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|The next time you’re at a theme restaurant—perhaps a Hard Rock Café, Jekyll & Hyde Café, Johnny Rockets, Medieval Times or Planet Hollywood—remember David Tallichet, the founder of the genre.* He passed away last month at age 84, and his story was told recently by The Wall Street Journal. Back in the 1960s, he designed restaurants as Polynesian islands, New England fishing villages and French farmhouses barricaded with sandbags to protect against German bombardment (you’ll see why in a moment). His Proud Bird restaurant at the Los Angeles International Airport had headphones at each table so diners could listen to control-tower chatter. His company, Specialty Restaurants, grew to revenues of $185 million at its peak in 1980. Almost all of his restaurants were in Southern California.
Medieval Times—the ultimate theme restaurant.
Where else can you eat with jousting knights and horses?
|A Texan who piloted more than 20 B-17 Flying Fortress missions out of England during World War II, he stayed on active duty in the Air National Guard for a decade after the war. A later visit to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington inspired him to begin collecting war planes. He purchased or salvaged about 120 planes, going on expeditions to salvage wrecked or abandoned planes. He kept some and sold some to other collectors (so next time your significant other or roommate complains about your teapot collection…). In the early 1970s, the collection spawned a series of aviation-themed restaurants, 94th Aero Squadron, with a World War I-era setting. Since everyone wants to be famous these days, we’re waiting for the Red Carpet Restaurant, with “screaming fans” who beg for your autograph and “photographers” who snap bulbs as you walk up a long red carpet to the front door. You’ll get complimentary Champagne sent to your table from management (well, the cost will be included in the price of dinner) and “fans” that keep interrupting your meal for photos and autographs. Too bad that Mr. Tallichet, the king of Southern California theme restaurants, is no longer around to work on this one.*Other theme-oriented restaurants existed before then—for example, Trader Vic’s was founded in Oakland, California in 1934 and today has 30 restaurants worldwide. However, it began as a fine Polynesian restaurant with Polynesian decor. A theme restaurant, is one in which the food takes a back seat to the concept of the restaurant, and customers are attracted by the theme.|
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