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Escondido institution, Champions, closes its doors




Annette Champion prepares a dish for a waitress on the last day of operating her family-owned restaurant. The 80-seat restaurant was packed with friends and customers last Friday.

Annette Champion prepares a dish for a waitress on the last day of operating her family-owned restaurant. The 80-seat restaurant was packed with friends and customers last Friday.

On its last day as an Escondido land­mark, Champions Family Restaurant was packed last Friday and Annette Champion, owner, was in the kitchen putting together orders, dealing with platters of corned beef and chewing out members of her staff, in­cluding her husband Dan Hannegan, who had been pressed into service as a bus boy.

Times-Advocate: How does the family feel to be closing?

Dan: They have been in business for 44 years. I am just a peripheral part of this… This is my wife’s fam­ily’s business. Her mom Eve and Os­car Champion started the restaurant in 1972 and she’s run it herself for 31 years.

T-A: Why is she closing the restau­rant?

Dan: It’s time. That’s her right there (pointing at the woman behind the stainless steel barrier over which order tickets and plates of food were being passed). She’s awoken up at four in the morning, six days a week for 30 years and she’s just ready for this day.

T-A: So it’s retirement?

Dan: Yes it is. We’re going to clean the place

Regular customer Mark Mojado of the Pala tribe decried the loss of Escondido’s historic places, including Champions and the Wagon Wheel Restaurant.

Regular customer Mark Mojado of the Pala tribe decried the loss of Escondido’s historic places, including Champions and the Wagon Wheel Restaurant.

up, put it in mothballs until we find the right person (to buy it) and then we’re going to have fun.

T-A: Are you planning on going somewhere?

Dan: No plans yet. I still have my business to work on and she’s going to decompress for a while. She’s got interests in different things. She does sewing, metal work, shooting and all kind of things, so she’s been preparing for this.

Dan went back to busing tables for the packed 80-seat house. Everyone seemed to be dining on the restaurant’s favorite dish, corned beef hash. Well wishers and wait staff mingled in the kitchen, thanking Annette for her great food and wishing her good luck.

“I have been doing this for 31 years and I’m so tired,” she said, raising her voice to add, “Cecelia, I am out of white gravy!” Then she whirled to the grill, gave some orders to the busy cooks and, wiping her hands on her white apron, told the reporter, “I can’t do this now.”

Sisters Eleanor McFarling and Francena Sherburne

Sisters Eleanor McFarling and Francena Sherburne enjoy the last day of Champion’s Family Restaurant. The native Escondidans have both been part of the restaurant’s history since the 1970s.

Sisters Eleanor McFarling and Francena Sherburne enjoy the last day of Champion’s Family Restaurant. The native Escondidans have both been part of the restaurant’s history since the 1970s.

were happily downing corned beef at a nearby ta­ble. Eleanor said she had flown all the way from Taos, New Mexico, to enjoy the fine American cuisine of her hometown. She said she was just joking.

“My husband does metal sculpting with Annette,” she said, adding that the couple were regular customers for 35 years. “My husband was a corned beef kind of guy.”

Francena said she has lived in Es­condido since the 1960s and has been another loyal customer.

At a table outside the restaurant Mark Mojado decried the demise of another Escondido institution. “Gone are the Wagon Wheel and the West­side Cafe, and several old-time ven­ues,” he said. “They have flavors here that you can’t get anywhere else. These are great places with their own feeling. The Wagon Wheel had it’s own flavors.”

The Pala Tribe member said his grandfather owned a “mercantile store” across the street from the res­taurant back when people came to the downtown for all their shopping needs. Of Champions and the others he said, “It’s hard to lose our historic places.”


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