Restaurant of the Week: Arby’s

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CLOSED

Arby’s, 2250 N. Garey Ave. (at Arrow), Pomona

There’s no need to review Arby’s for the food, is there? I had the Arby’s combo ($5.50 including tax), a roast beef sandwich, curly fries and soda. It was fine for what it was. My friends had various combos and were moderately satisfied. Really, we were there for the architecture.

This is the cool Arby’s with the original Conestoga wagon-shaped building and the original ten-gallon hat sign, as recounted in my column (which you can read by clicking the “continue reading” link below). Can you believe there are fewer than 10 such Arby’s left anywhere?

The cramped interior has three booths and one table. I dig the rock walls and giant window. The place to go is the patio out front, just feet from Garey Avenue. The patio tables are original (except for one modern interloper, probably a replacement). The tilted “umbrellas” are awesome. Even the trash receptacles, with a tray holder on top, look vintage.

For a decade, this Arby’s and a companion on East Holt (no longer in business) were the only Arby’s in the Inland Valley. Anyone have a fond, or even not so fond, Arby’s story to share?

Old-style Arby’s is one of the few left

AN ARBY’S on Pomona’s North Garey Avenue turned 40 this year — but it looks barely a year old.

A tall sign shaped like a ten-gallon hat stands proudly outside, proclaiming its message in neon: “Arby’s Roast Beef Sandwich is Delicious.” A less boastful message is in smaller letters: “Drive-Thru.”

Matching the cowboy sign is the rectangular building with a curved roof and overhang, meant to resemble a horse-drawn covered wagon that Western pioneers traveled in.

A broad window covers most of the facade. The patio tables out front are shaded by molded plastic umbrellas, each permanently set at a mod-ish tilt.

In short, the place screams 1960s.

“There are people who come in tour groups and just take pictures of it,” manager Araceli Calderon told me.

The cramped building can be inconvenient — restrooms and supply rooms can only be reached by going outdoors — but Calderon said: “It’s like a historic piece.”

The Pomona Arby’s is among the earlier locations and longest survivors in the 3,600-restaurant chain that launched in Boardman, Ohio, in 1964.

The Garey restaurant opened shortly after Jan. 6, 1970, the date of its final inspection by the city’s Building Department.

I’m afraid I missed the 40th anniversary, but then, I had been waiting until a warm summer night to take some friends to eat on the patio.

We went one night late in August, but we missed the warm summer night. The temperature was near 60 and required jackets. It might have been warmer in January.

The Arby’s, at 2250 N. Garey, is part of a fast-food mecca on east side of the street. Starting at Arrow Highway and working south, there’s KFC, Sizzler, Arby’s, Taco Bell and McDonald’s. (It might be the unhealthiest block in the Inland Valley.)

Arby’s four competitors have undergone makeovers to add height, play areas or a fresh look. The Arby’s, commendably, is above that.

It says: This is what I am. I have a big corny hat and a chuckwagon shape and you have to walk around to the side to find the restroom. Take me or leave me.

Our group — Canan, Liset, Wendy and myself — decided to take it.

The four of us pulled up in four cars — hey, this is Southern California — and went inside. The interior has three booths and one table. That’s it. The service counter stretches across the width of the building.

Although we liked the rock walls, we were determined to eat outside.

The menu these days has some exotic items: “pecan chicken salad” sandwich, “farm house” salad, roast beef gyro, jalape o bites and beverages dubbed “fruiteas.”

Such items were undreamt-of when brothers Forrest and Leroy Raffel opened their first Arby’s — in Boardman, Ohio, just outside Youngstown, on July 23, 1964 — serving only roast beef sandwiches, potato chips and drinks.

According to a corporate history, they wanted to call their restaurant Big Tex, but the name was taken. Instead, the Raffel brothers named the restaurant after themselves, sort of, calling it Arby’s, a phonetic version of R.B.’s.

The menu’s presentation is glitzier too. I noticed 18 numbered items, each illustrated by a photo.

“They don’t have a menu. All they have are pictures. Where are the words?” Wendy whispered.

Even a caveman could order here. Just point and grunt.

We got our sandwiches and curly fries — Arby’s touts itself as a curly-fry pioneer — and took a seat outside on the patio.

One other table was occupied, by a couple of guys who weren’t eating. In fact, one left on foot and returned with cones from McDonald’s.

I guess he didn’t want the ice cream treat pictured on an Arby’s window poster, a “strawberry banana split shake,” described as “the split you can eat with a straw.”

The Garey patio is one of the best features. Streetside seating in the Inland Valley is hard to come by. I recommend the view at dusk: the neon burning in the hat sign overhead, headlights switched on as cars whiz by a few feet away, the sun setting behind the vacant supermarket across the street.

We talked about childhood Arby’s experiences, argued about whether the Horsey sauce had horseradish and compared the thin-sliced processed roast beef with the Carl Buddig brand.

Canan phoned the 800 number on her receipt and took a short survey to get a free sandwich. Liset did the same. Their confirmation numbers were one digit apart.

We regretted all ordering sandwiches. What if one of us had paid for food, and then another had used that receipt to claim a free sandwich, and then the next person had used that receipt to get a free sandwich…

Lorena, a late arrival, joined us.

“Are they giving out free sandwiches? Or balloons?” she asked.

I explained that Aug. 30 wasn’t the actual 40th anniversary and that we were there to celebrate the anniversary in general. She stayed anyway.

The conversation continued. We learned that Lorena and Liset, who are sisters, had recently attended a wedding in Mexico that was also attended by the interim city manager of Bell.

That’s not relevant to anything, but I figure any mention of Bell right now is good for readership.

Arby’s original location in Ohio is still in operation. The fledgling chain opened its second outlet in 1965, in Akron, and began expanding to other states in 1968, beginning with Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Sometime in 1970, Arby’s reached 250 locations. The Arby’s that opened that year in Pomona was the first in the Inland Valley.

It must have been popular, because a second Pomona location opened in 1971 at 1175 E. Holt Ave. That Arby’s is now King’s Teriyaki and still sports the chuckwagon building, but not the ten-gallon hat sign.

Arby’s added an average of 50 locations a year nationwide in the 1970s, but not here. A third Arby’s, at 599 N. Mountain Ave. in Upland, didn’t arrive until 1981. It’s still there, but it’s got a modern design.

The chain phased out the Conestoga wagon look and the ten-gallon hat in the mid-1970s. Most of the older Arby’s have been updated.

The giant hat signs are still found at some older locations that predate more restrictive sign laws, even when the buildings have been changed.

Spokeswoman Kathy Siefert said she doesn’t have a count as to how many Arby’s still have the Conestoga-wagon shape, “but I can tell you it’s only a handful. Under 10.”

Under 10?! Pomona is in exclusive company.

How long it will stay that way is unknown. Siefert said the Garey location is company-owned, not a franchise, and that Arby’s is spending $100 million in the next three years to renovate many of its restaurants.

She didn’t know of any specific plans to yank the Garey restaurant from the 1960s into the 2010s.

“Please don’t touch Pomona,” I told her, doing some preemptive pleading. She joked that she’d see what she could do.

It may look outdated, but for some of us, the Garey Avenue Arby’s is a welcome wagon.

David Allen writes Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, columns that could be improved by Horsey sauce. E-mail david.allen@inlandnewspapers.com, call 909-483-9339 or write 2041 E. Fourth St., Ontario 91764. Read his blog at dailybulletin.com/davidallenblog

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  • DebB

    I guess familiarity breeds, what, invisibility? I’ve been occasionally eating at that Arby’s for 30 years or more, and just saw it as old. Now, knowing how unique it is, I see it a little differently — not old, vintage! It all depends on your perspective, doesn’t it? Interesting contrast: in the background of the top image is the new(ish) Taco Bell, which replaced the old “mission” style TB (outdoor patio and all) a few years ago.

  • Lisa

    Pass! I share in the horror of Arby’s with the Simpsons kids in this clip, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vxQqdFOeoM

  • http://diversitown.blogspot.com meg

    I had no idea that the nearest Arby’s was one of so few of the original Conestoga-style buildings! That’s good to know.

    K. and I both have a big old soft spot for Arby’s, although we’re not much inclined to any other fast food. We never eat at the local one, though; it’s a treat we save for road trips. When we start to feel hungry, the passenger will pull out the smartphone and start searching for the nearest Arby’s. We know the location of them all over California, just about.

    In my case, it dates from childhood: My sainted father (as K. refers to him) liked Arby’s, and when he and I were on our own, we’d go there for a roast beef sandwich and potato cake, just as my mother and I would share a Stouffer’s turkey tetrazzini when he was out of town.

    [Aww. -- DA]

  • Bob Terry

    Here is my Arby’s story. In 1972, my senior year at Garey High in “gasp” south Pomona, me, my wing man Jon Neighbor, Larry Berge and a few others would venture into Pomona High territory…wash our cars at the coin self-serve wash behind McDonald’s and then park our badass cars in the parking lot of Arby’s to show them off.

    Me and Jon had identical 1965 Malibu Chevelle SS, mine pearl yellow and Jon’s candy red, and Larry had a Mustang but can’t remember the year or color. We would bring our girls or other guys and totally impose on North Pomona for the whole year.

  • criminal neglect

    this doesn’t make any sense: Arby’s Roast Beef Sandwich Drive Thru Is Delicious.

    [That is one delicious drive-thru. -- DA]