Norm’s Preps to Open Its Second Valley Location in Encino
Back to the future, indeed.
CategoryEat & Drink
Written byKaren Young
You can’t drive past a Norms location without noting its striking Googie architectural inspiration including dramatic angles, an orange color story, floor-to-ceiling windows and a towering sawtooth pennant sign. The iconic restaurant chain, renown for abundant plates and cheerful service, has taken over the former Tony Roma’s space in Encino, and is slated to open in August (planned spring opening delayed by COVID). This marks the 21st location for the classic family diner, joining its Van Nuys counterpart as the second in the Valley.
The original Norms, near Sunset and Vine, may be long gone, but the location on La Cienega Boulevard, built in 1957, remains the chain’s flagship. Founded by Norm Roybark, the landmark building was designed by Louis Armet and Eldon Davis, who are credited with the construction of over 4,000 Googie-style restaurants. As described by the Los Angeles Conservancy, the architects’ work “combined elements of futurism with the city’s car culture to produce eating establishments with undulating forms, dramatically angled roofs, dazzling signage, and glass expanses.”
In the Valley, Armet and Davis conceived the structure that houses Mel’s Diner in Sherman Oaks and the recently closed Corky’s on Van Nuys Boulevard, as well as the former Twain’s—now Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill—in Studio City. The term “Googie” was coined after a coffee shop on the Sunset Strip named Googies (now demolished), designed by modernist architect John Lautner.
Norms La Cienega and its mid-century style emerged as a pop culture phenom and a Southern California institution. It was immortalized in Edward Ruscha’s 1964 painting “Norm’s, La Cienega, On Fire” as a surreal symbol of the American landscape. Jerry Seinfeld drove Carl Reiner there for breakfast in a 1960 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II in an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, has stated he sketched the idea for his award-winning show on napkins at this location.
The Bellflower-based company was family-owned for six decades until it was sold in 2014. Set to be demolished for a retail center, Norms La Cienega was saved in 2015 when the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to designate it as Historic-Cultural Monument 1090. Councilmember Paul Koretz, who worked with the Los Angeles Conservancy to achieve its status, praised the Googie icon at that time as “a home away from home for many people” and the kind of place that is “not just culturally significant, but culturally uniting.”
“While the interiors at our new locations modernize our original Googie-style design, we’ve been able to preserve Norms legacy in terms of philosophy, culture and design, which is something we think he (Norm) would be proud of.”
Flash-forward to the 152-seat restaurant in Encino, which is abutted by a 30-foot orange and white streamlined version of the seminal sawtooth sign, and filled with a comfortable mix of tables, booths, and, of course, the obligatory counter. With large windows open to the street and on-site parking, Norms welcomes customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week (except during the unprecedented COVID-19 time period).
“While the interiors at our new locations modernize our original Googie-style design, we’ve been able to preserve Norms legacy in terms of philosophy, culture and design, which is something we think he (Norm) would be proud of,” states CEO Mike Colonna.
Norms favorites include the bargain Bigger Better Breakfast—two buttermilk hotcakes, two eggs, hash browns, two sausage links and two bacon strips—all for $8.99. Other perennials: Norms Patty Melt; The One Pounder Porterhouse Steak & Eggs; and Norms Ultimate Meatloaf slathered with mushrooms, bacon and gravy. Those who crave a retro finale won’t want to pass up Thrifty ice cream cones (cylindrical scoops!) and jumbo sundaes.
Among newer dishes—the Farmhouse Burger with double patties and American cheese, topped with hickory-smoked bacon, BBQ pulled pork, a fried egg, and onion rings; and Flamin’ White Cheddar Mac-N-Cheese topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Look for $10.99 meal deals and $13.99 all-you-can-eat specials. Those seeking lighter entrées will find a match on the “SoCal LoCal” menu. (Note: A 3% surcharge is added to guest checks, explained as necessary to cover the increased cost of doing business in California.)
Prominently displayed in every Norms is their motto: “Where Life Happens.” They’re serving up French toast, loaded hash browns and waffles, while slinging pancakes 24/7. What else do you need?