Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Claim Jumper, Los Alamitos, 1977

We recently learned that the Claim Jumper restaurant chain filed for bankruptcy and is changing ownership. The ensuing news coverage reminded me that Claim Jumper -- like Marie Callender's, Coco's, Polly's Pies and other chains -- was started right here in Orange County.
On Sept. 27, 1977, father and son business partners Carl and Craig Nickoloff opened the first Claim Jumper restaurant in Los Alamitos. (Seen in the photo above.) The 250-seat restaurant became known for its good food and large portions.
In a 1999 interview with Nation's Restaurant News, Craig Nickoloff remembered, "We were wrapped, set and ready to go for about $250,000. Those are fees to a city today for a sewer hook up."
The business' California Gold Rush theme was chosen by the Nickoloffs, who enjoyed Western movies. As they brainstormed, they kept coming back to the name "Claim Jumper."
Never originally envisioned as a chain, Claim Jumper's popularity and Craig Nickoloff's love of a challenge led to the opening of a second restaurant, then a third, ...and so on.
The first four restaurants were all in Orange County, and were built on the bones of older restaurant buildings. The fifth was opened in the City of Industry and was the first one built specifically as a Claim Jumper. Currently, there are 45 locations spread across the Western and Midwestern United States.
Interestingly, Craig Nickoloff is a third generation Southern California restaurateur. His grandfather, Nicholas Nickoloff, a Bulgarian immigrant, started Nik's Coffee Shop in Long Beach in 1957. Carl, the second generation, ran Nik's for 25 years, and Craig got his start there washing dishes in 1963.

The original Los Alamitos Claim Jumper closed its doors in the 1990s. The threshold of the restaurant, however, was removed and attached to a Claim Jumper in Long Beach.


Connie Moreno said...

Hands down, one of my FAVORITE places to eat!

Captain said...

Love CJ. I hope they can retain their legendary customer service ethic in their new incarnation.

walterworld said...

Didn't Huell Howser endorse them in one of his older episodes? I think that's where I heard about Claim Jumper the first time.

Sorry to see them go into bankruptcy. I ate there only once (early 90's), but it was quite good. Their frozen pies and other items are always of good quality.

Anonymous said...

Do you know what the street address in Los Alamitos was? I'm trying to place where it was located.


Chris Jepsen said...

I just got a response from Claim Jumper founder Craig Nickoloff, and I thought I'd share a few excerpts,...

"Thank you for the mention of my family and Claim Jumper on your blog. My father and I opened the 1st Claim Jumper in 1977, we had a great time building the company and we are grateful for all the wonderful people that we came into contact with and employed over the years. My dad passed away in 1989, I continued to build the company we started together and eventually opened 37 Claim Jumpers in 8 states. I sold the company to Leonard Green Company in 2005,...

"...Meanwhile my son, Nick Nickoloff, who is a fourth generation restaurateur has opened two restaurants in Orange County serving lunch and dinner, "Nick's Laguna" and "Nick's San Clemente", both restaurants are doing great and he is planning on expanding in the near future, I am very proud.

"My daughter and son in Law have opened a small sandwich shop in San Clemente on Pico Blvd next to the high school named 'Humphry's', they are doing great, the sandwiches are excellent.

"Thanks again for mentioning Claim Jumper and our family, we love what we do and hopefully will continue the tradition in future generations."

Anonymous said...

I hope they don't go out of business. My dad works there as a chef or cook or whatever it's called haha.

Dan Stiel said...

The original Claim Jumper is now a Hof's Hut on Los Alamitos Blvd just north of Katella. Looks pretty much the same as it did when CJ's opened there back in '77.

Anonymous said...

about Dan Stiel s last comment!yes, Claim Jumper is now a Hoff Hut, also I remember there was also a Bobs Big Boy There with the large Bob holding a hamburger ! wow what happned to Los Alamitos ! They lost our great places also on Katella there was an A&W and a Shakeys Pizza!, all gone too : (

Craig Foster said...

So I went to Los AL HS and live out of state now. There was a Bob's big boy in Los AL, correct?