Little Red Inn was Tustin’s first dinner house

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Little Red Inn

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 Sunday best.

Interviewing the 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.

The Paucks 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 site.

Old-timers in 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 server.

With the 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 excellent recommendation.

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.


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