Book Review: Made in California Revisits the Nostalgia-Inspiring Restaurants of The Southland

made in california book cover photo by gail worley
Photo By Gail

I lived in Southern California until I moved to NYC at age 27; and from ages 3 to 19 (1964 to 1980) I resided in the city of Orange. The main street in my neighborhood was Tustin Avenue, which was populated with countless fast food and casual restaurants including McDonalds, Taco Bell, Marie Callender’s, A&W (Root Beer) Drive Up, Arby’s, Jack In The Box, Winchell’s Donuts, Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor, IHOP, Baskin Robbins and others whose memories have been lost to time.

mcdonalds original stand
Image Source

When I visit my family, a drive along Tustin Avenue never fails to spark a conversation about these ‘landmark’ restaurants; how the McDonalds (despite undergoing several structural renovations) is still at the same address after 50-plus years,  how the A&W became a Chinese Restaurant,  or how the architecturally unique Taco Bell was razed to build a  bank. Progress is not sentimental.

Food-associated memories, like those triggered by our sense of smell, hold the power of full transportation to our past.  Favorite restaurants remain historical touchstones, whether they’re still physically standing, or remain alive only in our memories. That’s a big reason why a sense of deep nostalgia was stirred in me when I received a copy of George Geary’s Made in California: The California-Born Burger Joints, Diners, Fast Food & Restaurants That Changed America.  For Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers especially, Made in California is like a time machine.

taco bell original stand
Image Source

Name any American food icon, and chances are its roots are in California. But what are the origin stories of these establishments ? Who started the very first branch? Where were the original buildings? What foods made them famous? And for the few that are no longer around, or that have a smaller footprint than they had in their glory days, what happened to them? Food historian and chef George Geary answers these questions and more as he takes readers on a sentimental journey of some of America’s most iconic foods in this photo-packed page-turner.

Geary tells the remarkable stories of the early 20th-century food startups that captured America’s hearts and stomachs, from Bob’s Big Boy to McDonald’s, Winchell’s Donuts to In-N-Out, Peet’s Coffee to Taco Bell. Filled with over 200 historic and contemporary photos, Geary succinctly captures the stories of these essential businesses and structures before they are gone forever.

baskin robbins original building

“In my earlier years as a food writer and professional, I would never have admitted to anyone that I actually eat at these establishments,” Geary says. “But after seeing Julia Child eat McDonald’s French fries in person and say that they were her favorite, and after hearing Anthony Bourdain claim that In-N-Out Burger was the best burger around, I knew that I, too, could come out of my kitchen and into the drive-thru. Now I get to celebrate these places in this book.”

Made in California covers iconic food establishments such as:

–    Shakey’s Pizza Parlor
–    The Brown Derby
–    The International House of Pancakes (IHOP)
–    See’s Candies
–    Orange Julius
–    Marie Callender Pie Shop (Marie Callender’s)
–    The Blimp (Carl’s Jr.)
–    Hamburger Hamlet
–    Burt’s/Snowbird Ice Cream (Baskin-Robbins)
–    Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakery (Van de Kamp’s)
–    And many, many more

Paging through Made in America felt like fondly looking through a family photo album or school yearbook, helping me relive fun memories that had been locked away for decades. It would certainly make a great gift for a friend or family member, or even for yourself, and can be purchased on Amazon starting August 17th at This Link.

One thought on “Book Review: Made in California Revisits the Nostalgia-Inspiring Restaurants of The Southland”

  1. I don’t recognize all of these but I do remember Van de Kamp’s. There was one, with the signature windmill, across the street from Montclair Plaza. We ate there a few times before it closed. Mike has told me about Tommy’s Hamburgers but I didn’t have a chance to visit the last time I was in California.

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