Restaurant of the Week: Bob’s Big Boy

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Bob’s Big Boy, 3521 Hamner Ave. (at Chaparral Center), Norco

Bob’s opened earlier this year in Norco — motto: “Horse Town, U.S.A.” — with the proviso that the Bob statue out front sport a cowboy hat. And as you can see, it does. The only other quasi-Inland Valley Bob’s is in Diamond Bar; there’s another one in West Covina. Nice to see them coming back.

The Norco interior is the standard, overly tasteful Coco’s-style coffee shop design, no branding irons or saddles in sight. The rows of seating are interrupted by a large salad bar. The booths are comfortable, the service friendly. The menu has sandwiches, diner classics like meatloaf and chicken parmigiana, and breakfasts.

Taking a tip from reader Jim L from a discussion here some time ago about chili mac, I went for the chili spaghetti ($9.49), which is chili straight (no beans) atop spaghetti. The Bob’s version comes with melted cheddar-ish cheese and, if you like, chopped onions. (I believe chili with spaghetti, onions and cheese is what’s sometimes known as “3-way chili.”)

It’s a filling dish, and tasty, but by the end I’d decided the melted cheese was too much. If I were to get it again I’d ask them to leave off the cheese and onions and to bring grated parmesan. Yep, 3-way is 2 ways 2 much.

Since the Bob statue isn’t holding a plate of chilighetti, I’ll have to go back sometime for a burger, fries and shake.

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  • Doug Evans

    Bob’s Big Boy is to me the definition of comfort food.

    But I haven’t been to one in years. Now I’m feeling kind of sad about that. Still… one in Diamond Bar (kind of by me) and a new one in Norco (kind of by my parents)… maybe there’s a plate of 3-way chili shortly to come in my future! I may ask them to go a little lighter on the cheese, but those onions look good. 🙂

  • David S

    Since I have relatives living in Eastvale, I will be hitting the Big Boy several times. Coming from the Midwest, I miss those Big Boy sandwiches. I have long maintained that the Big Boy is better than a Big Mac, a Whopper and, dare I say it? It is better than In N Out!

    [Those will be fighting words for some readers. — DA]

  • Don J

    Dave, Bob’s chili spaghetti is justifiably renowned, but it’s also called “Cincinnati Spaghetti” and is a specialty over @ Skyline.

  • Ted

    so thats where Jim Carrey got the costume idea for Ace Ventura

  • David

    Cincinnati chili has a much different flavor and taste than Bob’s. Cincinnati chili has Greek spices and has chocolate in it. The best way to eat Cincinnati chili is a five way, with beans and onions.

    I know it’s not in the IE, but the Bob’s in Burbank is classic!! A must see and eat, especially the car hop service.

    They recently opened a Bob’s in Downey, where Johnny’s Broiler used to be, and it has the same classic features, including car hop service.

    [I suspected Cincinnati chili was far stranger than Bob’s version, so thanks for the explanation. — DA]

  • James Rodriguez

    I remember having the chili spaghetti over 30 years ago and it came with just one slice of American cheese on top. Good stuff!

  • Fred Henderson

    Hello David:

    So David S thinks Bob’s burgers are better than In-N-Out. That is like saying a Corvette is just a car. I have been up here 13 years with no Double-Double, grill the onions, mustard instead. Going through withdrawal was not a pretty sight.

    Fred Henderson
    Everett, WA

    [I knew that comment would set somebody off. — DA]

  • Derek Christensen

    Bob’s Big Boy restaurants were common and numerous in our area and throughout Southern California. One was located (building still stands) at the southeast corner of “G” Street and Euclid in Ontario. That location opened in 1968.

    The founder of Bob’s Big Boy (Robert Wian) was graduated in 1933 from Glendale High School.

    In 1936, Bob bought his first restaurant (The Pantry, later renamed Bob’s Pantry) in Glendale, CA.

    According to Big Boy lore, Bob created the Double-Deck Hamburger in 1937 for three late-night dance band musicians that dined late and requested “something different” one night.

    The inspiration for the name of that “Special” Hamburger (Big Boy) was a chubby, local Glendale boy, Richard Woodruff.

    Woodruff (then 6 years old) swept up and performed other odd jobs in exchange for the “Special” hamburger.

    One day, early on, Bob forgot the boy’s name as he swept floors in the restaurant. Bob yelled out, “Hey, Big Boy” to get his attention. Something clicked, and the name for the Special” was born.

    Still later, Bennie Woshem (who later became a Warner Brothers and Walt Disney cartoonist) developed a “mascot” for the restaurant, a cartoon caricature of Richard Woodruff (“Big Boy”) complete with loose slacks and suspenders. This later evolved into the checkered bib overall clad character you still see today.

    Woodruff died in 1986 at the age of 54.

    An interesting side note… At one time, Bob owned a small fleet of shrimp boats that supplied his restaurants with fresh-caught shrimp.

    Eventually, Bob franchised his restaurant concept to major franchisees, in various parts of the U.S. (Shoney’s, Frisch’s, Elias Brothers, etc.)

    In 1967, Bob sold his business to Marriott Corporation. Marriott added Bob to their Board of Directors, but ignored his advice. He resigned and left Marriott completely by May 17, 1968.

    Marriott expanded the chain rapidly, but eventually mismanaged the business and sold the real estate and assets off to other restaurant chains in the early 1990s.

    Robert (Bob) Wian died in 1992 at the age of 77.

    Beyond the Marriott years, Big Boy survived (in some form) through major franchisees and some former Big Boy executives.

    In the fall of 2000 (or thereabout) a “White Knight” of sorts emerged, Robert Liggett, who now owns the Big Boy trademark and established the new corporation, Big Boy Restaurants International.

    [Are you by chance a history teacher, Derek? Well, anyway, the above was this blog’s kinda history, and we thank you for the schooling. — DA]

  • Katy

    I grew up going to the BBB in Diamond Bar, it was always affordable and one of the only places that took debit cards at the time, so my Mom loved it. I also remember the one in Barstow on the way to Vegas, but now I see they are coming back which is cool. Diners never suck!

    [Words to live by. — DA]

  • Linda Biscardi

    Now, Dave, it was very mean of you to post that picture of a defiled plate of spaghetti … and right before Christmas! You are on the right track wanting them to leave off the cheddar cheese and onions next time. You should have them leave off the chili too.

    [Ha ha ha! Welcome back to the blog, Linda, you spaghetti purist, you. — DA]

  • Derek Christensen


    No, not a History teacher, but both parents were local H.S. teachers; around 3/4 of my family are (or were) educators.

    Concerning my interest and information on the subject, I’ve dined at Big Boy’s for 40-plus years. Over those years I was curious enough to peruse newspaper articles, explore internet websites and read the book: “The Big Boy Story,” by Christian Hansen. Years ago, the author (Hansen) worked as an executive at Bob’s.

    A few months back, I purchased that book AT Bob’s (in Norco). My summary (above) consisted of relevant highlights and whatever seemed interesting (at least to me) based on available information.

    Appreciate your Great Blog.



  • Charles Bentley

    Nice to see such a great response to your BBB visit. I have a couple of things to add …

    Everyone has mentioned the BBB in Norco and Diamond Bar. You do know there is one in Colton, right? It’s on Valley Blvd. I haven’t been there, but I remember seeing the sign off the I-10. There’s also one in Calimesa. There was one in Hesperia (not a good one!) but I believe it’s been closed (thank goodness!).

    I agree that Cincinnati chili is far different from what the rest of America thinks of as chili. Personally, I’m not a fan (and a friend of mine from Cincinnati said it’s a taste “most people should not try to acquire!”). As for the BBB chili spaghetti, James is absolutely right. It was always traditionally served with a slice of American cheese on top. Your image looks nothing like it did when I used to frequent the Bob’s on Euclid (and elsewhere!). Oh, and for my taste, you can hold the onions … “between your knees!”

    While I understand David S’s point that the “Big Boy” burger crushes most of the fast food competition, it’s a tough call in a head-to-head with In-N-Out. I love the relish BBB uses over the “sauce” at INO. But the Double-Double is great on the run where BBB is, typically, a sit-down meal. And then there’s Tommy’s; neither BBO or INO stacks up against the power of the Shack!

    One more thing — Did you know that the “Big Boy” statue in Norco was dressed up in a Toby Gerhart jersey recently when the Stanford running back was up for the Heisman Trophy? Gerhart, who played high school football at Norco, finished second in the final tally but certainly earned “Big Boy” status with a tremendous collegiate career.

    Thanks and happy holidays to you, David, and all your faithful readers.

    [They don’t come much more faithful than you, Charles. And no, I didn’t know abouit the Gerhart jersey. That’s a neat hometown touch. — DA]

  • David

    There used to be a Bob’s on Holt just west of Garey, in Pomona. I think you may have even written a review of the current restaurant, I believe it is/was a Chinese restaurant. (Tried to find it in the archives but no luck.)

    [Shalimar Halal, I believe: Chinese/Pakistani. — DA]

  • Marilyn Anderson

    I have a Bob’s menu from 1956 and a couple “Adventures of the Big Boy” comics. Would you like pictures? How do I email them to you?

    Mira Loma

  • David

    It is Shalimar Garden but they are now closed. Maybe Bob’s will reopen in Pomona??

    [There’s an idea! — DA]

  • Robert

    I remember when the building that now houses Kick Back Jack’s in Claremont was a Bob’s Big Boy. My parents took us there every Saturday morning it seemed from Spring through Summer before a long day of baseball games at Saratoga Park in Montclair. I guess an all you can eat breakfast buffet was the easiest and cheapest way to feed 3 growing boys. I was sad when it closed. But Kick Back Jacks aka BC Cafe is a damn good replacement.

    [No argument here. — DA]