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Don Callender, who turned his mom's pie shop into the Marie Callender's chain, dies at 81

Don Callender, an entrepreneur who sold the pies that his mother baked, helping make Marie Callender's a household name, died Wednesday at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach. He was 81 and lived in Corona del Mar and Indian Wells.

Callender died from injuries he suffered in a fall in 2007, his wife, Katy, said Saturday.

Marie and her husband, Cal, sold the family car for $700 in 1948 to set up a wholesale bakery in a converted Quonset hut in Long Beach, and Marie worked there at all hours producing pies that Cal and Don sold to restaurants.

"There were only three of us, and there were no machines," Marie said in an interview for a 1986 Los Angeles Times story. "We had three rolling pins and this old oven, and we used to work all night."

They made money, but not a lot, and 16 years later when they were baking several thousand fruit and cream pies a day, Don Callender persuaded his parents to open their own restaurant.

The first Marie Callender's Pie Shop, serving pie and coffee, opened in Orange in 1964, with an oven in the window so customers could see their pastries being made.

A few years later Don Callender, who oversaw the business, added soup and sandwiches to the menu, then opened more restaurants. He continued to expand, and by the time he sold the company in 1986 to Ramada Inc. for a reported $80 million, the chain had grown to 120 locations nationwide. Marie Callender's restaurants are now a subsidiary of Castle Harlan Inc.

Callender stayed on for a while as a company executive and franchisee who could often be found cooking in the Newport Beach Marie Callender's, but he eventually broke with Ramada.

He became an avid pilot and, always looking for the next business opportunity, launched the Babe's Bar-B-Que Grill chain in Rancho Mirage in 2002.

"The fact of the matter is you've got to pay your bills," Callender told The Times in 1986, explaining his drive. "You work partly out of being scared of going broke."

Donald W. Callender was born Sept. 27, 1927, in Ventura and grew up in Long Beach. He developed his enterprising spirit as a youth, toiling at not one but two paper routes, and delivering chickens and eggs while attending Long Beach City College before focusing on the family pie business.

Marie Callender died in 1995, 11 years after Cal.

Callender's survivors include Katy, his wife of 31 years; their son, Lucky; his children from a previous marriage, son Glen and daughter Cathe Sprunk; and four grandchildren.

claire.noland@latimes.com

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