Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Seven

Don Callender

I was always a rather small cog in the wheel of American journalism, yet I was lucky in meeting notable and accomplished people. I sought them out whenever the opportunity arose, wanting more than anything to hear them speak, to observe and understand the making of these extraordinary people and how their thought processes worked.

I was lucky at the very beginning of my journalism career. I’d only written a few stories during my internship in 1984 at The Orange County Register when the editor suggested I write a story about a newly remodeled Marie Callender’s restaurant in Tustin, California, just being completed. After contacting the restaurant manager, she mentioned that the founder of the restaurant chain, Don Callender, would be visiting the new location in a few days and I could interview him then. I jumped at the chance.

When I walked into the restaurant for my lunch meeting with the 57-year-old Don Callender, he eyed me suspiciously until I told him I was the reporter from The Orange County Register he was expecting. He said, “When I saw your shiny shoes I thought, Oh no, here’s another one of these guys from the city." He said city inspectors imposing a labyrinth of regulations were making it difficult for him to open the remodeled restaurant.

The luncheon interview lasted several hours. He was eager to tell me about the origins of his 112-restaurant chain, how it began with his mother, Marie Callender, making pies for restaurants. “My mother was a good cook at home,” Callender said. “She made good pastries and she was working for a place that had a little lunch counter and she made pies.”

The family’s wholesale pie business began in 1947. “We started with a rolling pin and 700 bucks,” he said. “Dad did the delivering and I was making the pies with mom’s assistance and guidance.” In 1964 the family opened their first restaurant, in Orange, California.

Callender grew up poor, but always believed a strong work ethic and a close-knit family would bring success. “There is more opportunity than ever before in America,” he said. “Every time you see a kid in a workplace with his parents, I guarantee you, you’ll see a happy kid. They’ve got a sense of worth.”

Callender sold the Marie Callender's chain in the late 1980s but remained active in the restaurant business, creating several new restaurants throughout California. He died in 2009 at age 81.

~ to be continued

~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photo by Mark Rightmire for The Orange County Register
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