With these 2 guys, doing lunch is doing the town


Roger Hohnbaum got his 10-year thank-you Tuesday night from the city of Orange. Kind of the typical workplace tip of the cap for showing up and doing your job. You could have snoozed through it, except that, as his boss noted to the City Council and the audience members, Hohnbaum, 55, has talents far beyond those of an ordinary city engineer.

The man can eat lunch. Man, can he eat lunch.

He can eat so much lunch that in the last few years, he’s eaten at 287 restaurants in Orange. And has lived to write about it, in a restaurant review guide titled “Eating Around Orange.”

I wanted to congratulate him, but not on the 10-year service acknowledgment. I got him on the phone Wednesday, and it turns out that Hohnbaum has a partner in cuisine in city maintenance manager Bob Von Schimmelmann, 54, who is both his constant lunch partner and co-author of the book.


We immediately went to speaker phone, with Hohnbaum agreeing to do most of the talking. “We go out to lunch most every day,” he says. “We’d sit in the car and say, ‘Where do you want to go eat?’ It happened day after day after day, and we finally realized we were going to the same places over and over again. We though there had to be a better way.”

You put a couple of engineers on a problem, and you’re going to get a solution. On spreadsheets. The two realized they had access to the names of all 400 restaurants in the city -- even alphabetically -- and figured, what the heck. They limited franchise operations to one location and scratched places not open for lunch. Even so, they realized they were talking about roughly 300 stops.

“We just figured it was a cool idea to get us out of the rut,” Hohnbaum says.

They had eclectic tastes but had no idea how diverse the city’s dining fare was. At least, to a point. “You have no idea how many restaurants start with the name ‘Taco,’ ” Hohnbaum says.

As the odyssey picked up steam, the two realized they were amassing some pretty good information (“We love data,” Von Schimmelmann says). They were becoming the go-to guys for colleagues wondering about places to eat. Somewhere along the way, they decided to rate the restaurants, if only to give co-workers and friends or business contacts some dining tips.

“We actually looked forward to each working week,” Hohnbaum says. “We wanted to go to work just so we could hit lunchtime.”

Eventually, they hit them all. They printed about 50 copies of their reviews and sold them to raise money as a United Way donation. Inspired by TV restaurant reviewer Elmer Dills, they rated the overall experience from 1 to 5 stars and prices from $ to $$$.

I ask if they tried to be literary in their reviews, and they humbly note they are but mere engineers. They note, however, that the title is a reference to the fact that an orange is round.


How about some other examples?

All right, they say, if I insist.

Hohnbaum reads some pithy entries:

“You won’t die here.”

“Find another place.”

“Fine food, sorry service.”

“Damn noisy.”

They had no pretensions as critics. “We don’t fancy ourselves culinary experts,” Hohnbaum says. “But we do eat.”

“And we’re pretty good at eating,” Von Schimmelmann says.

They’ve lunched on burgers and tofu and Thai food and Polish food and sipped tea with sandwiches in a Victorian tea room. Both say they’re surprised at the breadth of culinary options around town.

“We found the places we used to go to over and over weren’t necessarily the best places in the city,” Hohnbaum says.

Needless to say, the two are close friends. Their families live a block apart and hang out together.

Hohnbaum and Von Schimmelmann insist they love their day jobs. Both are career public servants but appreciate the irony of their moonlighting fame.

“We try to do great things in our careers,” Hohnbaum says, “and look what happens.”

Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana An archive of his recent columns is at