Restaurant Chain Founder Callender Dies : Obituary: Laguna Hills resident, whose pie shop grew into a multimillion-dollar business, succumbs to cancer Saturday. She was 88.


Marie Callender, who turned a mom-and-pop pie shop in Long Beach into a multimillion-dollar restaurant chain bearing her name, died Saturday at her home in Laguna Hills. She was 88.

Callender had been ill with cancer and died about 3:30 p.m. at the Rossmoor Regency residential community, Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Lynn Nehring said.

“She was a fantastic woman and she will be sorely missed,” said Ruth Walter, Callender’s sister-in-law. “She’s left quite a legacy. I guess her name will be around quite a while.”


Born in 1907 in South Dakota, Callender traveled west with her family, marrying Cal Callender in 1924 when they were both 17.

Together with her husband and son, Donald, Callender opened their first pie shop 47 years ago in a Quonset hut in Long Beach.

At a Beverly Hills luncheon in 1986, she recounted those early days.

She said she answered a help-wanted ad seeking someone to assist in opening a delicatessen. She worked part time there, making salads and hot treats.

“Then the owner opened a little snack bar and he wanted me to make pies in there,” she said. “Well, that was impossible because the oven wasn’t the right type. So my mother and I made pies in our kitchen at home, and he picked up the pies there. Then he invested in a bakery in Long Beach, so I went down there and was supposed to make a few pies.

“I didn’t know anything about making pies like that. One Saturday, I made 100-plus pies myself. And I was dragging around 100-pound sacks of flour. So I told this man, Mr. Black, ‘I’m going to quit this because I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m tired.’

“He said: ‘Well, why don’t you take the oven, start a pie business yourself, and I’ll buy pies from you?’ ”

That’s exactly what she did, along with her husband and son. Cal Callender died in 1984.

The Callenders sold the family car, leaving them with $700 after household bills were paid.

They bought baking utensils, rented a Quonset hut in Long Beach and began selling pies in 1948.

“We used to work all night,” she said.

After a decade of mainly wholesale baking, the Callenders decided to aim for bigger profits by expanding to a pie-and-coffee shop. The prototype of Marie Callender’s restaurants, their first shop opened in 1962 on Tustin Avenue in Orange. First-time visitors received a free slice of pie and cup of coffee.

“The fact that we put the oven in the window, so people could see the pies going in and out of the oven--I think that interested people,” she said. “That was really the start of these restaurants taking off like they did. It’s just gone beyond our expectations. And who’d ever dream of anything like this?”

Later, soup and sandwiches were added to the menu, and they then built more--and bigger--restaurants with extensive menus and cocktail lounges. Their restaurants can be found in several states beyond California.

The family sold the business about a decade ago.

She and her husband retired to Orange County about 30 years ago. In her later years, Callender, who never liked publicity, was an active supporter of the Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and the Crystal Cathedral, her sister-in-law said.

Callender is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Katy Callender of Corona del Mar, and three grandchildren.

Funeral services will be private and are being arranged by Diamond and Sons mortuary in Garden Grove.