Five Crowns ambassador celebrates 50 years at Corona del Mar restaurant

During his weekend shifts at the Five Crowns, Tommy Martin will shuffle swiftly between the kitchen, narrow passages and dining rooms to greet patrons and see to their needs.

Martin, whose presence at the restaurant with an English country inn theme has been as consistent and comforting as the Yorkshire pudding and creamed spinach, is celebrating 50 years on the job. He continues to serve generations of the same families and yet forms new friendships every evening.

Five Crowns gave him the honorary “guest ambassador” title for his hospitable service.

“I love being here,” Martin, 75, says on a Friday afternoon before the fine dining establishment in Corona del Mar opened for dinner. “I love the people. I got lucky; it’s the biggest part of my life.”

The Corona del Mar resident, elegantly turned out in a jacket and tie, straightened a jeweled crown pin and a name tag above his heart that read, “Tommy R.R.”

The “R.R.” is a tribute to a deceased guest whom Martin honors daily.

In 1980, he met his best friend, Chuck Jones, the famed animator who drew the Road Runner character and so many others for Warner Bros.

Before Martin became a regular runner, he was an avid tennis player who darted around the court. His friends nicknamed him “Road Runner” for his speed.

One night, Jones, who lived in Cameo Shores with his wife and daughter, was dining at Five Crowns. Jones asked for something to draw on and sketched the Road Runner with a tennis racket and signed it.

Throughout their decades of friendship, Martin considered Jones a father figure. Martin even joined the Jones family when the animator received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Each Father’s Day, Martin and Jones’ daughter celebrate the life of the cartoonist, who died in 2002. Martin continues to wear a “Looney Tunes” tie and pin.

“What he gave from his heart was so much more important,” Martin says. “Meeting Chuck Jones and gaining employment at Five Crowns are the biggest moments of of my life.”

Martin grew up in Liverpool, England, and left school at 16 to help support his family — his father died when Martin was only 2 — as a page boy.

For eight years, he worked as a steward on the Queen of Bermuda, a cruise ship that sailed between New York City and the British Island Territories. He found the East Coast winters harsh and moved west when a former cruise colleague offered a room in Costa Mesa.

In 1968, he joined Five Crowns after being drawn to the steakhouse’s landmark red telephone booth.

He started as a bartender and eventually became wine captain and then guest ambassador.

In 2011, the Newport Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau honored Martin with the Rosalind Williams Service Excellence Award.

“It’s not the Five Crowns without Tommy here,” says Kenyon Paar, general manager. “He’s always effervescent, positive, has a compliment, and he remembers everyone’s name and what they drink. He makes it a community rather than just a restaurant.”

Five Crowns is a favorite of judges and politicians, a hangout for social figures and celebrities, and a popular choice for birthday and anniversary parties and, occasionally, visiting heads of state. Martin has served Richard Nixon and Elizabeth Taylor, two of the bigger names on a long lists of VIPs.

Taylor, whom Martin recalled as as friendly and pleasant, ordered mashed potatoes, which were not on the menu that night. Martin asked the chef, who complied with the request.

After presenting the plate to Taylor, he circled back and asked for her autograph.

“You don’t think I got the mashed potatoes for nothing, right?” Martin quipped to the Hollywood star.

Quicker than you can say, “Suddenly, Last Summer,” five decades have passed for the Five Crowns’ ambassador.

“I love it here and I feel very blessed for having this job,” Martin says. “There’s not a better family or company to work for. We have a good marriage.”

kathleen.luppi@latimes.com

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi

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