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NOTE: THIS SITE IS NOT AFFILIATED IN ANY WAY WITH THE CURRENT OPERATORS OF THE RESTAURANT.
Please do not be offended if we respond rudely if you are selling something. If we needed it, we would call you.
People have always asked me "Is there a real Charlie?"
Sit back, grab a drink, and I will tell you the real story.
In the Summer of 1967, my father, Pete Torre - along with friends Bobby Wilson and Mark Davidson - were sitting on the porch of our home on Balboa Island at 108 Agate. A bottle, or two (or three) of Mondavi's Mountain Red wine had been consumed, and as the day drifted into early evening the gentlemen noticed that a small brick building was for lease on the Island Bayfront, next to the Island Market. The three men quickly decided to open a restaurant, and a name was concocted. "Charlie" was invented because he went well with "Chili", and to protect the founders, in case the bowls tasted better than the chili.
Charlie, as my father liked to tell me, was a Genie who lived in a bottle of Mondavi Mountain Red Wine.
The Summer of `67 was a busy one on Balboa Island. Yes, there was a Charlie’s Chili on Balboa Island in the Summer of 1967. 2 Doors from the Island Market (and NOT where Scotty’s was). I was there. I don’t care what some self-appointed “Balboa Island Historian” says, it was there. In the fall, a restaurant became available for lease on the Lido Peninsula, near the Sea Shanty and Davey's Locker - Pete and Bobby had worked together at the Sea Shanty, and in years past Pete
ran galleys on the sport fishing boats at Davey's Locker. Pete, now the only visible and determined partner, found himself with two struggling restaurants.
Poor Charlie's of Balboa closed it's take out window forever in the autumn of 1967, and Charlie's on the bay became the place to be.
The hours were odd, because Pete was tending bar full-time, at the Quiet Woman in Corona del Mar.
So Charlie's opened when the bars closed.
After a year of 26 hour days, with (sometimes) fewer customers than working hours, Pete had "instant success". The great Ketchup fight of 1969 was one of the many events that occurred at Charlie's Chili on the bay. The famous, and not so famous enjoyed the atmosphere, which offered dining along the bayfront at 14 outdoor tables.
Charlie's had al Fresco dining before it became a fixture in town.
You could even get a chili dog from Kay, the Hot Dog Queen.
Pete finally retired from bar-tending, making occasional guest appearances at Baer's Lair or Alley West.
These rare and unretouched photographs show Pete in the kitchen.
A history of Charlie's Chili, and it's success, would not be complete without a dip of the Chili spoon to a few legends of the Newport Beach restaurant business.
Sid Soffer, of the Blue Beet, and more recently Sid's Place (don't tell nobody), lent equipment, gave several important tips, and generally was a nice guy.
Yes, friends, that Sid.
Mr. Eldred French, of the Quiet Woman was behind the scenes, with advice, moral support, and always ready to help. A true prince of the business.
Charlie's Chili spawned a multitude of other restaurants, all very successful in their own rights.
A Little Moore, founded by former manager Roger Moore and his family in 1975, still operates today in Leucadia California, on Old Highway 101.
Justin "Babe" Neimic took Charlie's Chili to Aspen, Colorado in the early 1970’s.
The best known spin-off was by of Dave Fish, former General Manager. The Pacific Coast Diner was popular, and enjoyed years of success.
In the 1970’s one could find a hundred places like Charlie's on the bay, but no place that had the spirit of the Genie. In early 1972, the evil and obnoxious Fran Delaney, thinking of ways to expand his fortune, decided to toss out Charlie's and Davey's Locker. That Summer, Charlie's moved to it's present location at the Newport Pier, where in the early 1970's, it was the place to be found trying to sober up after a long night of drinking. The outdoor tables then (3) provided a panorama of the Newport Pier Plaza district, where one could spend many a wonderful afternoon watching the world drift by.
Jac Tabor, and another bottle (or three) of wine, caught the Newport Pier area on a Summer Day in 1972, and his unique interpretation of what he saw that day has become legendary.
Although the physical location of Charlie's Chili moved in 1972, the spirit of the genie remained alive and well.
Charlie's Chili did not go over well in San Francisco, only proving Jack Smith right, in that the City by the Bay still has no taste. It was located downstairs from the Oprhanage, a popular Newport hangout that partnered with Charlie's in San Francisco. Later, that location became famous as The Gilded Cage.
In 1974, during the holidays, Charlie's Chili opened in Costa Mesa to the delight of local residents and City Officials.
Another fine example of Jac Tabor's work
From the mid-70's to late 80's, in Costa Mesa, Charlie's Chili was the place to be after any event in the city. Speedway, The Orange County Fair, concerts at the Pacific Ampitheatre, drinking at Hogue Barmichaels, the Swap Mweet, or before a long drive home. Charlie's Chili Costa Mesa enjoyed good business from local bartenders, who often brought along a crowd of their own customers.
In 1977 Charlie's Chili debuted in Laguna Beach, on South Coast Highway, at 3rd Street.
In the mid-80's you could find Charlie's Chili in Huntington Beach.
As the 1980's wound down, and the world began to change, so did the fortunes of Charlie. One day he looked at me and said "You know, 20 years is long enough for anything". And with that, Charlie's Chili was sold to entrepreneurs who best exemplified the original spirit of Charlie. So, next time you wonder, over your Chili Cheese Omelette, who Charlie really is….
His name is: Pete Torre
SPAMMERS NOTE: We will invite you to something impossible if you try to sell us something.
After many years of Sunday morning services at Gino’s On The Hill, Garf’s, The Stag, Madeline, and Tony’s place, Peter joined the Angels June 30, 2010.
To all who have offered expressions of love and support, on behalf of his family there is no way to thank all of you. It has been a difficult time, but your love has helped us through, and for that we are forever grateful.
45 years of memories, and 41! Years and counting at 102 McFadden Place, Newport Beach CA 92660
This site is lovingly dedicated to my father - Peter A. Torre... and all the wonderful, fun, drunk, obnoxious, loyal customers, employees, family, friends and hangers-on who made Charlie's Chili more than just a place to eat.