Burbank restaurant still riding the wake left by Huell Howser

Marisa Sanders remembers when television icon Huell Howser wandered into Burbank’s Tallyrand restaurant two years ago.

She gushed when he sat in front of her in a swivel chair at the diner’s counter.

“I said, ‘I just want you to know — I know who you are,’” she recalled. “‘My husband is your No. 1 fan.’”

[For the Record, Jan. 14, 2013: A previous version of this story mispelled Marisa Sanders' first name.]

By the end of Howser’s meal, the 20-year Tallyrand waitress had shared the whole history of the family-owned diner, including that both owners had met their respective spouses at the restaurant, and that it’s famous for its hot turkey sandwich.

Three days later, Howser was back.

“He said, ‘I want to make a show here,’” recalled co-owner Mark Thomas. “I was like, ‘OK, well, let’s do it.’”

After the show aired in July 2010, diners flocked to Burbank from as far as Newport Beach and Palm Desert.

“This place was jammed for a little while,” said Art Mattison, who said he’s been a daily regular at Tallyrand since 1976. “When they showed back up it was always like, ‘What’d they do, rerun it on TV or something?’”

Online, after re-runs, Tallyrand’s website hits would spike to 4,000 from the daily average of 80, said co-owner Karen Ross.

The television host died Jan. 6 at his home in Palm Springs. He was 67.

Last week, it was as if the show had aired once again. Hot turkey sandwich sales more than doubled — from roughly 30 a day to 80 — in the days after his death, Ross said.

She recalled four customers in their 30s who all ordered the hot turkey sandwich on Tuesday.

“They said, ‘We want to memorialize Huel, we want to sit where he sat,’” Ross said.

One shared his first Tallyrand experience in 2010. The man had a flight to catch out of Burbank, but when he saw Howser’s segment, he delayed his flight so he could taste the famous sandwich, Ross recalled.

“He had a great gift for making people shine, ordinary people doing their thing,” Ross said of Howser. “He found a little spark in Tallyrand.”

Fans continued to trickle in toward the end of the week.

“They all want the Huell Howser special,” Sanders said.


Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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