Hollywood stars

Smoke House celebrates 75 years with Hollywood stars

First published in the October 16 print issue of Chief of Burbank.

It was an emotional evening for Smoke House owner Marti Spencer as the venerable restaurant celebrated its 75th anniversary by hosting a gala dinner last Tuesday night.
Hosted by former KNBC-4 meteorologist Fritz Coleman, the evening saw the legendary restaurant filled with long-time regulars, entertainment notables and local political dignitaries who came to celebrate the three-quarter-century milestone with Spencer and her staff.

Photo by David Laurell
Fritz Coleman, who hosted last week’s celebration, and Burbank resident Carolyn Hennesy, who plays Diane Miller on “General Hospital.”

“In today’s world of corporate restaurant chains, it’s so great to have this very special, family-owned establishment that hasn’t changed much in the last 75 years,” Coleman said as he invited Spencer to join. on the scene. “It’s also great to celebrate everything older than me,” he added with a laugh.
Spencer’s voice periodically cracked with emotion as she thanked her staff and those who supported and contributed to the success of the restaurant which is famous for its old-fashioned red leather booths, celebrity clientele, traditional cocktails , its American dishes and its garlic cheese bread.
“We think you’re all part of our family and we’re part of yours,” Spencer told the gathering. “We love you and feel the love from you, especially those who have supported us throughout the pandemic. Having to lay off some of our employees was very difficult for me. But for our loyal customers who still came, and for our staff, who often had to do the work of three or four people, I will always be grateful.
Founded in 1946, the Smoke House was originally located at the corner of Pass and Riverside Avenues. In 1949 it moved to the current location on Lakeside Drive, where its proximity to Warner Bros. has made it a favorite venue for restaurants, parties, celebrations and entertainment industry business meetings. When their production company was located on Warner’s land, George Clooney and Grant Heslov did so much business in the restaurant’s red booths that they actually changed the name of their company from Section Eight Productions to Smoke House Pictures.

Photo by David Laurell
Among those who enjoyed last week’s festivities at the Smoke House were Barbara Howell, executive director of the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, and Pat Boone.

Spencer, along with her late husband Lee, who died in 2016, bought the Smoke House in 1983, owned it until 1992, and bought it back in 2003. Spencer recalls when she got a call from Clooney, who told her asked if everything would be okay. if he named his company Smoke House Pictures.
“He wanted my permission, and of course I said ‘yes,'” Spencer said. “Then in 2013 his film ‘Argo’ won the Best Picture Oscar. When they accepted one of the three Oscars they won for that film, just as the music started playing , one of the producers mentioned Smoke House. I know they were talking about George’s company, but all of our customers who heard it were thrilled and came over saying they heard them talking about us. We didn’t do anything to correct them,” Spencer added with a shy laugh. “Then shortly after, when George was having dinner, we laughed about it and he said, ‘I’m glad you have it. enjoyed for all it was worth. He’s one of our favorite customers. We all love him.
At Tuesday’s 75th anniversary celebration, patrons paid just 75% of menu prices and 10% of all evening sales were donated to the Burbank Temporary Aid Center (BTAC), which was represented by the the organization’s executive director, Barbara Howell, and board member Susan Borders.
Throughout the evening, from a VIP reception to a party that took over the entire restaurant, entertainment industry luminaries including longtime Hollywood publicist Harlan Boll, singer Pat Boone and actresses Ruta Lee , Carolyn Hennesy and Patrika Darbo, shared their memories of dining at the Smoke House.
Spencer and the Smoke House were also greeted by Burbank Chamber of Commerce CEO Jamie Keyser Thomas and Leslie Smith, who coordinates member services, California State Senator Bob Hertzberg and member of the Assembly Laura Friedman.
“People have an emotional connection to restaurants,” Friedman said. “They identify with them as being where significant milestones in their lives were celebrated. The Smoke House embodies those connections with layers of old Hollywood history and a tremendous amount of soul.
After the evening’s formal introduction, which included tributes sent in by a Hollywood who’s who, Bob Bergen, who provided the voice of animated characters Porky Pig, Tweety and Marvin the Martian, joined Coleman on stage. The duo held a raffle of wine and Smoke House merchandise before Coleman ended the evening by encouraging the assembly to continue supporting the Smoke House.
“There are tankers just off the Port of Los Angeles filled with tons of garlic cheese bread they’re trying to unload, so keep coming back and eating more,” he said under thunderous laughter and applause. .
As the evening ended with a champagne toast and slices of cake for each attendee, Spencer took a break in the restaurant lobby.
“It’s very hard for me not to be emotional tonight,” she said, dabbing at her eyes. “We have become a part of so many people’s lives, from births and baptisms to memorial services – the good times and the hard times – from arrival to departure, as my husband used to say. We are very grateful to all who have involved us in their celebrations and in their lives. »

DAVID LAURELL can be reached by email at [email protected] or (818) 563-1007.