Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Belisle's Restaurant, Garden Grove (1955-1995)

Thanks to reader Dave of Tustin, here are two photos of the late, lamented Belisle's Restaurant in Garden Grove. Harvey and Charlotte Belisle opened it shortly before Disneyland opened just up the street. This popular restaurant was torn down by Garden Grove's Redevelopment Agency in the 1990s to make way for a big hotel which, as it turned out, couldn't be built on that exact spot after all. Soon, a sign reading "restaurant pads available" was posted, leading many to shake their heads at the stupidity of it all. It has now been replaced by several chain restaurants that can already be found all over Orange County.
The workmen who built Disneyland frequented Belisle's, as did noted Modern architect Philip Johnson. In fact, countless thousands visited again and again for their giant-sized portions, vast menu, "home cookin'," and small town, family-run atmosphere.
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I met Ronald Reagan once. He was speaking in Garden Grove. Guess where he went for lunch afterward. Yep. Belisle's for meatloaf!
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It's not easy to find, but if you're interested in the history of Belisle's, I recommend Charolette Belisle's book, Orange County and Life Before Disneyland: The Story of the World Famus Belisle's, 1955-1995. Her book gave me a new respect for restaurant owners and just how much hard labor goes into operating a popular establishment.
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The photo below is from 1980 and cames from an old online auction, I think.

58 comments:

Lyght55 said...

The place closed when I was 5, but I sure do remember passing that restaurant (I specifically remember the sign) on the way to and from my grandma's.

Red Robin, Outback Steakhouse and Joe's Crab Shack are there now.

Anonymous said...

Typical of our elected officials to decide what's good for us without asking. Belisle's would probably still be there if not for them. I miss that wonderful place, and we could eat for days after going there with just the leftovers we took home.

Surfing Grandma of OC said...

WOW...Not that long ago, I was just talking about Belisles to my husband. I grew up in the OC, he in the IE.I was describing it to him, Funny I just assumed everyone knew of Belisles it was so popular and so good. I think the 80's was the last time I ate there.
=-(..moved to Missouri came back and it was gone..I really hated that, i was very sad actually.. Thanks for posting this. I love your blog and it helps me keep my childhood memories fresh!

Kevin Kidney said...

I loved Belisle's and remember most of all the giant "volcano mountain" strawberry pies. The food was enormous, a precursor for "big food" restaurants to follow (Claim Jumper). I consider Belisle's to be significant in the history of Disneyland, as the two grew up together, serving the same audience.

It should never have been torn down. The week the building was destroyed, I was in meetings across the street. There was a huge pile of rubble in the Belisle's lot and, naturally, I had to grab a chunk of bright pink-painted rubble. I still have it.

Anonymous said...

I grew up a few miles north west of Disneyland... and I guess I lived a sheltered homebody life cause I only remember going to Belisle's once with a group of friends.

Pretty lame that the city tore it down, then made room for restaurants there anyway! I think they were interested in tearing out anything that looked older than 1990.

Anonymous said...

Belisle's -- "Where food was first created!"

Doug said...

Belisle's was a legendary establishment. I remember the lines of people outside on Sunday mornings. Also remember seeing a large man dressed in a chef's costume holding a bell and waving to people driving through the Harbor & Chapman intersection.

The Garden Grove Redevelopment Agency also was responsible for the destruction of several blocks of beautiful Craftsmen period homes. Through the 1970s to early 1990s, the agency showed little regard for historical and cultural sites & resources within their acquired properties. This agency was also responsible for demolishing the National Register Eligible "Garden Grove Japanese Language School" structure and site.
Redevelopment Agency are sometimes very dangerous and have little oversight. A good ref. is the publication "Redevelopment: The Unknown Government" Sept. 2002, Edited by Chris Norby ( who was OC Supervisor, 4th District).

Kevin Yee said...

I most recall the heaping serving of fries. They were so tasty!

Chris Jepsen said...

I'm glad this post is bringing back so many memories. Keep 'em coming!

Doug: Yes, the Japanese Language School is a subject I'd like to cover on this blog sometime soon. As for the "big chef" advertising Belisle's on the sidewalk, did you know that they also had a "little person" in a chef's hat who used to do the same thing? I think the PC-police finally busted them on that one. Oh, and for the record, Norby is still an O.C. Supervisor.

Kevin: I love that you saved some pink rubble. I also have a habit of saving bits of historic buildings, but I'm afraid I missed Belisle's.

Doug said...

Glad to hear Norby is still involved.
I have been away from OC politics for a long time. Moved to Tulare County...the land of Good Ol Boy politics in the early 1990s. My wife and I could not afford OC housing prices.
I do in fact remember the little bell ringer.How times and the world have changed.
Our family went to chuch around the corner from Belisle's...I think I longed to be in the restaurant eating pancakes and drinking coffee,
Thanks Chris.

Craig Boyd said...

Thanks Chris. I lived in Anaheim and Fullerton from 1955 til 1979. When I was a boy, my family would often eat at Belisle's. In the evening, Harvey was always there greeting the patrons. There was live dinner music on the piano.

Doug mentioned the "large man with a chef's hat" outside, waving to passers by; but I remember that there was also a midget.

Craig Boyd (Magnolia H.S. '64)

Doug said...

Craig, Maybe the waving man seamed so large, because I was such a little kid. Thanks.

Craig Boyd said...

Doug. No, you remember correctly. There was also a large man, and sometimes a lady, too.

Re. the piano. The musician would play requests. I, with my brother and sister had just seen "Mighty Joe Young" at the Fox Theater (Center Street, Anaheim). The movie featured the song Beautiful Dreamer. He played that for us (gave him a $1 tip).

Craig

brentjthomas said...

I am sorry to read that Belisle's closed. I moved to New Mexico from Orange County in 1995, the year this wonderful restaurant closed, and did not know of this closure until now. I was planning on visiting Disneyland with my wife sometime soon(I worked at Disneyland as a pastel portrait artist in the early 90's)and was hoping to enjoy a massive breakfast at Belisle's. Sad.
In 1981 I first visited Belisle's after the prom, with my date and several friends (all from El Modena High School).
Is there any place like Belisle's near Disneyland anymore (a place with huge servings and lots of character)?

Lisa said...

Lets knock down all the family owned businesses and replace them with stamped out chain ones with no warmth or personality and corporate minded staff. Belisle was unique. A one of a kind. I wsa sorry to see it go

Anonymous said...

We used to eat there frequently when we lived in Huntington Beach and always took family members there when the visited. Moved to Virginia in '93 and was shocked that it was gone when we we went back to visit friends. It was a great place to eat.....

And sadly, even though my last name is Belisle, I wasn't a close relative.....just a good customer.

Anonymous said...

Belisle's didn't change with the times. What the public wanted in the Fifties wasn't what folks preferred in the Nineties. Belisle's was already in trouble before the city bought them out, the victim of competition and changing tastes. Sorry, but some things don't last forever and probably shouldn't.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I both grew up in Garden Grove and remember this restaurant fondly. We fortunately got to take our boys there before it was torn down and I can still see their faces when someone near us ordered the gigantic breakfast -you know, the one with a dozen eggs, a loaf of toast, a plateful of bacon, etc. Unbelieveable! So much for "progress!"

Anonymous said...

I don't remember a big man or a midget standing outside dressed as a chef but I do remember young boys (my brother was one of them) who would wave as the cars went by. At times he rode his unicycle - Harvey was always thinking of new ways to attract attention. I also worked there mid 60's to mid 70's and it was mostly a blast and a lot of hard work. EVERBODY went to Belisle's, from actors to professional ball players to race car drivers (is OCIR still around?)and politicians. I remember Shirley (Cha Cha)Muldowney, Don (the Snake)Prudhomme, Reggie Jackson and personally waited on Lou Ferrigno. Did you know that Lou was deaf? He was the nicest guy and I never in my life saw a man with such a tiny waist and such huge shoulders, impressive. My mom waited on Cesar Chavez during the grape & lettuce strike and to his credit he walked the talk. He asked my mom to make sure that no lettuce or grapes were in his meal. The place was always packed every Fri & Sat night with people standing outside waiting to get in and Harvey always made sure something special would be available from the praline candy at the register to the anthuriums on the tables - and of course the hand made strawberry pies. He also drove his little trailer to the fruit & vegetable market in LA every morning so his customers got the very best produce. And don't forget all the clever writing on the windows mostly done by Harvey's son-in-law. It was a unique, one of a kind little piece of heaven full of fascinating characters. A favorite of mine was a former chief of police who heard Dillinger might be coming this way and spent the night in the church steeple as it was the highest building in OC at the time and he wanted to see him coming or the stories about him taking a not so sober John Wayne to his home in Newport Beach and remarking that John was always a gentleman about it. Belisle's was just a cool place full of food & life, and that's how I like to remember it. Nothing stays forever and it would be pretty boring if it did, I was just grateful for the ride.

Anonymous said...

My first job was at Belisle's restaurant when I was 16. Worked graveyard on Fri/Sat nights pearl diving. That was 1970. OC was a blast then....I remember lots of orange groves and strawberry fields. The strawberry festival was always fun. Went to Bolsa Grande HS and the festival grounds were in that park right next to the HS. I've relocated and the thing I miss the most is Huntington Beach.

Yvette said...

Wow...the memories! Belisle's was such a fantastic establishment! My folks owned a fine-dining, French restaurant on Garden Grove Blvd & Harbor for 30 years...but you just can't eat French food ALL the time. So, a few times a week, after work, I'd meet up with my husband and a couple of friends at Belisle's. Belisle's was open around the clock which was especially great for those of us who worked 'til midnight...and my son still remembers Sunday afternoons there. He thought it was the neatest place in the world with their giant strawberry pies topped with oodles of fresh made whipped cream.

I really miss that place. I miss their Monte Cristo sandwiches and giant slices of chocolate cake. I miss their ambiance. I miss the staff. It's a shame Belisle's was torn down for no good reason!

Well, thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. Perhaps you or someone will post a menu from Belisle's. I'd sure love to have a copy.

Meredith said...

Simply, the finest restaurant ever placed on the planet Earth. It could never be replaced. Garden Grove should rebuild with Belisle's Daughter back where she belongs. I remember her. Met her when she was 15. She is in her 50 now but she could do it. Heck, I would go to work there. Meredith Rhule

Tenn. Tom said...

this one of our familys favorite restaurants when we visited southern California. I have a menu and small colored postcard from the restaurant I would like to sell if anyone is interested. contact me fuhrman@hotcom.net their meringue pies were something to die for. 3-4" high meringue.

Anonymous said...

My Mother Emma Poe worked there for 26 years as a waitress and I am sure many of you knew her...she passed away in 1999 and was very saddened when they closed.

Anonymous said...

Every time that I drove down from Seattle I stopped and ate at Belisle's Restaurant. A co-worker in Seattle also knew and enjoyed the charm of the restaurant. Somethings you don't mess with.

Rev. Dr. John Benjamin Tatum, D.D., Ph.D. said...

Beslile's was a place that I ate at every chance I had. I was born in Anaheim, and grew up in Anaheim Hills. But if I was hungry, and wanted to leave a restaurant full, it was always Beslile's that I went to. It was a very sad day when they closed.

Anonymous said...

Here's a fun story for ya. My Grampa Al lived in Garden Grove and he owned a Jeep with a wench on it. Each weekend, while Belisle's was packed with couples who had left the dance, wherever it was, and driven to Belisle's for a late night meal. The sprinklers in the nearby Orange fields would turn on and sink a few cars into the ground. He'd get a free dinner for pulling them out, every weekend. Sincerely, 4th generation Grover, Josh McIntosh

Chris Jepsen said...

Thank you for sharing all these memories, everyone! Keep 'em coming!

@Josh: Are you any relation to my pal Doug McIntosh of Northern California?

don krischano said...

I USED TO WORK THERE,IT WAS MY FIRST JOB. I WAS ONLY 10 YEARS OLD IT WAS 1968,HARVY HIRED ME AS ONE OF THE LITTLE CHEFS THAT WAVED OUTSIDE AND OPENED THE DOOR FOR PEOPLE,I'M SORRY TO HERE IT'S GONE, I STILL HAVE ONE OF THEIR MENUES FROM 1968.REST IN PEACE HARVEY......

David said...

My family went there regular every year. We would drive from home in Las Vegas and visit Disneyland and eat at Belisle's....without fail. Great, friendly staff, huge helpings....made so many memories.

Anonymous said...

I remember the outrages portions. I ordered some of the breakfasts. My vavorite was the steak and eggs. Good lord a huge piece of steak and a dozen jumbo eggs. Of course I did't eat all myself my family and I shared it. And I used to order the dagwood sandwich take it home and make sandwiches for a week. O the good old days.

Anonymous said...

I live off of Habor Blvd back in the 70's. Went to Belisle's for many occasion, does anyone remember the Ostrich eggs in the pie case? I had goat chops there on my birthday once. Funny how the internet has ben able to rekindle fond memories. So sorry they closed, awesome place awesome food!

Anonymous said...

I too was a Little Chef back in 1968. I was 11 at the time. I got paid .75 cents an hour plus all I could eat. I made enough money to buy myself a brand new bike which I rode to work after school from Parkview Elementary in Garden Grove. I remember how all of the Belisles worked there; dad, mom and a bunch of Harvey's kids that didn't want to be there. My, how they used to argue in the kitchen! It was there that I decided I wanted to be a self employed entrepreneur. But I do recall quitting the job of waving to traffic after being victimized by drive-by firecracker lobbers on the Fourth of July. An occupational hazard I suppose. Fun memories though.

Renorocker said...

I also worked there ( Chuck Reyome),as did my brothers Dale and Keith, We started as Little chefs outside waving and Dale progressed to Prep cook inside..Harvey and Charlotte were very good to all of us kids.. .75 cents per hour and all you could eat...I remember their daughter Carmen and her husband Harry..Phil Mondragon worked there too... Chuck & Keith are pictured on the post card...Not sure who is in the middle...Anybody have any mementos from the restaurant....I got chills reading the posts... Great...

EDGE said...

Cleaning out my desk & found their menu stuck away in the bottom of a never-touched drawer!

Robin said...

Wow what a trip down memory lane! I grew up in Hawthorne and would make the half hour drive to Belisle's at least once a week. I remember the strawberry pie and when I would order breakfast the sunny side up eggs were huge (I didn't know about jumbo eggs at the time). Right now I am living on Vashon Island in Washington State and have been here since 1985. One of the first places I googled was Belisle's because I am home sick...I am very sad it has been torn down :(

Anonymous said...

I worked there as a cashier and quickly with the help of Carmen I moved to morning shift waitressing and I fondly remember Marge who got there at 6AM and then another gal would arrive at 7AM, and who's name I do not recall and then I myself came on at 8AM shift.
One morning my cat was going crazy scratching her ear and I realized she had a foxtail in her ear. My cat needed medical attention and I immediately called the restaurant to say unfortunately I needed to be a few minutes late. Someone said ok and to the vet I went, and then right to work as quick as humanly possible.
I'll never forget this - the day was May 5 - Cinco De Mayo- we had to dress with mexican flair. Note:I'd never been late or missed work before-----
I get inside restaurant and come to find the 7AM gal never showed up or call-- so poor Marge had been on floor working alone for 2.5 hours...........I go straight out to my station take a large party breakfast order then headed into the kitchen to drop it off and Harvey was at the counter drinking coffee-- he stops me and says to me "What are you doing here?" I said my cat had foxtail/ vet yadda yadda---------HE SAID well if your cat is more important to you then my restaurant then you should stay home with your cat and he then informed me that he took me off the schedule for 2 weeks and that meant NO PAY = punishment Harvey style! So Greyhound bus had a special roundtrip anywhere in US at the time for like $89.00 and I went on a vacation. Crabby Harvey wasn't gonna rain on my parade!

Winston BeLisle said...

Interesting seeing this.. they might've been a relative of mine...

Trish said...

Wow ! This brings back so many memories! I was 1st at Belisle's in 1966. I had just turned 18 and was beginning to discover my new found freedom.
I would start out the evening with my girlfriends at about 9:00. Our 1st stop was at "Gold Street" for an evening of dancing. Those were the days of the "go-go" dancers. Harvey Belisle's son, Gerard, played in the band at Gold Street. When the club closed at about 2:00 am, we would all make our way to Belisle's for breakfast. I still can't believe that I would get home at about 3:00 am and get up the next morning to go to work. That was the beginning of an addiction that is a most wonderful memory. Night after night party...day after day work!
At 65 now, I value that time in my life when I was able to play and work and need almost no sleep.
Belisle's contributed to a treasured time in my life's adventure.

Anonymous said...

I am late coming to this party, i worked at Belisle's in 1984-1991-2. I worked hard and have many stories i could share. The best story is the wonderful friends I met and kept there. I still stay in touch with all my friends and i miss Harry very much.

Anonymous said...

Remember the girls on the swing hanging from the sign? That's what I wanted to do when I grew up (well, that or mermaid at Disneyland). My dad owned and operated the juke boxes that were on the tables in the 60s.

Dennis Cable said...

Just thinking about Belisle's today and wondering if it was still there so I Googled it and found this site. In the early 80's we were on vacation with another couple from Ohio. We were on a bus headed back from Universal Studios and the other couple were seated behind a young lady, her mother and young son who was in a stroller. When we arrived back at our hotel the guy told me that the lady was the wife of Bob Boone (Angels' catcher at the time). [Who would the son have been?]. Anyway they had told him of this terrific place to eat where the team members frequented...and we ended up at Belisle's for supper. I still have pictures of the meal, the pies, etc and will never forget the pink stucco exterior and the fantastic memory!

Gary S. said...

I also worked at both of Harveys places, Goldstreet and Belisles restaurant. I started as busboy and later a breakfast cook. I also made a ton of strawberry pies. On weekends I worked the coke bar at Gold Street. I also lived upstairs at the club. Great memories. I am now 68 living in Indiana. I Would like to hear from others from there. Gshanabarger@hotmail.com

Cleve said...

oh my god i loved belisles... I've only been there once when i was a kid, but i never forgot about that place there is definatly no restaurant today that can match belisles for quantity and quality of food... what a great place to bad it's gone.. maybe if i win the lotto i will start a restaurabnt like belisles.. lol

Anonymous said...

I remember Belisle's we would drive by it all the time on the way to a big store called White Front. 1963-? I remember a very sweet little waitress from the 1986 or so named Susan Hopkins, wow was she a hard worker she worked there and Bob's Big boy across the street, she saved her money and bought herself a condo not to far from there. all the nice people that we met gosh do those nice people still exist?. what fantastic memories..to bad the city took the restaurant in such an awful way. shame on you Garden Grove city.

Anonymous said...

When I was attending UC Irvine in the 80s somebody said to go to Belisles if I ever got hungry - I did, and I never forgot the experience! Their giant breakfast was a sight to behold, no way you'd ever finish it by yourself, so my friends and I would dig in and there'd still be food left over!

Since we're remembering restaurants that are no more, I miss the Parisol restaurant on Seal Beach Blvd., it wasn't as grand as Belisles' place but it was closer to where I lived and another spot that closed before it's time. If there's a lesson to be learned from all of this, then I suspect it's to visit and patronize places you like now because at sometime in the future they won't be there, alas.

Vickie said...

my mom, Emma worked the graveyard shift there for 22 years and is in the book... she was heartbroken when they tore the place down. She waited on many of the imagineers from Disneyland when it was being built including Walt Disney himself!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the slogan, '5 out of 4 ea here'?

Matthew said...

Absolutely remember the sign, "5 out of 4 eat here." I remember the day me and my friend Randy played hookey from Garden Grove High and came here for lunch. We ate our first Southern Fried Steaks here. The portions were ridiculous, the gravy was plentiful, and we ate everything. We were in high school after all...and to think...we sucked it down with milk.

Anonymous said...

Great memories of an iconic place. We lived in OC in the mid 1970s and after I was on call, my wife and I and anyone else who wanted to go would invade Belisle for huge breakfasts. JB

camaroman said...

Bellisles were 2 could eat one meal and be stuffed there eclares were the best 4.50 in 1989

Anonymous said...

I USED TO WORK THERE WHEN I WAS 10 YEARS OLD, WEARING A CHEFS OUTFIT AND WAVING AT CARS.

Anonymous said...

I lived near Bellisles, went there a lot after night clubbing and on Sundays! Lived in Anaheim early '80's across the street lived one of the chefs, big burley guy, rode a big ass Harley!! Not sure if he was related, really nice guy! Really really too bad they tore the place down, grew up on Orange County, everyone knew of Bellisles !! Glad I had the opportunity to enjoy the place!! Forgot, my first Beef(French) Dip was there, my God was sooo huge! I still compare those of today , no comparison !!

Anonymous said...

I, like Trish, started going to Goldstreet in 1966 where Mr. Belisle' son Gerald played with his band. It was an 18 and older club which served colas and cherry coke was my favorite. We loved to get up and dance before the band started their set to the sultry jazzy tunes being played. I can't remember the name of the band, but they were great. Did they have a hit with something "Blue" in the title? (This place turned into Pinnacle Pete's)

Later we'd go to Belisle's for the food and to people watch. I was one of the first girls to wear mini skirts, and loved them, the more glittery and silvery the better. Remember "baby dolls"? And "stacked heels" and "switches and wiglets" Fun times...

Anonymous said...

Oh, I remember too that this restaurant was going to change owners or did so before it was torn down. We ate there the last year it was still standing and the energy within the restaurant wasn't as lively as before.
We went there for years after going to dance places (St. George and the Dragon; Big Daddy's; the Playboy Club, etc.) as well as music concerts. You knew you would find the place open and it was always hopping. Noisy, crazy and fun with great food.

Anonymous said...

So sad to hear it's gone, but grateful for the memories. My husband and I lived about 5 min. away in Garden Grove in the mid 60's. When the nights were hot and we couldn't sleep we'd head over to Belisles at 2 or 3 AM for an early breakfast. Steak and eggs fit for a king. I once ordered a fruit salad for lunch. It was served in a half watermelon filled to the brim. And not one of these little puny things they sell today. The things that are done in the name of progress! What a waste.

maddoginthefog said...

Visiting my home of Orange County for the first time
in decades and I am very sad to learn that Belisle's is no more. I remember fondly the "Welcoming Chef" standing out front, waving a spatula. And the food! Oh, my, the 8-layer Dagwood sandwich (does anybody remember Dagwood sandwiches? I don't think current readers of Blondie are familiar with the term...). And of course, the Picnic Platter. A bit of everything that was on the restaurant's enormous "Daily Special's" page.
Along with Arnold's Farmhouse, two of America's best restaurants have "left the country."

Anonymous said...

I'm a Cali Boy born and raised in California, and Harbor and garden grove blvd was one of the intersections I use to frequent with my mom. My grandpa use to have a gas station about 2 or 3 blocks away from Belisles. We knew the owner. Another classic place that use to be there was Yogi's Arcade loved that place growing up.