Praising the diner’s resilience despite pandemic-induced restrictions, California Assemblywoman Laura Friedman recently named Tallyrand the small business of the year for her district.
The longtime owners of Tallyrand, siblings Karen Ross and Mark Thomas, visited the state Capitol this week for a presentation of the award. Friedman, California’s 43rd Assembly District representative, also celebrated the sister-brother duo, who inherited the business from their parents Al and Delores Thomas, in a ceremony at the roughly 60-year-old restaurant last week.
“We’re [in] complete … astonishment,” Ross said in an interview at that Aug. 12 event. “We’re so proud to serve the community of Burbank, and they’ve just surrounded us with support the last 18 months.”
Ross explained that she and her brother joked every year at the restaurant’s anniversary that they should prepare for a line of patrons at the front door. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that they got their queue, though. Last Thanksgiving, she said, customers lined up through the diner and down Reese Place — some for as long as three hours, Ross estimated — to buy a plate of turkey and mashed potatoes. Tallyrand eventually had to close its doors after running out of meals.
Friedman commended Ross and Thomas’ efforts to keep their restaurant, which the City Council nominated for the honor, afloat during the pandemic. The memories formed there gave it particular importance for community members, she said, some of whom had celebrated prom or had a first date in the cushioned corner booths of the diner.
“It’s not easy to run a small business — and during COVID, it was especially hard,” Friedman said in an interview. “And the owners of Tallyrand kept their business going, serving the community, keeping their employees working through that time out of love for the community and love for their business, and this is the time we should we should be celebrating them and businesses like them.”
A former waitress herself, Friedman also presented certificates to Tallyrand’s chefs, servers and other workers on Friday. Ross noted that while turnover is common at most restaurants, employees at hers stay for an average of roughly 28 years — with one having remained at Tallyrand for 50.
That many of Tallyrand’s longtime staff members came in person Friday to receive their awards was a stark contrast to the early months of the pandemic, when the owners had to cut hours and reduce their workforce. The business went from a crew of about 55 people to only 12 in the first four months of the crisis, Ross said. Federal Payroll Protection Program loans, she added, helped sustain the business as officials repeatedly announced restrictions and closures for businesses.
Mark Thomas, her brother, mused that he sometimes regretted not retiring before the coronavirus swept the nation, telling attendees that he felt like he was being punched repeatedly.
But, he added, “I’m tougher from it all [and] I’m better from it all. … We’re moving forward.”
A number of public officials, including Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes, City Council member Nick Schultz, Assistant City Manager Judie Wilke, Burbank Chamber of Commerce CEO Jamie Keyser and interim Police Chief Michael Albanese attended last week’s event to congratulate Ross and Thomas on the designation.
Talamantes explained that his parents have been dining at Tallyrand for more than 45 years, a tradition Keyser said her family shared.
If the presence of customers filling the restaurant’s outdoor patio for brunch is any indication, those traditions will remain for the foreseeable future.