Food at Ford

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Above: Person Ford, 2011; Below: Augustine’s, 1991, courtesy of city of La Verne: “Top Sirloin Complete Dinner for $6.95.”

The former Person Ford car dealership at 2777 Foothill Blvd. in La Verne is set to be redeveloped into apartments and retail. But reader Tom Gay remembers when the building at the west end of the dealership was a restaurant — or a series of restaurants — from the 1970s into 2004.

“The building at the west end was at one time a Cattleman’s Wharf. It was something else before that and I believe it was once called the Torch,” Gay said, “but I also think that the owners of the Torch actually tried to burn it down. Anyway, thought you might want to research it a little more as I’m sure that there are other locals who would be interested and might remember more than I do.”

Good idea. I contacted Eric Scherer of La Verne’s Planning Department and he was kind enough to research the files. Information isn’t complete, but he found that the building in question went up in 1976 and housed Lizzy’s.

The Torch followed and did indeed catch fire, possibly by arson. (Presumably firefighters were able to douse the Torch.)

“In 1981, the Original American Dinner House opened,” Scherer wrote. “This restaurant was unique in that every room was designed and decorated in a different Americana theme (Betsy Ross Room) and the waiters and staff all wore costumes of famous Americans. It must not have been very popular as it became a Cattleman’s Wharf later that year.”

Just think, you could have dined in the Betsy Ross Room, then headed east and gotten dessert at Betsy Ross Ice Cream in Claremont.

In 1985, the restaurant changed to Chateau La Verne, replaced in 1987 by Augustine’s Hi Jinx Restaurant before 1991 brought Diamond International Buffet. (It was briefly painted bright green and red.)

Finally, 1992 brought a stable restaurant: Phoenix Garden. The Chinese sit-down eatery lasted in the building until 2004, when it moved downtown and Person Ford took over. The building was used for fleet and truck sales rather than kung pao chicken, then closed out its life in 2009 as the location of Foothill Hyundai.

“With the new mixed-use development approved for the site, all of the buildings will be torn down,” Scherer reports.

Let’s hope the mixed-use development doesn’t have a revival of the Torch.

Anyone remember more about these past restaurants?

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At Roberta’s, you’re in with the Inn crowd

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Francisco Ramirez and Roberta Virgin at the counter of Roberta’s Village Inn, 2326 D St., La Verne. Ramirez, the chef, bought the downtown coffee shop from Virgin at the beginning of 2010. A year later, business continues to do well and customers say the transition has been seamless. Read about the popular restaurant in my Wednesday column — and feel free to add your comments below.

If you click on the “Continue reading” link below, you can find an informal history of the building, with some color about the Village Inn, sent to me by two members of the La Verne Historical Society.
Continue reading

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Growing up with Mrs. Nelson’s

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Friday’s column pays tribute to a La Verne institution, Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop, which has been at 1030 Bonita Ave. (at Damien Avenue) since 1991, and in existence since 1985 (the first location was in Covina).

Pictured are the now-retired Judy Nelson, left, and manager Andrea Vuleta.

You can visit the store’s website here and read my column here.

I was allowed to see the employee restroom, whose inner door has been decorated with doodles by visiting authors and illustrators. A portion of the door is pictured below. Click on the image for a larger view.

Do you have comments about or memories of the store? If so, post away.

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Panera Bread opens in La Verne today

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A new Panera Bread location opens in La Verne this morning in the old Michael J’s location. (Here’s a photo after the demolition.)

Address: 2315 Foothill Blvd. (at Fruit Street), across from the giant McDonald’s. Regular hours: Monday to Saturday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Menu: Soups, salads, sandwiches, coffee, artisanal bread and free WiFi.

Other area locations are Rancho Cucamonga, Chino Hills and West Covina.

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Here’s a scoop

As mentioned in print the other day, I’ll be among the scoopers at an ice cream sundae fundraiser in La Verne today to benefit Relay for Life, which benefits the American Cancer Society. Come buy a sundae for a good cause. We’ll be at Roberta’s Village Inn,
2326 D St., from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Here are the shifts:

5:30 pm — Dan & Annette Harden, Brian McNerney, Fire Chief John Breaux, me

6:30 pm — Mayor Don Kendrick, Mayor ProTem Donna Redman Nasmyth, Police Chief Scott Pickwith, Captain Darryl Seube

7:30 pm — Former Mayor Jon Blickenstaff, Council Member Robin Carder, Planning Commision Chair Cid Pinedo

Tonight is a Farmers Market night downtown so parking will be more of a chore. Organizers recommend parking behind the Fire Station or at Church of the Brethren.

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La Verne’s online newspaper

La Verne Online is the name, and it’s run by 25-year resident Peter Bennett, a former LA Times staffer and PR guy. I’ve read a few articles there and it’s pretty well done, with coverage of Monday’s council meeting and long features on such folks as private eye Becky Altringer, Gumby licensee Nick Croce and Taste of Asia chef Virada Khowang. (One flaw: No dates on any of the stories.) Best of luck to them.

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