Coming to the valley from East Los Angeles in 1932 when his father, Inocencio, a cabinet maker from Mexico, was looking for new opportunities, Bob Torres, of humble origins, was destined to become one of the area’s most successful businessmen.
When their father went to work in one of the packing sheds in Guadalupe, the Torres children — 4 boys and a girl— enrolled in the Guadalupe Grammar School. Bob, whose father died when he was about 8 years old, helped support his family by shining shoes and selling newspapers as well as the empanadas made by his mother, Carmen.
Bob’s leadership qualities were evident while attending Santa Maria Union High School where he served as senior class president. After graduating from high school with the class of 1947, Bob worked for California Pine Box Distributors in Guadalupe. He was also a member of the “Blue Notes,” a local dance orchestra. When the Korean War broke out, he enlisted in the Coast Guard. After completing his three-year stint, he returned to Guadalupe and back to his job at the box factory.
Wanting to do more with his life, Bob went to work as a delivery man at McMahan’s Furniture Store in Santa Maria in 1954. During the next five years he was promoted three times, first to receiving clerk and then to sales. His last job there, before seeking further opportunities was general manager.
In February of 1951 Bob and Marline Maretti —who was attending Santa Barbara Beauty College at the time — were married in Santa Barbara.
And Pappy’s Restaurant?
Never in his wildest dreams did Bob Torres think that he’d wind up in the restaurant business, but in doing so, he became one of Santa Maria’s leading businessmen.
It all began when Rick Barrett, a television ad salesman, told Torres he had a “great idea” for a restaurant.
According to Bob, when he told Rick that he didn’t know anything about restaurants, Barrett wasn’t about to take “no” for an answer. In 1959 four partners, The Torres family, Rick Barrett, Al Gates and Dr. Jules Bertero, opened the original Pappy’s at the corner of Broadway and Stowell Road, which was nothing but farmland in the south end of town.
Jack Linkletter, son of television personality Art Linkletter, helped the partners set up a franchise.
Pappy’s started as a pancake house, “a concept that just took off, a trend of the times.” It wasn’t long before people were lining up half-way around the building, waiting to be served Pappy’s great food. The restaurant quickly grew from a pancake house to one of the most popular restaurants in town, serving old fashioned fried chicken and tasty hamburgers. Industrialist, Captain Hancock and his wife, Marian, often dropped by to dine.
Since Al Gates and Dr. Bertero were looking at expansion, the second Pappy’s opened in 1961 in San Jose. The partners opened one restaurant a year after that. A cook with a gray beard who “looked like a Pappy” appeared at every opening as a logo for the burgeoning chain.
The men opened restaurants in Yuma, Arizona, San Luis Obispo, El Centro, Indio, Canoga Park and Portland, Oregon. The 9th Pappy’s, which opened in 1966 at highway 101 and Betteravia Road, was meant to be a family restaurant, not a truck stop. It has never changed.
With the chain of restaurants spreading from Yuma to Portland, and the partners fearing that flying from one Pappy’s to another interfered with quality control, they realized that they were too spread out, and so reduced the chain to the two Santa Maria locations.
Torres bought out Dr. Bertero in 1971 and became sole owner of the two restaurants. In 1987 the family opened a 136-seat Mediterranean style restaurant with a sweeping view of the ocean at Pismo Beach. Sons Terry and Rich ran all three restaurants.
Pappy’s was, and still is, a family business. “We have a strong commitment to quality service, cleanliness and value encompassed by consistency, and feel that we are our own competition.”
Not relying on advertising, Pappy’s has always concentrated on earning customers’ trust. Keeping up with trends, new ideas were readily instituted. Pappy’s was the first restaurant in Santa Maria to offer fajitas.
Although it was a lot of work, “it was also a lot of fun. The harder we worked the luckier we got,” Torres said.
“I just feel very comfortable that it turned out as it did.”
The restaurant on Stowell and Broadway has since closed, as did the one in Pismo Beach, leaving the restaurant on Betteravia as the only Pappy’s in Santa Maria.
In 2000 Torres planted several acres of Pinot Noir on his property. Casa Torres vineyard is recognized as an award winning wine providing high quality fruit to the Caymus Vineyards in Napa Valley.
Scattered throughout Torres’ 4,500 square-foot home are Bob’s collections of boots and used hats. Each year he buys a new hat and retires the old one. In one sky-lit hallway, framed photos show Bob and his many friends who have ridden together with the Rancho Visitadores riding group. Through his years as a “Vaquero” he made friends with the likes of Casey Tibbs, Ronald Reagan, Roy Rogers, George Deukmejian, Monte Montana, Fess Parker plus many rodeo champions. Bob served as captain of his camp for 15 years and is currently serving as a director of Rancho Los Visitadores
Bob joined the Elks in 1959 and four years later became the Exalted Ruler
On June 9, 2004, Pappy’s Restaurant founder Robert “Bob” Torres was selected as the Hispanic Businessperson of the Year by the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce Hispanic Business Committee. The award was presented to Torres during the annual Community Awards ceremony held at the Elks Lodge.
In addressing the lunch gathering, Torres said that he considered himself very fortunate to have started a business in the Santa Maria Valley and to have enjoyed the love of his family.
“We are the luckiest people in the world,” Torres said of his wife Marlene and their five adult children and 11 grandchildren. Noting that he’d never dreamed that he’d wind up in the restaurant business, he added, “I was fortunate.”
Fifty two years after the small group of men opened the first Pappy’s restaurant on Stowell and Broadway, the Torres family, the last of Pappy’s entrepreneurs, is bowing out. The Betteravia Pappy’s will soon be in the hands of another Santa Marian businessman.
In reminiscing about his connection with Pappy’s, Bob stressed his appreciation of the dedication of his employees. Vickie Silva, completed 37 years with the restaurant on April 1, while Eufracio Madera celebrated his 30th year with the company Oct. 5. The loyalty of his employees can never be doubted as, all together, the 30 employees, Ricardo Alvarez, Gilberto Casteneda, Guillermo Castrejon, Arturo Enriquez Romero, Johaquin Fernandez, Jessica Gaither, Sharon George, Nancy Gonzales, Guillermo Gonzales, Samuel Grimaldo, Ashley Leavitt, Alfonso Lopez, Sr., Hilda Lopez, Maria Hilda Lopez, Apolonio Madera, Eufracio Madera, Refugio Madera, Christian Mayoral, Deanna Moreno, Rejeana Moreno, Guadalupe Olivarea Alvarez, Jesus Olivarea Alvarez, Dee Dee Ramirez, Ramiro Sandoval, Victoria Sherwood, Vickie Silva, Tracy Smith, Nick, Bob and Trevor Torres, have invested 398 years into the company.
And Bob Torres? Never one to rest on his laurels, he’s got his wine making business, his horses, his family – and his friends.
Shirley Contreras lives in Orcutt and writes for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society. She can be contacted at 934-3514 or at shirleycontreras2@yahoo .com. Her book, “The Good Years,” a selection of stories she’s written for the Santa Maria Times since 1991, is on sale at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, 616 S. Broadway.