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THIS YEAR MARKS Five Crowns’ fiftieth anniversary. In 1963, two years before it opened, I remember my father putting on a meticulously edited slideshow of my parents’ exploration of the English countryside.
Dad was intrigued by the history and tradition of the old country inns and restaurants; Mom found their Tudor architecture and quaint furnishings fascinating. Imagine their excitement when, right around then, while the company was looking to expand to the Newport Beach area, the old Hurley Bell, an aging English-style building in Corona del Mar, serendipitously came on the market.
Here was a chance to apply what they learned on their travels, create a unique theme restaurant and have a lot of fun doing it. Five Crowns became a genuine labor of love.
Tremendous effort goes into making a restaurant work.
At the same time, a small cottage behind the restaurant – separately owned and only coincidently having the Five Crowns’ Tudor design – came up for sale. Dad successfully engineered its purchase. And so, my memories of Five Crowns begin with what an annual summer family vacation meant to a lucky Southern California boy.
One of the first things I remember is helping fix up the cottage. My parents bought unfinished “rustic” furniture for the dining room. But the table and chairs weren’t rustic enough to satisfy Dad. He gave my sisters and me some files and rasps to rough up the furniture edges to make them look worn. He even had a length of chain welded to a steel bar which he let us beat the table top with to give it an extra bit of wear and tear. After we “aged” the table, he stained and finished it. I believe the company still owns our antiquing handiwork.
Five Crowns became a genuine labor of love.
I don’t recall there being a grand opening ceremony for the restaurant, but I do remember spending what would be a longer than usual amount of time at the cottage that first summer. Maybe Dad wanted to be around to make sure everything ran smoothly – after all, the restaurant was his baby. He was proud of its immediate popularity.
Lured by the aroma of the restaurant’s bustling kitchen, only steps from the cottage’s back door, my sisters and I would routinely sneak in and thread our way through the co-workers in search of what we considered real treasure: snacks. There, I witnessed the tremendous effort that goes into making a restaurant work and learned why its kitchen is considered the “heart of the house.”
I’ll never forget the night Richard Nixon dined at Five Crowns. When Mom heard he was coming, she called my dad in his L.A. office to tell him to hurry down to meet the President. He found the three of us kids lined up in front of the restaurant waiting to see the famous man arrive.
He was proud of its immediate popularity.
Everything was normal and then, out of nowhere, the police appeared and all traffic within a couple of blocks vanished. Suddenly, six black cars pulled up. Out stepped the President and his family. They all had Prime Rib off the main dining room in what has been called the Nixon Nook ever since.
For the last twenty-five years our extended family has gathered at Five Crowns for Christmas Eve dinner. Like for many of you, the holidays aren’t complete without a meal there. This winter, my folks will only be there in spirit, so I’m sure we’ll find ourselves reaffirming some of our Five Crowns memories. And we’ll remember that, as we celebrate our restaurant’s half-century of success, we also celebrate the work and love that went into to making it what it is today and what it will be tomorrow.
From the desk of Richard R. Frank
3801 East Coast Hwy, Corona del Mar, CA 92625