At some point during our lives we’ve all heard the story, typically from a superhero grandmother who bragged, rightfully so, about having 40 or 50 people for Thanksgiving dinner.
While great kudos are due to anyone who has ever hosted a large Thanksgiving gathering, in Burbank no one can come close to Karen Ross and her brother Mark Thomas when it comes to cooking, carving and serving up Turkey Day dinners.
The siblings are the offspring of Al and Delores Thomas, who in March 1959 opened the Tallyrand restaurant on West Olive Avenue. With Al running the kitchen and Delores overseeing the front of the house, the Tallyrand quickly became a fixture, attracting hungry Burbankers who enjoyed the restaurant’s family-oriented atmosphere and comfort-food favorites.
Though Al and Delores are both gone, the Tallyrand has gone on to earn the distinction of being the oldest family-run restaurant in Burbank. It is now successfully owned and operated by Mark and Karen, who this Thursday will blow away the bragging rights of even the most super of grandma cooks by serving 2,900 pounds of turkey to between 800 and 900 Burbank residents.
“I’ve been working here for 31 years, and while I do have memories of celebrating Thanksgiving as a family when I was a young child, my kids don’t,” said Ross. “My kids are 21 and 24 and we’ve never celebrated Thanksgiving as a family. They have literally never had a family Thanksgiving dinner. I remember when my daughter was in 6th grade and the teacher gave the class an assignment to write about their family’s Thanksgiving traditions. She wrote that her family had no traditions because they’re in the restaurant business. That kind of broke my heart.
“But I guess you could say our family’s tradition has become our legacy in having served thousands upon thousands of people Thanksgiving dinner over the years.”
Admitting that the Ross and Thomas family does have a semi-Thanksgiving ritual in that they gather for dinner at the Smoke House restaurant the night before the big day, Ross said that does provide a nice break during the weeklong work it takes for her crew to prepare for Thanksgiving.
“It is, hands down, our busiest day of the year,” said Ross. “We bring in portable ovens and Mark oversees his crew who cooks, de-bones and slices the 40-pound turkeys around the clock. We also prepare 800 pounds of mashed potatoes and stuffing and buckets of gravy, all made from scratch.”
This year, with another spike in COVID-19 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and the state of California have posted Thanksgiving guidelines that will impact families by directing private gatherings to be limited in the number of attendees and to be held outside. Ross said that just like other dining establishments’ owners, she has experienced some sleepless nights because of the impact of the pandemic.
“We used to be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., but we’ve changed that,” said Ross. “We are now open from 8 a.m. till 2 p.m. and then from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. That two-hour downtime gives us a chance to do a deep clean every day, and it has also been a help to us in managing our payroll and our overall expenses. Like every business, we’ve have been looking at every penny, nickel and dime that comes through the door and wondering if we were going to survive. For about four months we went from a crew of 68 down to a crew of 16. That was a hard thing to do because we have employees who have been with us for 25 to over 45 years. But we had to do everything we could to stay alive.
“Thankfully we are very lucky to have a patio that we built in 1995, so we were able to start outdoor dining very quickly. We are also fortunate in that we own this building and the land. For restaurants who have a $15,000-a-month rent, it’s almost impossible to stay in business in this environment.”
Unlike in other years, this Thanksgiving the Tallyrand will be open only for curbside “to go” orders that, as always, are individually prepared and can be ready for pickup in minutes. Saying that its curbside pickup has been very successful, Ross noted that she plans to continue that service when the pandemic is over because people really like it.
This past week, sitting in the dining room of her restaurant under a sign that reads “Family * Friends * Traditions,” Ross reflected on the things for which she is most thankful this year.
“This Thanksgiving we’re thankful for the people of Burbank who have continued to support us and kept us afloat,” she said. “Our customer base is as strong as a restaurant can have, and that is a great blessing.”
She said she is also thankful for what she, her family and her employees have been able to provide locals during this difficult year.
“We are all seeking a sense of normalcy in this crazy world, and if we can provide a meal – true comfort food – that’s great. That means we have played a part in bringing a little bit of normalcy into someone’s day during this difficult time.”
The Tallyrand, located at 1700 W. Olive Ave., will be open Thanksgiving Day from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. for takeout only. Turkey dinners complete with salad, homemade mashed potatoes, made-from-scratch turkey gravy, herb stuffing, yams, sourdough bread and pumpkin pie are $24.95 per person and cocktails to go are also available. No phone orders are necessary. Just stop by when you are ready to place your order and they will have it ready in minutes.
David Laurell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.