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San Clemente Journal

Meet Me at Tommy’s New Owners Re-Claim the ‘50s Diner

May 19, 2014 09:41AM ● By Don Kindred

A family business, Georgette, Ed, Richard and Peter Rock.

by Bill Koelzer

When you walk into Tommy’s Restaurant on the S. El Camino Real/Valencia interface, you know suddenly that you are back in the 1950s. One look does it.

Adorning the walls, halls and even the ceilings are dozens of ‘50s-era posters of movie stars and celebrities, There’s Elvis, Frank Sinatra, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, the Beatles - and the beat goes on.

Just to the right, where a cash register normally sits on a counter, Tommy’s sits instead on the distinctive grill of a ‘50s Rolls Royce. What a time those years must have been - 65 years ago! The very time that Tommy’s was born.

With its towering “Tommy’s Restaurant” sign, highly visible from the yards-away I-5 freeway, the restaurant derives some 20% of its business from people coming off the freeway, with the rest coming from locals. 

Now Tommy’s has been renovated and brought back to life by Peter Rock, owner of Dad’s Liquor, a bit further south on El Camino Real in San Clemente, run with his wife, Georgette, and their sons Richard and Ed. 

Peter and Georgette bought Dad’s in 1976, but had always wanted to own a restaurant in San Clemente that had strong potential. When several previous owners let Tommy’s decline, and ultimately be sold, the Rock’s bought it in early 2012.

Georgette says, “Everyone said I was a good cook at home and so we incorporated some of my best recipes into the brand new menu at Tommy’s.”

“One of the unique things, cuisine-wise here,” says Richard, “is that we can customize food orders for you. It doesn’t have to be fried foods only, you can have your chicken grilled if you want, and choose your own vegetables.” 

Ed, who manages Tommy’s on a daily basis, says, “We make turkey dishes right here. We cook the turkey and we slice it here so it’s not the flaked and formed, or injected turkey…it’s actually oven baked, whole turkey breast.”
Georgette adds, “And everything is fresh. Same with the roast beef…the roast beef sandwich is oven-baked roast beef. And we also have our own meatloaf - yes, we actually make our own meatloaf.” 

Ed adds, “our hamburger meat is never frozen…it is ready formed, fresh, juicy and soft, it’s a high quality burger meat. Our milk shakes and malts have five scoops of ice cream,” Ed says proudly, “and we also have periodic ice cream specials, such as 99 cents per scoop, and those are hand-scooped, too. In late April, we even brought back old-fashioned banana splits, big in the ‘50s, but seldom found anywhere now.”

Peter, says, “We are known for our huge hamburgers - shakes, biscuits and gravy, omelets, daily-made soups from fresh ingredients - not canned, but made from scratch, much like they actually did back in the ‘50s.”

Rich recalls, “When San Clemente High School did the play, Grease, they came down here dressed in 1950s garb with cars from that same era and did a video shoot in our parking lot and inside.” 

Tommy’s has a large “community room” in the back that seats 60 people and may be reserved for special parties and occasions. The Knights of Columbus held events there as have Marines and other organizations and clubs.  

Richard says, “President Nixon often came here to dine.” Peter adds, “He had a special table in the back of the restaurant closest to a back door so that the Secret Service could best guard him without having to go through the other diners.”

Tommy’s, which can seat 150, has perhaps the biggest parking lot of any city restaurant. Ed is repeating a program from last year, “Every Wednesday, starting in May through September,” he says, “we are having a mini car show here in the back parking lot starting from four or five in the afternoon till seven or eight in the evening.”

Why go to Tommy’s? Well, you’ll get classic American cuisine with huge portions, BIG hamburgers and shakes, home-style cooking - just like they did in the ‘50s - only with modern friendly service, and never a problem parking. And while there, walk around and see all the posters…it’s your free trip into Hollywood yester-year!