La Verne Magazine
New Heroes Descends Upon Downtown La Verne
by Danny Eckardt
photography by Naoko Yokota
Boyhood friends Jack Franklyn III (left) and Tony Spencer (right), co-owners
of the new downtown restaurant Heroes, discuss plans with Larry Richardson
(middle), a sign artist. "I've been wanting to own a restaurant for
10 years," says Spencer. "The small size of this store is perfect,"
says Franklyn III. The co-owners are getting help with the construction
from their families and friends, and are giving the restaurant, formerly
the University of La Verne Bookstore, an antique look. Heroes was scheduled
to open in early May.
What once was the University of La Verne Bookstore in Old Town La Verne
has become an upstart restaurant named Heroes, which is co-owned by longtime
friends Jack Franklyn III and Tony Spencer.
"I've been wanting to do this for 10 years," says Spencer.
Both entrepreneurs grew up and met in Orange County, where they found
their love for the restaurant business early on.
Taking separate routes after high school, Spencer went on to earn an
associates of arts degree while working at a Sizzler in Orange County, while
Franklyn III immediately dove into the restaurant scene through bartending
and waiting on tables at Magnolias Peach.
"It's something me and my buddies all did, because it's decent
money for not having an education," says Spencer.
"If he [Tony] had the money, he would have done it [built a restaurant]
in Claremont," says Roy Spencer, Tony's father.
Now the two friends have come together in hopes of making a third Heroes
restaurant in Southern California a success.
"It is the thrill of accomplishing something," says Franklyn
III. "I have built all my own stores with the help from family and
Franklyn III, originator and owner of a Heroes in both Fullerton and
Claremont, agreed on the perfect fit for Heroes in Old Town La Verne when
city manager Martin Lomeli informed him about it.
"I told them it was becoming vacant and he [Franklyn III] said
'you're kidding,' " said Lomeli. "I put him together with the
property owner and they negotiated the lease. I then put together a proposal
agreement for redevelopment assistance, and it was ultimately approved."
Even though there are six other restaurant in the Old Town area, Lomeli
believes that Heroes will compliment the others.
"I think they compliment each other tremendously," said Lomeli.
"It's a neighborhood bar and grill, and La Verne is a family-oriented
community-oriented environment that I think they [Heroes] will do fine."
Lomeli remembers his childhood days biking to Old Town La Verne and
going to the Frosty Freeze and Five and Dime stores. Now he is trying to
recreate that old feeling by maintaining the history of the area.
"I am trying to recreate that feel for all of La Verne," said
Lomeli. "I hope Heroes assists me in my goal, and I think they will."
The location and size of the 5,000-square-foot area and patio is opportune
because of its historical background and its dimensions.
"This store is the perfect size," says Franklyn III. "I
am a firm believer of keeping it small."
Heroes is a family restaurant and bar that has a 100-year-old look and
feel. When one walks into the restaurant, a warm varnished glow envelops
the eye as the glimmer of the booths and bar tops glisten. Accompanying
the old-time feel will be New Orleans Blues filling the restaurant.
"I want families, everybody, we are going to have a half dozen
high chairs," says Franklyn III. "We are a restaurant first, then
the bar takes over."
Heroes will specialize in lunch and dinner, not breakfast, according
to Executive Chef Phil Bribiesca. Working for Heroes the past 10 years has
been a great joy for Bribiesca, who has been given free reign to create
unique meals and specials.
"It's exciting, it's definitely a different challenge," says
Bribiesca. "The menu is a base menu that we have that rotates around
a lunch menu and a dinner menu. I always bring in different specials, and
a lot of my time is spent looking at new recipes. My favorite thing to cook
is probably the pastas."
Some of the new recipes could be considered exotic, although Bribiesca
humbly denies it. For example, part of the dinner menu concentrates on fish,
which includes: halibut, mahi mahi, blackened salmon and New Zealand snapper
dishes. The other main course for dinner includes steak dishes: porter house,
top sirloin, prime rib and a refined meat loaf. Don't worry about the portions,
because Bribiesca assures that they will be huge.
"Big is an understatement-huge, huge portions of food for a great
price," says Bribiesca.
Quality and quantity mesh as Bribiesca understands his clientele is
the working individual and their family. For lunch, Bribiesca's recipes
call for the traditional soup, salad and sandwich. Everyday sees a different
special as he tries to mix up the variety. Bribiesca credits knowing his
customers wants and desires as the reason for his success.
"I definitely would like to get to know the people and what they're
all about," says Bribiesca of La Verne residents. "I know that
Fullerton is different than Claremont, in that I can bring in a little bit
different specials in Fullerton than I would in Claremont and vice versa.
It's getting to know the people."
After attaining the location, Spencer and Franklyn III worked to remodel
the inside to make it look old fashioned. This task was accomplished by
varnishing the plywood infrastructure, while arranging copper-colored metal
as the background of the bar. The chairs and tables, although not plywood,
are also varnished.
The glow of the restaurant has a feel best displayed by the late 1980s
hit sitcom, Cheers.
"We are not professional stainers or painters, but it gives it
that warm feel to it that makes it seem like its been here for awhile,"
says Franklyn III.
Both owners encourage patrons to bring in their old black-and-white
wedding pictures to add to the atmosphere and spirit of the restaurant.
The reason for the pictures correlates directly with the name of the restaurant-Heroes.
"Where Heroes comes from is my parents," says Franklyn III.
"I look at my folks and go, Man I got through life, it's awesome."
Spencer and Franklyn III, both of whom are in their mid-30s, did not
want to go with a sports theme even though the name may suggest it. Heroes
will still bolster six televisions and a few black-and-white photos of sports
figures, according to Franklyn III.
To top it off, the bar offers 65 different draft beers as well as spirits
and wine. Spencer and Franklyn III began remodeling last November with the
help of family and friends, and hoped to have their doors open in April
to the surrounding community.
Spencer, who is married and has a young son and daughter, has never
owned a restaurant. His experience in managing came when he helped Franklyn
III run the Heroes in Claremont.
"He is an honest, straight laced guy-good looking-what else,"
says Franklyn III humorously. Franklyn III is also married and has two young
children of his own.
"Both of them are extremely honest, good people," says Roy
Paper work and "red-tape" can be a great hassle for new businesses,
but these two owners handle it with ease.
"You have to be patient, because there is a lot of paper work,"
says Spencer. "You have to go through the Alcoholic Beverage Control
to get your license, and all the other things before you get started."
Hard work is nothing new for Spencer and Franklyn III, who have put
many hours into constructing the interior of Heroes.
"I have about four or five hundred hours in this place myself,"
said Spencer, in early April.
The co-owners rounded up family and friends to help with the construction
so that they could keep the price of "hired hands" down.
The family spirit Heroes promotes also extends to the public, as it
gives to charities and fundraisers. "We do give back quite a bit to
the community," says Franklyn III. "Whenever there is a fund raiser
or charity drive, we are the first ones in line."
A tradition among restaurants is to have an official team, so Heroes
has decided to follow suit.
"We will definitely have a men's softball team, woman's softball
team, a little league team and a bobby sox team," says Franklyn III.
Both owners believe in opening slow. This means that there will be no
advertising, so that the staff will not become overwhelmed.
"I am a firm believer of opening up slow," says Franklyn III.
"It's just to make sure we do everything right. "One of the nicest
comments I have ever heard was from a party of four women that said, 'It's
refreshing going into a restaurant for the first time and they have their
act together.' "
The co-owners will undoubtedly use the slow but progressive approach.
For them, a new chapter in co-ownership will blossom as their lives' working
for Heroes continue.
"We want the inside to seem like it's been here for 50-60 years,"
says Tony Spencer, co-owner. "We want an old-fashioned comfortable
feeling. Heroes is a home away from home where friends meet," says
Jordan Frank, manager.