Some Still Hunger for Orange Inn : Only Nostalgia Is Served Now

Times Staff Writer

The whirr of the blender blades was gone, replaced Monday afternoon with the pounding of hammers and the screech of nails being wrenched from secure berths in the weathered clapboard of the now-defunct Orange Inn.

The historic shanty, which dispensed fresh guava shakes and cottage-cheese-and-cucumber sandwiches on a barren stretch of Coast Highway for nearly two generations, was being dismantled board by board.

It was the end of an era, said would-be diners, who flocked to the restaurant at 7400 E. Coast Highway--just south of Corona del Mar--hoping for date shakes, albacore sandwiches and fruit smoothies. Though the building will be moved to Irvine's Old Towne, reconstructed and reopened later, that knowledge was not enough to satisfy the hungry on Monday afternoon.

"They can't be tearing this landmark down," said Steve Morgan, 24, of Corona del Mar, an Orange Inn patron for the past decade. "I'm just coming back from Laguna Beach, and I want a shake. I don't believe it."

But the proof was there. By 1:30 p.m., its roof-top sign was gone and the signature mural--depicting a tiny orange-and-white restaurant nestled in the hills of the Irvine Ranch--lay abandoned in the parking lot, bristling with bent nails.

The memorabilia of half a century was strewn across the scuffed green floor of the forlorn shack. A small sink was choked with plastic caps from bottles of "Just Squeezed, Pure, Fresh Orange Juice."

Crumpled napkins gathered in the corners, and two remnants of something in the citrus family lay shriveled under the counter. They may have escaped the flashing food processor, but their fate was not pretty--abandonment and encroaching mold.

John Bodrero, 35, has operated the Orange Inn since 1972, when he became the beloved restaurant's third owner in 55 years. Bodrero's view from the cozy spot was an unusual one for the Southern California coast--untouched rolling hills across from an unobstructed vista of the Pacific Ocean.

Fame in the '30s

In 1978, the Orange Inn was touted in Esquire Magazine as one of the 10 best roadside stands in the United States, one of "the original health restaurants on the coast, dating back to the mid-'30s, when health food meant blackstrap molasses and dried prunes."

But by 1981, Bodrero's long-term lease had expired, and he began paying monthly rent to the Irvine Co., which owns the land. A complex of hotels, town houses and a shopping mall were planned for the site, leaving the restaurant's future fuzzy.

The Orange Inn finally closed its doors last Sept. 28. But Bodrero and his wife, Kathy, are quick to point out that they have opened a namesake at the corner of Cleo Street and Coast Highway in Laguna Beach.

"It's been a good moneymaker," Kathy Bodrero said fondly. "It's a nice casual place to come to work in shorts and take off and go surfing. It makes $250,000, $300,000 a year. . . . It's health food without smelling and tasting like health food."

Food on Their Minds

The stream of hungry and nostalgic customers who passed by Monday afternoon attested to the inn's popularity. People drove slowly by the disappearing restaurant, craning sun-tanned necks in hopes that the workers were doing construction, instead of destruction work. They came in Volkswagen Rabbits and bicycles, scooters and Volvos, and food was on their minds.

"A lot of people ride bikes down to Laguna or up to Newport, and everyone stops here," said Gerry P. Olswang, 23, who was moving from his Laguna condominium into a new house in Newport Beach when he had a hankering for a tuna sandwich. "I just wanted to stop for lunch. I'm starving."

Soon after Olswang's departure, Frank R. Fulkerson, 37, of Laguna Beach drove up to survey the scene. "I just wanted a date shake," Fulkerson said. "They're great."

Still, hunger takes over where nostalgia fears to tread. As Fulkerson climbed back into his late-model Cadillac, he paused, turned and delivered the final blow to the famed Orange Inn.

"I didn't know this place was closing," he said. "It's really too bad. You know, I loved this place. But there's another place farther down the road. You can go there ."

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