Heads up, Harbor Area diners. After 47 years, one of the region’s comfort food landmarks is moving.
Marie Callender’s has served up hearty entrees and more than two dozen varieties of pies from the same Western Avenue corner in Rancho Palos Verdes since 1971.
But with the dawn of 2019, the restaurant will move sometime in January, offering a more streamlined format.
Think quicker service, easy meals to go, lower bills — but still 31 flavors of fresh-baked pie and a salad bar.
“We’ll be doing things a little differently,” said longtime restaurant owner Jim Louder.
Louder and John Turner, who have operated the Marie Callender’s at Western Avenue and Trudie Drive since 1991, are moving the business across the street, into the Tarragona Plaza, 1000 N. Western Ave., right next to the Ralphs grocery store.
Famous for its pies, cornbread, soups and salads along with hearty entrees, the restaurant will take over the much smaller space that housed the now closed Jacaranda Gourmet Foods store for many years.
The move was prompted by a number of factors, including work that needs to be done on the existing building that the restaurant leases. Changes in minimum wage laws starting in 2019 also would make a smaller payroll more affordable to keep the business going, said Louder, who also runs the Bob’s Big Boy in Downey.
“The overall situation was (the current restaurant at Western and Trudie) was getting to be not a cheap place to do business,” Louder said. “We thought it might be better to look for a smaller space.”
The new restaurant is about half the physical size as the current one, he said, going from about 4,500 square feet to 2,500 square feet.
A newer, fresher format would appeal more to younger people and speak to the needs of a more hurried population, Louder and his business partner believe.
“Prices will be lower,” he added. “That could encourage people to come in a couple times a week.”
The restaurant’s lock on the pie business, he said, will continue to be a main draw. Many families order to-go holiday pies — and the rest of the meal now — from the restaurant.
“That’s something that people come back for, year after year,” Louder said.
For the most part, he said, customers have been understanding about the coming change.
But for some longtime customers like Carol Rugnetta of San Pedro, the move wasn’t great news.
“I was so disappointed when I heard it,” she said.
Rugnetta said the restaurant has been a cozy tradition that’s something of a special treat for her and her youngest granddaughter.
“They have a good kids’ menu,” she said.
In the process of the move — and in what will be a first for the Marie Callender’s chain — the business model will be redesigned with a more express style used in eateries such as Chipolte. That could mean customers ordering from the counter (a decision that is still being vetted) and having their food brought to their tables later, smaller menu portions and a more robust “to-go” take-out business. The menu will still feature most of the restaurant’s offerings, but not all of them, Louder said.
Moving forward, he said, the owners will be listening to what their customers want — and don’t want.
“We really are going to pay a lot of attention to what our guests are telling us, what they like and what they don’t like,” Louder said, adding that there will be flexibility.
Print menus or selections put on an overall screen projection? Issues like that, he said, are yet to be decided and are pending more input.
There will be a dining room with booths and tables that will seat about 50 people, Louder said. The changeover and move should be complete sometime in January after the new space is fully prepped.
He said no layoffs are anticipated and that about 20 of the 25-member staff will be moving to the new facility. The others, he said, likely will transition to two other restaurants owned by Turner and Louder in Gardena and Downey or will be placed elsewhere through the Marie Callender’s corporate office.
Rugnetta, who for years oversaw catering and banquet events for the Doubletree Hotel in San Pedro, said there is a need for more mid-range, family restaurants in the Harbor Area.
“You want to go in and sit down in a place that’s not fancy, somewhere that you can take the kids and not have to dress up,” she said.
In the past couple years, Carrow’s and Yellow Vase both have closed down on Western Avenue.
When she heard Marie Callender’s was leaving its long-familiar spot, she said, “Oh no, not another one. … I just hope they don’t put a bank there.”
Rugnetta would like to see another coffee-house style restaurant go in at the old Marie Callender’s site.
The Marie Callender’s chain opened its first restaurant in 1948 (the Rancho San Pedro/San Pedro restaurant was No. 35, Louder said) and there are about 60 restaurants now left in California.
The company filed for bankruptcy in June of 2011 and abruptly closed 31 low-performing locations.
Louder said plans also will move forward to be involved via catering for community events. Other new avenues could include food delivery and providing box lunches.
“This has been such a great town,” he said. “I think there are (new) opportunities for us.”