In the fast-changing landscape of the L.A. restaurant scene, it's rare for restaurants to have the longevity they once did. However, one group of restaurants that started in Southern California has managed to stick around for 60 years. Starting with the Reef in Long Beach in 1958, Specialty Restaurants Corporation (SRC) is a family-run business that is still innovating: The Green Room, SRC's new lounge and cocktail concept inside the Castaway, opens to the public today.
In addition to restaurants around the country in cities like Miami and Cleveland, SRC has 10 restaurants across Southern California, eight of them in the Greater Los Angeles area: the Reef in Long Beach, Castaway in Burbank, Whiskey Red's in Marina del Rey, the Proud Bird near LAX, 94th Aero Squadron in Van Nuys, the Odyssey in Granada Hills and Luminarias and Monterey Hill in Monterey Park. Each of these restaurants may have its own carefully crafted menu but they are all “view-oriented restaurants providing unique settings and memorable experiences,” says John Tallichet, SRC's current president-CEO and son of founder David Tallichet. “[They all have] large square footage with lots of amenities including event spaces, outdoor patios, open green spaces, parking lots and, in some cases, private beaches or luau grounds.” Castaway, for example, is in the hills and overlooks the San Fernando Valley, the Reef sits on the water in Long Beach and Proud Bird is nestled next to the runways of LAX.
Born and raised in Southern California, John Tallichet had the restaurant business in in his blood as he watched his father, World War II veteran David, start SRC. In 1979, at 15, John officially joined the family business as the salad boy at 94th Aero Squadron before going on to get his bachelor of science degree from USC. After getting MBAs from UC Berkeley and Columbia University, he went to culinary school in San Francisco and then worked his way up from the bottom of SRC, from busboy to assistant manager to overseeing operations. He was instrumental in rebranding the Reef in 1988, when SRC took it back from the person who had rented it from them. “Once my father passed away [in 2007], his influence began to dissipate and my vision became a driving force,” Tallichet says. “I brought in a new leadership team that was open to collaboration and growing the company. Within three years I opened the first new restaurant for SRC in 25 years.”
Now, on the company's 60th anniversary, Tallichet credits both those who came before him and his restaurants' strong ties to the community. “The company has been around longer than me and I recognize that a lot of the success is due to people before me and will continue to be successful with people after me. Nowadays you don't hear many stories about restaurant groups operating as long as we have. It seems there are more articles about restaurants closing,” he says. “For us, the key has been having unique sites, amazing views and providing memorable experiences for our guests. And due to our longevity, we've developed strong emotional connections with the local communities.” For example, he says at one point they were going to close the Proud Bird, but the community support and uprising was incredible, so they were able to negotiate a lease extension.
Many people flock to SRC restaurants for their events, from weddings to family reunions. “Since we’ve been around for 60 years, our venues have become a tradition passed down from generation to generation. We have families where the parents were married at our location 50-plus years ago and now their children and their children's children are getting married there, too,” Tallichet says. “There's another story at 94th Aero Squadron where one family comes every year for the past 13 years to take their first day of school photos on our property. And another where a couple was married at the Odyssey 20 years ago and every year they come back to celebrate Valentine's Day. The stories go on and on.”
A single weekend night at Castaway, for example, can easily have three events going on in addition to the small groups just there for dinner. But Tallichet insists that all guests are treated equally. “That's our secret, is that the person coming in with just a date or a business meeting for two people [or an event with] 200 people can have the same kind of experience where they feel that they're as important as anybody else there,” he says.
While SRC has venues all over the country, it's the community in Los Angeles that has really contributed to its success. “Starting here and kind of being here during the growth of Southern California [has been important to] our success,” Tallichet says. “But in the last I'd say five years or so, the competitiveness of the market in California has been very invigorating for us in terms of how we think about our other restaurants and what we take outside of California to our restaurants that are located in other states. But just within California, you have to be your best all the time, and I think that makes us a better operator.” Tallichet says he always challenges his team to be progressive and continue to pioneer in the industry, as he considers his dad to have done.
SRC's newest venture, a hidden cocktail lounge inside the Castaway called the Green Room, is a perfect example of the company backing its ideas with money. “[It's] different than all other bars and lounges in Los Angeles with immersive cocktail experiences,” Tallichet says. So what it is exactly? “A nod to the talent holding rooms housed in entertainment studios, [it] invokes glamour and provocation, with sensory cocktails, elevated bites, VIP service and unparalleled views of Los Angeles,” he says.
Keeping to the theme, the Green Room's cocktails are tied to famous movies: the Belle, an homage to Beauty and the Beast, is grapefruit and rose vodka, St. Germain and lemon juice served in a bell jar below rose petals and dried plumeria. The Flying Dutchman, a tribute to Pirates of the Caribbean, features two rums, Novo Fogo Cachaça, honey, allspice and lime, stirred and strained into a ship in a bottle, with a glass absinthe drip and swirling smoke, all poured over a custom anchor ice cube. The Indiana Jones–inspired Short Round is made with Macallan 12, Dolin Blanc and Suze, served over a bed of wheatgrass with a smoking skull that oozes dry ice, with a rubber snake and cherry-orange gelee. And the food, by executive chef Perry Pollaci, includes lobster corndogs and the Pink Brick, a meat cooked tableside on a Himalayan salt block.
Ultimately, it appears Tallichet and his father before him laid the groundwork that will enable SRC's impact on future Los Angeles communities to continue. “Even though we've been around a long time, we are not resting on our laurels. … [We're a] multigenerational family business, pioneer of themed restaurants, leader in experiential dining and dining with a view, … a progressive restaurant group focused on expanding our brands … and community-oriented. Places come and go [but] people can always rely on us to provide a memorable dining experience.”
The Green Room is located inside Castaway, 1250 E. Harvard Road, Burbank; TGRBurbank.com.