Inn, Case de Mayo and then, in ’68, Cask ‘n Cleaver.)

Meanwhile, a new location opened in 1959 at 11871 Foothill Blvd., on the southwest corner of Rochester, across from the old stone house and winery.

RoVal’s was known for its smoker and the chargrilled steaks it turned out. The ad accompanying this post is from the 1980 Yellow Pages, perhaps the last year the restaurant was in business, although it was after the Joneses sold it. From there it became — oh, the ignominy — the Cowgirl Topless Theater. (The latter lasted until 1992 and was demolished sometime later. A Denny’s now marks the approximate spot.)

Thanks to Kelly Zackmann of the Ontario Library’s Model Colony History Room for much of the above, including the cool ad. The rendering up top came from the Jones family and depicts the first location.

I’m going to try writing a few lines for Friday’s column, or maybe Sunday’s. In the meantime, anyone remember the place?

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  • Gino L. Filippi

    DA,

    My parents dined at RoVal’s for “special occasions.” Every so often I remember being included and I recall the large smoke oven and the delicious steaks. At that time Foothill Blvd and Rochester was quite remote, much different than today! The Aggazotti Winery and home was located across the street (southeast corner) where it remains today. RoVal’s was fine dining and the thought of Jack and the restaurant brings back memories for many I am sure.
    GF

    [Thanks, Gino. It's easier to picture knowing that old stone home was across the street. -- DA]

  • Gino L. Filippi

    That’s it… “Ambrosia”! Thanks Kelly and David!

  • Bob House

    I ate at RoVal’s in 1964 or 1965. A group of us from Claremont High School took our dates there for dinner before a prom. As G. Filippi mentions, it was out in the middle of nowhere.

    I tried to pass a fake ID to get a beer and they were nice enough not to throw me out. What could I have been thinking — trying to convince someone I was 21 when I was with a group of high school kids?

    The big, round smoke oven sat prominently on one side of the dining room. I have no recollection what the food was like or how we had managed to discover RoVal’s to begin with.

    I’m still a little freaked out about RoVal herself passing away just a few days after I brought up RoVal’s in a post on your blog last week.

  • Randall Volm

    David,

    I’m sorry, I can’t remember a RoVal’s restaurant, maybe my parents have. However, it was my younger brother, sister and myself, that all worked there when it was Cask ‘n Cleaver in the late ’70s to early ’80s.

  • Don Stockwell

    I bet not too many people have the ORIGINAL ingredients for the Baby Back Ribs that were served at ROVAL’S !!!!

    Their smoker was a Chinese smoke oven !!!!! There was a duplicate built in Upland on 9th st.

    Spent many a night there enjoying the fine meals.

    I still make those ribs to this day, and do not give out the recipe !!!!!

    YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE MISSING !!!!!!!

    To T.J. God Bless Your MOM !!

  • Foothill Vagrant

    Forget the steakhouse nonsense, Dave. We want stories about the infamous Cowgirl…

  • Charles Bentley

    GREETINGS:
    My memories of RoVal’s is when it was at its Foothill location, long before the 210 and 15 freeways made access to the area convenient for those outside the Tri-City area. It was a place for special occasions in my family — Mother’s Day or Easter lunches or birthday dinners. I believe we waited nearly two hours one Mother’s Day.

    My father always says RoVal’s had the best steaks in the area at that time, along with Orlando’s in Pomona and The Golden Bull (Fontana?). Alas, I never made it to the other two establishments.

    David, you cannot imagine the uproar that took place locally when the Cowgirl opened. This “den of iniquity” (I recall that being a favorite reference by local clergy) drew ire not just because of its adult entertainment but also because of its high profile location and because it had sullied the memory of the previous establishment, RoVal’s.

    Wondering if anyone has anything to add about the Red Griffin Inn? That’s an unfamiliar name to me. I knew all the other occupants of the site that is now Cask n’ Cleaver on Ninth Street. But please tell us of the RGI, its history and menu.

    [Next door to the Red Griffin was where Elegant Ethyl's was, to tie this into a previous column. Thanks for the background on RoVal's, Charles. -- DA]

  • Terrance B Jones

    I am Terrance B. Jones.

    There are no words to express or feel the love I have lost. But being reared in the restaurant business gave me a most useful education.

    My father having just sold his half of a machine shop (Glen Jones Machinist in Ontario) with his lifelong friend Gail Glen, he wanted to start a restaurant, this was in 1955. I was just starting high school Upland High School class of 1959. The only thing they would let me do (make me do) is wash dishes and the only time I was allowed off was for sporting events (football and wrestling) and school dances. RoVal’s meant so much to me in the friends I met and the lessons I learned. I saw the heartaches and tears it took to build a succesful business and I have been through it myself (Bernell Hydraulics Inc. Rch Cucamonga, Riverside and San Bernardino).

    I was really lucky in those years, I took a girl out to dinner before a dance and my dad would only charge me half price (cost). It made me feel like the B M O C (big man on campus).

    I was also with my father when we went to Tonapah, NV to get the glass work and marble for the front of the restaurant on Foothill Blvd. The two contractors we took with us pretended to be tired so my dad went to bed and they took me out to learn to shoot craps (won $40), a lesson I was later to regret.

    I have always had a smoke oven in my back yard, the last one at my ranch in Glen Avon was able to feed 200 people. For the gentleman looking for the recipe for baby back ribs please contact me. However you have to put a lot of love into it.
    For the gentleman wanting to more about the Cowgirl, you had to be there to experience it. However my mother later said “at least they cleaned the place up.”

    I will be looking forward to hearing from old friends of RoVal’s restaurant.

  • Derek Christensen

    Yes, I remember dining at RoVal’s with my parents (in the late 1960s/early 1970s) along with the Stone Smoker Pit in the dining room (which was unusual.)

    Funny… I never realized that the restaurant building was (fairly) modern (late 1950s). With the glass-work in the front, the building being similar-looking and in close-proximity to the stone-house directly east, I (wrongly) assumed that RoVals had been there since the stagecoach days.

    Some years later (1980s) I stopped by with a friend and his wife, as the building (no longer RoVals) became a tavern/bar, yet just before (or just as) it became the Cowgirl. Initially, it was just a bar with pool tables, etc. Next, it became a bikini-bar and shortly thereafter, it went topless.

    During its years of operation (as the Cowgirl) I only went there a handful of times, and was shocked (one day) when I recognized a former Bobs Big Boy waitress (that I vaguely knew) had become a topless waitress/entertainer.

    And yes, today, (on the former RoVals site) a Dennys Restaurant now stands in its place.

    Derek Christensen

    [Thanks for the perspective, Derek. Just to clarify, RoVal's took over an old winery building that was there long before the 1950s. -- DA]

  • Doran D. Hearn

    I worked for Jack and RoVal back in late ’60s. Actually started at Smoker’s in Upland with Tim then went to RoVal’s after Smoker’s closed. I worked there until June 1972. I have great memories and the Stuffed Baked Potato recipe. Both Jack and RoVal were the best people as well as employers…

  • Bob House

    Any chance you could contact Terrance B. Jones and Doran D. Hearn via email to get the RoVal’s recipes to post for the baby back ribs and Stuffed Baked Potato?

    (Off topic: hope your enforced lay-back hasn’t caused too much stress. I would imagine you have found plenty of interesting, inexpensive adventures and good books to keep yourself occupied and entertained.)

    [The rib guy seemed so proud he was the only person in the world with the recipe, I decided not to write him back to ask. As for the furlough, it's been a busy week. I'll write about some of what I did. -- DA]

  • Jim Kimbrough

    I have fond and wonderful memories of my late great Uncle Jack and Aunt RoVal and their restaurant Roval’s.

    Every time that my family drove to Southern California for a visit, we would always have a meal at RoVal’s. RoVal Helped me learn how to eat lamb with a little mint sauce that was cooked in that delightful Chinese smoke oven. I remember the ambiance of the place. I loved the cranberry light fixtures throughout. The food was stupendous. Aunt RoVal’s passing in January was a very sad time for me… And yes, the place was considered “out in the middle of nowhere.”

    I recall when they attempted “Smoker’s” in Upland. Funny, the thing I miss most from Smoker’s were their hush puppies and honey! The family worked hard to make Smoker’s work. It just didn’t take off.

    When the topless bar opened, I remember how mortified the family was.

    I moved To Rancho in 2000. Every time I drive by the Masi Plaza and see the Denny’s restaurant, I think of Uncle Jack, Aunt RoVal, and RoVals Restaurant… I miss them and I miss the delicious food they prepared.

    Aunt RoVal was an incredible cook. I dined at their home in Alta Loma many times.

    Much love to their memories and a huge thank you to David Allen for writing this article!

    JFK

    [You're welcome, Jim. Nice of you to chime in with your personal memories of your aunt and uncle. -- DA]

  • http://www.StopNationalStandards.org Susan Ohanian

    My grandmother, Uncle Jack’s mother, worked in the kitchen at RoVal’s and so when I stayed with Grandmother one summer to take a couple of courses at Chaffey Community College, I worked in the kitchen too. I was in charge of the rolls.

    My Aunt RoVal always made my sister and me feel very special. Actually, last night I was using the Fanny Farmer Cookbook she sent me. When I phoned her some years back, asking for advice on cooking venison, she said, “Honey, I’m not sure. . . ” But then when she found out I didn’t have Fanny Farmer, she immediately sent it.

    When Uncle Jack told my parents, “I’ve opened a restaurant,” we had visions of a diner or something like that. We were astounded when we saw it. Uncle Jack’s sister, my mother, liked her steaks “well done.” Uncle Jack would say, “Martha, I’ll have to cook that myself. The chef gets so irritated by anybody who asks for ‘well done’ that he’ll burn it.”

  • Keith McDonald

    My parents and my sister and I went to RoVal’s nearly every week for at least 2 years from 1963. We were in an apartment in Upland, and my mother hated to cook there. So for 2 years plus we dined on filet mignon, tenderloin brochettes, and lobster tails cooked in that Chinese smoke oven. Incredible! We kids almost always had the brochettes, my parents the filet and lobster. We got to know the staff by name, and my sister and I sometimes sat in the area of the oven and watched. We loved RoVal’s.

  • Pamela Muffley

    My family owned Arrow Travel Service in Fontana for 35 years and in Fontana, Harold’s Club was the rage at that time. There were five children in our family and times were very different then. Going out to eat is very common now, but back then going out to eat was for special occasions and generally only for the parents (especially if there were five kids to feed).

    I remember going to Harold’s Club one time. My sisters and I were mortified when our baby sister (8 years younger than my twin sister and I) ordered lobster, which was the most expensive item on the menu. The rest of us always ordered the least expensive item hoping that if we did, we might be able to go out to eat again. Most amazing was that Dad let her. We were so worried we would never get to go out to a nice restaurant ever again.

    We did, and it was to RoVal’s. It was for our birthday, I believe, and we were told that we could order anything we wanted. Crab legs it was for me since I had never had any. I still, to this day, like to try new things. Well, it was the most scrumptious food I had ever put into my mouth. I declared crab as being my favorite food. I remember the long wait that you described but I especially remember the prominent smoke oven. I couldn’t wait to go back and have those delectable crab legs again.

    I went away to college, got married and became a teacher in Fontana, but I never forgot about RoVal’s.

    Of course, it was quite a while before we had enough money to go out. I told my husband about RoVal’s and declared that the first time we could afford to eat at a nice restaurant, I wanted it to be RoVal’s (especially since I had bragged about the place so many times).

    I believe it was our anniversary when we decided to go. I was so excited and then disappointed! It was no longer popular and they did not have crab legs. The next time we tried, they were no longer in business. I always wondered why because they had been so popular and so good.

    I have tried crabs at many different places, some good, some horrible, but none could compare to RoVal’s smoked crab legs. I was told they were so good because they had been cooked in the smoke oven. I actually thought that was how they were supposed to be cooked: not in boiling water.

    For a while, I would look to see if they were back in business whenever I drove by but when, to my horror, they became a men’s club, I finally gave up. Believe it or not, I still think about RoVal’s when I drive down Foothill Blvd. I always wondered what had happened to them and I wonder why no one else has tried cooking crab in that manner? At least I now know what happened, thanks to your well-written article.