Friday, September 29, 2006

Remembering Villa Sweden

Anyone who remembers Huntington Beach in the last half of the 20th Century will remember the Villa Sweden smorgasbord at 552 Main St. They were known for their wholesome all-you-can eat fare and reasonable prices.

As a kid, the Swedish meatballs, dark limpa bread and jello deserts were my favorites. Many of their selections would have been right at home at any Midwestern family potluck: From cabbage roll to carrot-raisin salad.

The Backlund family came to America from Sweden in 1951 and opened the restaurant in 1961. It closed sometime between 1984 and 1990. (Anyone have an exact date?) The building now houses the Shore House Cafe.

The image above is from an Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce guidebook, circa 1974.

Link: More photos.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

It was closed in 1989 when I moved to town. Later on it was an Italian Restaurant, "Nichole's"

Anonymous said...

I was a dishwasher (worked under the supervision of Harold, the head dishwasher) and then a bus boy there when I was 14 to 15 years old in the late sixties. I loved working there with the owners, Oscar and Hurta Bachlund. All the people that I worked with there were very nice to me and I got a heaping free meal even shift that I worked. The Limpa Bread that I watched Oscar make while I washed dishes was like cake (he would give me a loaf to take home to my family) and the coffee they served (Lingle Brothers) was the best I have ever tasted. The waitresses were all beautiful and wonderful to work with, and like big sisters to me... they even gave me 10% of their tips! It was one of the best jobs a kid could ever hope for and I will forever treasure working in a mom and pop restaurant in my home town that I walked to in all hours of day and night without a care in the world...

Anonymous said...

I remember going to VS as a kid. We lived in Fountain Valley in the sixties and early seventies. I used to love the place!

Anonymous said...

There were a total of five Villa Swedens. One in Huntington Beach, one in Corona del Mar, one at Dana Point (before the marina went in)Then there was one in downtown Orange, and one in Laguna Hills. These last two were owned by Herta & Oscar's son, Sven and his wife (Me !)
I still bake that wonderful Limpa!!

Chris Jepsen said...

Wow! Thanks to everyone who's responded so far. I'm enjoying learning more about this familiar spot. And I'm glad to know that limpa bread recipe still exists somewhere. (Does anyone know why Villa Sweden closed?)

Anonymous said...

It's great to read about all the memories of the Villa Sweden! I'm one of the granddaughters of Herta & Oscar Backlund. The Villa Sweden was sold around 1986 to another family because my grandma was ready to retire and no one else in the family wanted to take over the business. The restaurant still kept running under the name Villa Sweden for a short while with different owners, but then became a Greek restaurant and then an Italian restaurant and now the Shore House Cafe. I have many fond memories of the Villa Sweden from my childhood! It's great to hear about how many other people also miss the restaurant. Thank you Chris for creating this page!

Anonymous said...

Chris, thank you for posting this about the Villa Sweden. I am the only daugther of Herta and Oscar Backlund. My name is Carin. The Villa Sweden was a dream come true for our immigrant family!

We had customers from all over Southern California that would come for the food and the Swedish Limpa Bread. My father was a smart, Swedish businessman and owned the properties that the restaurants sat on. Our family was blessed my father's wise decisions.

It was fun to read about our old dishwasher, Harold. He was a lookalike for Ronald Reagan. He wore his hair the same, too. Harold would get so mad if someone said he looked like Reagan, He was a Democrat! He always included in our Swedish Family Christmases.

I meet people all the time that wish the VS was still there. They all have good memories. We still bake our father's limpa recipe in our family.The Osmond family would come and buy 20 loaves at a time to take back to Utah.

Thank you again, for helping to remember a small, but important time in OC history. The bank would not loan my father $500.00 to open the restaurant. They said no restaurant could make it in Downtown Huntington. The Villa Sweden was open for 27 years, before our family decided to retire the business, and more prosperity came from leasing out the sites.

seasonalpeople said...

Wow! What fun! I was looking for a good Swedish cabbage roll recipe on the Internet and came upon your blog. I spent many day's of my youth working at the Villa Sweden. Carin took me under her wing and was a great influence and a blessing in my life. Some of my best childhood memories are about the people who worked at or frequented the restaurant. The Bachlund family fed many people. Not just employee's but their families as well. They had hungry people come to the back door offering to do some work in exchange for a meal. With joy, they provided the meals taking nothing in return. Along with the work and great food there was great humor and fun. If, I could go back in time, I would go there.

Debbie (Childe) Dinneen
seasonalpeople.com
seasonalpeople@seasonalpeople.com

Wild Debbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I worked at the Villa Sweden in Orange from 1971-1975. I started as a hostess, helped in the kitchen and then waited tables while going to high school. I still see several of the old employees who are all nurses or teachers now. I really miss the limpa bread and wish that I had the recipe. I watched Sven make it hundreds of times but never learned how. I also miss the rice custard, apple cobbler, prune whip, orange whip, cabbage rolls, swedish meatballs and even the lutfisk that we made at
Christmas. On Sundays we had lines of people that went out the door. We also had many banquets. I wish that we still had the Villa Sweden here in Orange again.

Paul, the Computer Tutor said...

Oh my! I am so glad I found this blog and post about Villa Sweden. I have fond memories of the Huntington Beach location (we lived in Westminster during my childhood). We went there to eat on many occasions. But what I remember the most is that wonderful Limpa Bread. (I stumbled upon this site as I am trying to find Limpa bread for Christmas Eve tomorrow night -- read on for the explanation).

My dad's parents came to America from Sweden, and every Christmas Eve, we would have a big family get-together, complete with Smorgasbord, at one of the family member's homes. We had "dop-i-groten" where you dip Limpa bread into the juices of the various meats that have been simmering a good part of the day--It is the best thing! My mom always got the Limpa bread for this Christmas Eve tradition at Villa Sweden... We probably bought 8-10 loaves or more, so we would have enough for everyone to enjoy that night, or to take home with them.

After Villa Sweden closed, I remember that the tradition always tasted different. This is because the Limpa we found at other bakeries or restaurants just was not the same. It seemed as though everyone had that same feeling. And even in recent years, as this tradition has been carried on, we (now older) family members remember and talk about how good the Limpa from Villa Sweden was.

If anyone still has that Limpa bread recipe, could you please, please post it here or e-mail it to me? Myself, as well as my siblings and cousins and, especially, my dad, would be so grateful to taste that wonderful Limpa bread, once again.

Thank you for the memories and for any help that can be provided!

Paul, the Computer Tutor said...

I guess you cannot edit a comment once it is posted...

I asked for a possible e-mail response, but forgot to leave my address.

putertutor (at) computertutorpaul (dot) com

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Chris,

My mother, Maria, was a salad maker and chief for the Sven Backland from 1971-1976 in the Villa Sweden located in OC. Ironically she does have the recipes for the dishes describe in your blog, including the Apple Cobbler that we are for New Years Eve. Now we are in search for the Backland surviving family members (his wife Carolyn or his daughter Brit). Is there any why you can help us?

Anonymous said...

Hi Ricky - This is Britt. We definitely remember you and your mom Maria. If you could leave your contact information on this page or with Chris, I'd definitely would like to get in touch with you and your family.

Anonymous said...

Britt,
Send me an email at ciecor@hotmail.com and we can continue this conversation!!!!!!!! My mother is so exited to get in contact with you!!!!!!!

Ricky

Billie said...

I used to take my daughter to VS when she was a baby along with the rest of my family. We always bought a loaf of limpa bread at the register. Does anyone have the recipe for the bread and apple cobbler? billiejean56@yahoo.com

janelle said...

Our family used to go to Villa Sweden in Huntington Beach in the 70's. I grew up in Huntington, and when my mom was pregnant with me, she used to crave the limpa bread. We used to go during special occations just to buy the bread. I remember the yummy beet/sour cream salad and the meatballs and jello dessert! Does anyone have the limpa bread recipe? My mom is turning 80 and I would love to make it for her birthday...she was also friends with the owners. Thanks for all the great memories! janelle
danaseas (at) yahoo (dot) com

Anonymous said...

We used to go to the villa sweden restaurant with my mom. I am hoping to find that recipe for bread and come close to baking it the same. Never again have i had such good bread. One of my fondest memories was going to villa sweden. A treat for us. P.s I am 50 years old and went to the one in H.B

rmn4000 said...

This is Marie Nilsson, Asta Nilsson's daughter. I am trying to locate Carin Backlund, or any of the other Backlund kids. Mom and Huerta were close friends, and actually our families were close. If you could help me locate Carin, I would be grateful.

Thank you, Marie

P.S. Yes, the limpa from Villa Sweden is hands down the best in the world.

Anonymous said...

Wow flashbacks of the past. I remember the Villa Sweden very well. I grew up in O.C. and when I got home from VietNam I moved to Huntington Beach. My older brother, Tom and I frequented the Villa Sweden often for the all-you-can eat. Too often it seems, because after many visits they recognized us as the two guys that could eat the entire resturant. They limited us to 5 refills each. Otherwise there would be nothing left for other patrons. Ha! Ha! Oh those were the days, "when I wore a younger man's clothes". Thank You for the picture and your entire blog.

Alaine Miller said...

I grew up in the block next to the Bachlunds.....anyone know where Ronnie is now? We ate at Villa Sweden quite a bit and loved it! Miss those days....

independent said...

I too worked at the Villa Sweden.
They were very kind to me during a very trying time in my life.
Carin was a true friend,and I miss her. The last time I saw her was in
1980. Please let her know I have
been looking for her. I am no longer in Alaska.
Thank you
Joanne Blank

independent said...

A added comment to my previous post
Caren and I were very involved in
Show Dogs. Joanne Childe Blank

Beverly said...

We went to Church with Ron Backlund. Ron and my husband were good friends and shared an apartment before we were married. We got engaged at VS in HB - Herta knew my now husband was going to propose to me that night, she prepared us a special dinner and desert that night. Herta taught me how to make Swedish pancakes & the best cookies ever (my Grandfather was a Swedish immigrant so I was always asking her how to make certain foods) We haven't seen Ron since 4th of July about 4 years ago. If Ron's family can pass this on to him have him contact his friend Jeff - JeffandBeverlyHobbs@yahoo.com or find us on facebook!

Anonymous said...

I used to go there with my mom at least once a week. We still talk about how we wished it was still there. loved that place. does anyone have the recipe for the chicken and dumplings?

Matthew said...

I worked there as a Busboy for 3 yrs from 81/84. Biz closed. Still working in F&B with 2 College Degrees. Nice....MJAUSTIN1000@Hotmail.com any want sahout out?

Anonymous said...

I have to add that Corrie ten Boom (a Danish Christian woman who helped saved Jews during WW2 and went to one of the famous death camps for doing so) taught a Bible study at Villa Sweden one time. Can anyone back this up?

doug said...

my wife and i had our wedding party dinner there in H.B. just prior to our wedding in jan.1978.great food.great bread.

Anonymous said...

how are those wonderful crepes made

Terrie said...

Growing up in the OC in the 1960s and 1970s, my family always went out for Friday night dinner and Villa Sweden was one of my favorites, especially because of the limpa bread. It was the best limpa I ever had and I would pick up several loaves a month during my late high school and college years. Every so often I have a craving, but other versions of limpa usually have an orange aftertaste. I was so disappointed when the restaurant closed.

Eric Koenig said...

I first saw Villa Sweden in Corona del Mar in 1965 when I was in second grade and singing in the children's choir of the (old) Lutheran Church of the Master, located about across the street on Coast Highway. We never actually went to the restaurant but I remember passing it a number of times on the road while I lived in Laguna Beach and later in Corona del Mar.

Anonymous said...

A couple of nights ago, my wife made some delicious meatballs with a rich, creamy sauce and, as I was eating them, I blurted out something like, "I haven't had meatballs this good since Villa Sweden."

I'm almost 40 now, so these memories of Villa Sweden go back about 30 years. Those must have been pretty amazing meat balls for a kid to grow up, get married, have kids himself and remember them decades later. haha.

My mom and dad took my sister and me to the Villa Sweden in CdM about once a week for... years. I don't even remember how many years. Several.

Besides how good the food was, I remember being mortified by the amount of food that my dad ate when we went there. lol I had this paranoia that we were going to get banned from there because of how much he was eating! Now I'd probably do the same thing, given the opportunity. ;)

Oh well, thanks for the fun memories and delicious food!

Kevin

Anonymous said...

My first Job 1978

Anonymous said...

I worked there in the 70s, most of my memories were very good except one night I was the only one to show up for work bussing tables, the place was packed lines out the door , I was clearing dishes as fast as I could. As I was pushing the buss cart into the back the owners son who ran the place at the time told me I would be fired if one of those dishes brakes, I thought he was joking and laughed ,that was one man with no sense of humor. I don’t know if he knew that I was the only one to show up for work that night, looking back he was pretty young to be running the place and probably wasn’t good at handling the stress, I used to see him feeding homeless people out the back door witch was a kind thing to do so he wasn’t all that bad . It was a great first job and I have a lot of great memories there

Anonymous said...

I lived in Huntington Beach from 1961 until 1992. The entire family would go to Villa Sweden twice a month after Sunday morning church. The food was very good and cheap. Once I was older it was good place to have lunch during the week as you could eat enough to explode for only a few dollars. It was with out a doubt one of my most fond memories of growing up in HB. I wish I had the recipe for my wife to make the limpa bread. Villa Sweden is the only thing I miss about HB as it's now a way over crowded city. (I know, off topic)

Scooter said...

I lived at the Villa Sweden in the Apartment with Ronnie in the early eighties. We did everything together, he loved to play Basketball at the Edison Rec Center among other sports. He was the best friend anybody could ever have. He talked me into Coaching Volleyballand Football at Voygers School located across the street from the Villa, (that's what we called it). The cook (Manny) was a God send. He worked there as long as I can remember. I remember Good old George Arnold (a HB Local) always coming in for lunch and dinner. He was awesome. Most of the other employees went to Church By the Sea on Lake St. as did I. Hans ran the store and was a great person as was Herta. Sven was very cool, he played Country Music on his Guitar before Country became popular. Great memories. forsure... BTW: Ronnie lives in Mesa Az now... Scott Perry

Anonymous said...

Amazing comments! Who would have thought so many people would have the same memories. My family always went to Villa Sweden for dinner. We still talk about the bread to this day. I can picture the smorgasbord line in my mind still today! Thank you for such great memories!

James Scott said...

I grew up in huntington beach during the sixties and all of the seventies and was just remembering the days gone by. Great picture. I now live near Virginia Beach Va on the other side of the country. I sure miss home sometimes, especially the weather.

Anonymous said...

We ate there all the time when I was living in H.B. back in the early 60's, We would go in the afternoon after work and gorge ourselves, and it usually held us over til breakfast. I think it was actually cheaper to eat here than to buy groceries and cook, and way better than my cooking skills back then. Now I know what I'll do if I ever hit the lotto big , I'll open a Villa Sweden.

Anonymous said...

I also worked as a busboy therein the late 60's and have very similar and fond memories......frank

lisamcgu said...

Our family were regulars. I loved the Owner's beautiful blond straight hair that she always wore up in a great hairstyle and she would go around and say hi to each table. I always got the mashed potatoes and meatballs and lots of big red jello squares. Do I remember they also had green salad with blue cheese dressing? Weird how that is pretty much still my ideal dinner today. My sister and I always wanted to be the one to 'pay' the chk, walking the whole 10 ft maybe to get to the register, we usually ended up sharing the big task. And the bread, how could I forget. Where I first heard the words, "Don't fill up on bread." And the butter was special too, it just melted on there so easily even a little kid could use her knife to do it. The deli at Magnolia & Adams tries to imitate the Limpa bread from Villa Sweden, and while they come close, its just not the same. Maybe I need some of those room temp little butter squares to go on it :) Would love the recipe for that bread as well - lisamcgu@yahoo.com

Carin Backlund Prelesnik said...

So nice to read all your memories.I am so overwhelmed by all the wonderful memories that people have from the Villa Sweden.

We moved to Huntington Beach in early 1960. It was a small town then. My father went to the bank and asked to borrow $500 to open a restaurant. The bank turned him down. The banker told him, " No restaurant has made it in Huntington!

My father didn't give up, using the money he had to open the Villa Sweden. It was a success from day one. He was able to open a restaurant in Corona Del Mar. The he bought the lot on the corner of Main and 5th..and built the 2 story restaurant.

Both restaurants were open for 27 and 25 years. Sometime after my father died, no one in the family was interested in running the restaurant so..my beautiful mother, Herta decided to rent out the locations to other restaurants. My mother continued her entertaining with her cooking and baking until she died..She was one awesome, Swedish Woman!!

I have had so much fun baking and sharing our Limpa bread with others. I love the response that I get..It is my father's original recipe. I just won first place at the 2013 Orange County Fair with our Limpa..So happy and excited!I think you can find the article in the OC Register on line, if you look up Villa Sweden Limpa.

Thanks for letting me share..Carin Backlund Prelesnik

Oscar Backlund was a master baker, and owned and operated his own bakery, and other businesses before we came to America. The Famous Villa Sweden bread was his original recipe.

Chris Jepsen said...

Carin,

Thak you for sharing a little of your family's history and the history of the restaurant. I'd love to know more about it for a possible future article -- Possibly for the Orange County Historical Society. If you wouldn't mind, please drop me an email at cjepsen@socal.rr.com.

In the seven years I've been blogging about every Orange County-related topic under the sun, NOTHING has garnered a larger response than this little blurb about Villa Sweden! Not even Disneyland!

Thanks again. I hope to hear from you soon.

Chris

Chris Jepsen
Local Historian
cjepsen@socal.rr.com

Carin Backlund Prelesnik said...

Chris, Thanks for your reply. So nice to hear back from you! You can email me at villaswedenlimpa@yahoo.com
I will be happy to give you my phone number, or email you any info you want..or if you would like to meet for coffee some day...I would love to meet you.

Thank you for your blog about the Villa Sweden! As a family we are so thrilled that you have done this !I do not have a bread business going, but the requests have been so great..that I am looking into selling at some events in the future.

I am also interested in hosting a Villa Sweden Reunion Picnic in the Park. Former employees, friends and Villa Sweden patrons can email me. If I get enough interest I will go ahead with the plans. I can make the limpa bread, and either make a lot of the VS dishes, or have family help;.

Thanks again, Carin

Bob Newman said...

The Villa Sweden was a family tradition, especially at Christmas. My father always called well ahead to reserve a table and get his Lutefisk. I struggled with the Lutefisk but compensated with the meatballs and Limpa. Going to VS was a special experience and we too always left with a few "extra" loaves. When the restaurants closed, it was like losing a member of the family. I've been in Limpa withdrawals ever since. If you do have a reunion, that patrons can attend and get their long lost "fix", please post a notice, rent the convention center, 50 ovens and cook teams and watch the lines form early! Thanks for contributing a highlight to my youth. I'm 67 now and live eight months in Minnesota and four here in So. Cal. (guess which four). Hope to see you at the reunion.
Bob Newman

Gary Blanchette said...

Dear God, I can't believe I found this blog. When I was growing up my Dad, whenever he was fortunate enough to work a little overtime, would take Mom and us six kids to eat at Villa Sweden. The Bachlunds must have known that money was hard to come by for our family because there was always a grab bag of goodies at the counter waiting for us when my Dad would pay. Then even after I got older and eventually got married, I would call my Dad and Mom up to meet for dinner. My Dad and I would say the same thing every time we went there, "We really should save some meatballs for the other people." Hahaha! My Dad always wanted to ask about the Meatball recipe, but was afraid to ask. Of course we stopped going there when the faces changed. My Dad died in December of 87 of Melanoma cancer and never did get that recipe. I always thought that there would be no way the Bachlunds would give it out anyway. But then for some reason today I thought I would Google Villa Sweden to see if there was any mention of family and/or recipes, and I came across this page. If anyone has access to the Swedish Meatball recipe, I would be forever grateful. My email is help4myhubby@cox.net Thank you and God bless.