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Verdugo Views: A life with Bob's Big Boy

July 31, 2013|By Katherine Yamada
  • This is how the Bob's Big Boy Restaurant looked when it opened in 1936 on Colorado Street in Glendale. It was here that the first double-deck hamburger was invented.
This is how the Bob's Big Boy Restaurant looked when…

Cindy Freeman has a very special connection to Bob's Big Boy, which opened 78 years ago this month right here in Glendale.

Her father, Bill Freeman, went to work at the Bob's on Colorado Street ("Bob's number one," his daughter says) as a dishwasher in 1949 and spent his entire career with the organization. Her mother, Shirley, worked as a carhop at the same location.

"My Dad left Tennessee to work for his uncle, Ed Mynatt, at his hamburger and hot dog stand in East Los Angeles," Cindy Freeman said.

Then he lived in Glendale with a friend named Scratchy, who suggested he apply at Bob's.

They had just built a new office on Colorado, Cindy Freeman said. "Sometime later, they tore down the old hamburger stand and built the 65-car drive-in and coffee shop," she added.

Bob Freeman was then promoted to a cook. One day, he went to a party in La Crescenta and met Shirley Whelchel.

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"This was shortly before my mother became a car hop," Cindy Freeman said. "She was in the kitchen eating a pickle and my dad asked if he could have a bite. She told him she didn't give food to people she didn't know."

They met again at Bob's after Whelchel began working as a carhop and occasionally modeling new uniforms.

They began dating. "Then she returned to Iowa with her family but my dad kept calling and asking her to come back. So she did and they got married," Cindy Freeman said.

Bill Freeman went from the Colorado location to the new restaurant at Broadway and Maryland ("number four," his daughter says) before working at the Toluca Lake restaurant and drive-in ("number six"). Then he went into management.

"My mom worked as a carhop at Bob's until I was 5. We lived on Ruberta Avenue, across from Thomas Jefferson Elementary, until I was 10. Then my father, with three partners, opened a franchise in Fresno, where we lived until I was 18.''

They were in Minneapolis for a year, before going on to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Growing up, Cindy Freeman said she didn't pay a lot of attention to her dad's stories about the people he met through Bob's Big Boy founder Bob Wian, who had become a good friend.

Now, as an adult, she's taken great interest in them.

"He can tell you stories about Bob Hope, Clark Gable, Johnny Weissmuller, Burl Ives, among others," Cindy Freeman said. "It's a wonderful history and it seems like I talk with so many people who are so familiar with Bob's Big Boy and who say it was such an important part of their childhood."

Cindy Freeman came back to Glendale in 1974. "I left Iowa to return to Fresno, stopped to visit my Uncle Don and Aunt Darlene here in Glendale, and never left," she said.

Bill Freeman, who was with Big Boy Restaurants for 42 years, will be 88 on Aug. 6.

"Bob's opened in 1936 — on my Dad's 11th birthday, and he was — and still is — probably one of the best sources of information for anything Bob's Big Boy,'' said Cindy Freeman.

Her parents, who live in Iowa, will celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary this month.

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