Merle Oberon became a favorite customer of
Chef Al Pauck (right) and his wife Fran
(left), owners and managers of The Little
Red Inn on Laguna Road in the 1950s
Back in the ’50s
and ’60s, before chain restaurants made their
appearance in Tustin, the community had an
abundance of places to eat, all owned and
operated by individuals whose specialties ranged
from breakfast, lunch and dinner to hamburgers
or home-baked pie.
These were not fancy restaurants, but casual
cafes where a man was comfortable in his shirt
sleeves or working clothes.
Then in 1951 Al
Pauck and his wife, Fran, turned a small red
bungalow on Laguna Road at the corner of Orange
Avenue into a dinner house called The Little Red
Inn. This was no casual eatery, but a classy
restaurant where people dined rather than ate.
Men donned coats and ties and women wore their
Paucks after they had been operating the
restaurant for four years, a Tustin News
reporter wrote, “In the charming early American
atmosphere of the Little Red Inn you’ll dine as
an extra special guest, for here everyone
receives the warm welcome of Mr. and Mrs. Pauck,
owners and managers.”
The couple was
known for living up to their promise to give all
diners a special and warm welcome in addition to
offering a selection of fine foods at
exceptionally reasonable prices. While the
owners were probably exaggerating when they
described The Little Red Inn as truly one of the
show places of Tustin, the small red cottage
became a popular place to dine.
eventually remodeled the original building,
adding architectural features such as diamond
pane windows and white trim to emphasize the
Early American theme. A white picket fence and
generous planting added to the charm of the
Tustin recall the dinner house favorably, citing
sparkling fresh red and white-checked gingham
tablecloths, cloth napkins, floral centerpieces
and soft candlelight. Others remember the
gleaming knotty pine paneled walls accented by
comfortable captain’s chairs.
The menu served
by the Paucks was considered cosmopolitan at the
time, offering popular entrees such as fried
chicken, fried shrimp and the chef’s special
steak. Eventually broiled lobster was served in
addition to chicken, chops, steaks and seafood,
but the restaurant continued to open at 5 p.m.
on weekdays and Saturdays and noon on Sunday and
close at 9 p.m. Liquor was never served.
In addition to
managing the restaurant, the Paucks worked as
staff. Mr. Pauck presided over the kitchen as
chef and Mrs. Pauck served as both hostess and
possibility of seeing Hollywood stars such as
Merle Oberon, Jimmy Durante and Barry
Fitzgerald, more local diners made reservations.
Merle Oberon’s description of The Little Red Inn
as a “charming place” was considered an
The Little Red
Inn’s popularity continued for years, dwindling
only after the opening of the Revere House,
Reuben’s and Red Hill Tennis Club. Eventually,
after Interstate 5 had siphoned traffic away
from downtown Tustin and Laguna Road, it served
its last dinner.