It was 1955, and Orange County looked to have a lot of tourist potential, provided all things went according to plan. Sure, there were many who scoffed at the idea of an amusement park based on Mickey Mouse, but there were many who doubted Walt Disney before, and regretted it.
So, just down Harbor Boulevard from where Disneyland was being constructed, Harvey and Charlotte found a piece of land where they could build a restaurant. The building was not that large, and sat about 35 people, but everyone knew about it for two reasons. First, Belisle’s was hard to miss. It was a bright pink landmark on the corner of Harbor and Chapman Avenue in Garden Grove. Harvey chose pink because he liked the way it drew your attention, just as it did for the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.
But Belisle’s Restaurant had one other famous caloric feature: the servings of everything on the menu were enormous. No, not just big, or generous. They were enormous. They served catfish, and hush puppies, beef ribs and meatloaf. They served stacks of pancakes and plates full of bacon. But these were not your average restaurant portions. The Los Angeles Times once described the meatloaf “about the size of the crankcase,” and the generous portions extended to desserts too, in the unlikely event you felt like more food. They had a banana split that looked like a mountain, and an enormous strawberry pie covered in whipped cream.
The place was open 24 hours a day and attracted people from all walks of life. Many will say that Belisle’s was built to feed the crews who built Disneyland, but Disneyland and Belisle’s opened just months apart. Still, there were hotels that sprang up along Harbor, and construction workers were regulars. And many notables stopped in as well, such as Ronald Reagan, Architect Phillip Johnson (Architect of the Crystal Cathedral, just east on Chapman), and even Cesar Chavez, who, as you might expect, requested that there would be no lettuce or grapes in his meal.
Belisle’s started out small, but it grew over time. The place was always packed, with lines waiting for the gluttonous portions of pancakes on Sunday Mornings. For a while, a large man dressed in a chef’s hat would stand on the corner flagging cars to stop by… a novelty back then, but as the novelty wore off, Belisle’s upped the game by adding a little person also dressed as a chef. They added wing on to the pink building, and a towering sign with a circus motif and changeable message board… though it almost always carried the same message: “5 out of 4 eat here.”
But all good things come to an end, and after 40 years, Belisle’s was closed and razed in 1995. The city of Garden Grove was in constant search of something to lure tourist dollars to venture south and tried several times to come up with something… anything… that might work. Their plan for the Belisle’s property was to build a world class hotel adjacent to a new “Riverwalk” shopping district, though the adjacent “river” was nothing more than a small wash. Through eminent domain, Garden Grove seized the Belisle’s place… and then nothing happened.
Maybe developers got cold feet. Maybe the land was not fit for a large complex. But for whatever the reason, Orange County mourned the loss of their beloved Belisle’s. Little did Garden Grove realize they just destroyed one of the best attractions they ever could hope for. Today there is a Red Robin on the corner where Fresh Pies were “daked baily,” and even though you can order bottomless steak fries, they pale in comparison to the load of potatoes you could get at the mighty little pink diner that once sat at the corner of Harbor and Chapman.
I had Thanksgiving dinner at Belisles when I was living here temporarily working on the OC police message system over on City Drive in 1977. Now retired and living in Irvine I crave those old-fashioned comfort food restaurants. The closest is the Freid Chicken restaurant art Knotts berry farm.ReplyDelete