It was a blistering hot Friday afternoon in Burbank as actor Joaquin Garay pulled his 1984 Mazda RX7 into the parking lot of Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on Riverside Drive.
He bounded out of the car with a huge smile on his face, popped open the hood, and expressed his excitement over the official return of the restaurant’s Friday night classic car shows.
“I’m thrilled,” said Garay, whose father, Joaquin Garay Sr., was a well-known entertainer and radio personality in the 1930s and ’40s and best known for providing the voice of Panchito in the 1944 Disney film “The Three Caballeros.”
“I’ve missed the comradery of these shows, and am really looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends, and whoever may show up,” he said.
A few minutes later, Garay’s attention was diverted as Clayton Capps drove past in his “Herbie” recreation.
“This I’ve got to see,” said Garay, who played the role of the mischievous orphan Paco in “Herbie Goes Bananas,” the fourth installment of Disney’s “The Love Bug” film series about Herbie, the Volkswagen Bug with a mind of its own.
“See what I mean!” Garay said with a laugh. “You never know what you’ll see here. Friday nights at Bob’s are amazing. The food is amazing, the cars are amazing, and there is always plenty of colorful characters.”
Bob’s Friday night classic car shows, a Southern California tradition since the restaurant opened in 1949, were halted for more than a year due to the pandemic. Now, the action starts gearing up around 4 p.m. when local car enthusiasts cruise in to Bob’s looking to secure a prime spot to show off their vehicles.
Among those getting in early last Friday was Mike Stewart and his canine co-pilot Sonny, who backed into a spot in their 1970 Cobra Mustang 428.
“This is great,” said Stewart, a Los Angeles assistant district attorney who grew up in Burbank, as he stepped out of his car and watched as a steady cavalcade of classic vehicles passed him in search of their own spots.
“Getting to see all the cars is what attracts people,” he said. “But for those of us who have been coming here for a long time, it’s not as much about the cars as it is about the people — the spirit of this tradition.”
The Bob’s car shows, a real-world slice of SoCal are a throw-back to life right out of “American Graffiti” and “Happy Days,” and are regular meeting places for the Road Kings of Burbank. And, as for Garay’s low-down, that anyone may show up: Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys has been known to stop by, while Jay Leno has been a long-time regular.
While car owners jockeyed for the best spots in the parking lot, inside the restaurant that has been designated as a Point of Historical Interest by the state of California, manager Gencer Pedrigala was readying his staff for what would be — much to their delight — a return of the traditional packed-house Friday nights.
“It’s exciting for me and the rest of our crew to have the car shows and all of our regulars back,” Pedrigala said. “I know it’s something so many of us really missed — the people who come to show-off their cars as well as those who love to come out, have dinner and check out all the cars.”
Proudly explaining that he has been working at Bob’s since he was 17, Pedrigala is even prouder to tell you he is now 32.
“I have been here my entire career,” he said. “I started out as a cashier and worked my way up to being a manager. I am proud to be a part of a Southern California tradition, and I’m not the only one, almost all of our crew has been here for many years. One of our staff members, Alma Hernandez, has been here 22 years. Like me, it’s the only job she has ever had.”
Giving credit to good ownership and upper management, Pedrigala said that the Bob’s staff is really like a family. “And not just the staff, but also our regular customers who have been coming here for so long,” he said. “We have people who tell us they have been coming here since their parents and grandparents brought them when they were 5 or 6 years old.”
As the sun began to set and the shadows of the cars grew longer in Bob’s parking lot, it was more than evident that the car owners, diners and the restaurant staff were all happy to see the pandemic in their rear view mirrors.
“I’ve seen a lot of restaurants come and go, especially with the pandemic, but we have been lucky to be able to stay alive,” Pedrigala said. “Now, we want everybody to know that we’re back, stronger than ever, and we want everyone to come and be a part of our tradition that continues.”
Bob’s Big Boy, located at 4211 West Riverside Drive, hosts their classic car show every Friday from 4 to 10 p.m.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.