Most weekday mornings you’ll find local residents Michael Brennan, Bob Haub and Dick Witucki kibitzing and solving the world’s problems over coffee at their favorite meeting place, Crocker’s the Well-Dressed Frank on Newport Beach’s Balboa Island.
“If you bring your own cup, it’s only a buck,” Haub said.
When John DeFrenza and his wife, Victoria, opened the 600-square-foot restaurant in March 2014, they had no clue of the volume to expect. That was on a Saturday, and come Monday morning, they had nothing left and couldn’t open for business.
Since then, they’ve learned about availability, quality and food preparation, DeFrenza said. “See it on paper, and it runs very different in the real world.”
The DeFrenzas, who have lived on Balboa Island for seven years, had very different backgrounds before they entered the restaurant business. John is an architect who continues to run his own firm, JDA Associates in Costa Mesa. Victoria is a self-employed real estate broker.
For the third consecutive year, Crocker’s the Well-Dressed Frank — which specializes in hot dogs and burgers — will be among several Marine Avenue restaurants gearing up for large crowds at Sunday’s Balboa Island Carnival & Taste of the Island.
The festival, featuring carnival games, rides, a dunk tank, a bungee jump, raffles, a pie-eating contest and food stations, will run from 1 to 5 p.m. in the 200 block of Marine.
“The carnival is a beautiful moment in our community to see each other, participate in a free-for-all and enjoy the weather we all have on the island,” John said.
The DeFrenzas will set up a large barbecue in front of their restaurant at 211 Marine to serve grilled corn on the cob and baby back ribs. With about 150 ears of corn and more than 100 pounds of ribs on the menu, they expect to have plenty of food to go around.
“We cover gluten-free and meat eaters — something for everyone,” Victoria said.
Yes, Crocker’s sells hot dogs. But the “Well-Dressed Frank” in the name isn’t just about frankfurters. It also refers to Frank Crocker, Victoria’s grandfather and Balboa Island’s first paid fire chief in 1927.
“I had a crazy idea tied into my grandfather, the Frank name and family, where the restaurant would be full of family photos,” she said.
Her vision was to create a comfortable, affordable, fun, low-key environment with freshly made comfort food.
“The sand between the toes is more what Crocker’s is about — nothing fancy,” Victoria said. “Going to Crocker’s is like going to Grandma’s house — feels like going home.”
Movie stars like Kevin Costner are treated like family when they drop by, she said.
In 2016, the DeFrenzas opened the Abundant Table restaurant next door after many of their customers began asking for different types of food, such as sandwiches, paninis, wraps, salads, breakfasts and desserts. The new space was an overnight success, according to Victoria.
John said they kept the restaurants separate for two years because they didn’t want to dilute Crocker’s frankfurter image and saw the two sides as having different customers. However, in 2018, they connected the spaces to visually link them and the available seating and make more efficient use of staff, John said.
“From the street it looks like two separate businesses, and when you step over the threshold, you realize it’s all one,” he said. “Yellow menu, yellow restaurant, green menu, green restaurant combined in one kitchen.”
Susan Hoffman is a contributor to Times Community News.