They don’t wear the flowing capes and flashy hardware we see at Comic-Con and all summer at the movies, but the five superheroes of Frank family-owned Five Crowns and SideDoor restaurants are crushing it month after month with little fanfare. Overall sales have increased, traffic is steady, and private dining is up 300 percent. Backyard cheese parties sell out twice yearly. The team is deploying tactics that make the Grand Old Dame as relevant and refreshing as Meghan Markle.
Saving the day is standard procedure for the all-female dream team that supports the ongoing challenge to make Corona del Mar’s fabled sentimental darling into one of the county’s most inviting and creative dining venues. Talking shop while sitting around the table, this veteran crew is fast to point to one another when praise is lavished on the kitchen’s seasonal innovations, the hedonistic cheese and charcuterie festivities on the patio, remarkable special events, and charity outreaches. Laser focused on positive outcomes, they emanate a palpable all-for-one, one-for-all vibe.
Operating a landmark restaurant for more than 60 years is a rare assignment. Five Crowns is tapping a new model to fortify a legacy’s future.
The Night Pilot
Kenyon Paar, general manager
Though she’s impeccably fashionable, don’t let Paar’s polished demeanor fool you. She has seen it all after more than 25 years on the restaurant battlefield. She has led teams at notable fine-dining houses, including Fig & Olive and multiple Fleming’s Steakhouses, where she was named operating partner of the year at the El Segundo location. At Five Crowns, she supplies the seamless service generations now expect from their special-occasion favorite. Sometimes, her anticipation of a certain need borders on mind-reading. A party that books a big booth arrives with a guest using a walker she knows will conflict with comfort, so she eases the group to seating that’s more appropriate. A big family includes restless kids, so Paar presents a vast supply of crayons. She knows diners are hoping for a glorious experience and considers her role as “key to creating a lasting memory.” And though Five Crowns is renowned for holiday feasts, trimmings, and strolling carolers, Paar confesses that spring is the season she happily awaits, looking forward to “Chef’s new menu and a fresh beginning of another year.”
The Kitchen Commando
Alejandra Padilla, executive chef
Quiet, small, and mighty, Padilla brings an outsize presence and mission to one of the oldest kitchens in the county. Yes, Five Crowns is a Lawry’s operation with a legacy dripping with Prime rib jus, so she has a foot in the past and present. She notes that diners today are attracted to non-beef dishes, and it’s her job to see that the menu offers enticing alternatives such as rainbow trout, lamb gnocchi, roasted Icelandic cod, and dishes for vegan guests. Padilla says she’s “grateful our area offers such a varied selection of foods that help bring such a broad vision to the table.” Early food memories include grilling clams over and open flame on a Baja beach while camping and an eye-opening stop at Hadley Date Farm, where she fell hard for medjool dates—“I thought they were caramels”—and, of course, date shakes. With years of being mentored by big-name chefs in L.A. and New York kitchens (Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Josh DeChellis, Joachim Splichal), she’s a local girl who “loves, loves, loves California” and plans to be here “the rest of my life.”
The Dream Weaver
Alison Robbins, sales and marketing manager
Robbins was born into a world of food and dining. Her great-grandfather baked for the czar of Russia, her grandfather owned a bakery in New York, her brother-in-law is a chef in Paris, and her father opened one of O.C.’s first bagel shops in 1976, Bagels N’ Things in Santa Ana. Her pastry chef sister, a Five Crowns vendor for wedding cakes, was her entry into the Five Crowns realm. “Once I met with (CMO and fourth-generation Frank family member) Ryan Wilson, I fell in love with the Frank family, their history, this building. I value authentic hospitality, and this job allows me to meet new people daily and make their all-important private events a success. I love learning their stories and being a part of their family for that time.” Robbins also relishes off-site events such as Ducks in Tux, an annual fundraiser for the Ducks Foundation. The popular event features customized chef’s tables for 14. She coordinated Five Crowns’ appearances in 2016 and 2017, and her designs won best tablescape both years. Internal marketing decisions are also a passion. “Telling our exceptional story in new ways and places is a constant challenge. Keeping our message pure and consistent is a task that never ends.”
The Fromage Fanatic
Tracy Nelson, cheese connoisseur
Producing artisanal, handmade cheese is hard, rugged work, which Nelson knows all too well. As the primary buyer of SideDoor’s unparalleled selection of cheeses and cured meats, she has slogged her way through many farms, creameries, and curing sheds. During Nelson’s 30 years in hospitality (she was a Five Crowns server before joining SideDoor), she has earned certifications as a sommelier and Cicerone, and is a spirits expert. A refined palate appears to be her superpower. But it was discovering an affinity for creating standout cheese and charcuterie boards that led to her dream job. Cheese is a living thing, she says—always changing over its tenure in the SideDoor kitchen. What you taste on Day One is quite different from Day 30. “Regulars visit weekly or even more frequently,” she says proudly, “and I can always supply them new flavors, even for the most sophisticated searchers.” She doesn’t shy from an adventurous request. She estimates one-third of SideDoor orders include artisan cheese and/or cured meats and have since its launch in 2009. “I get a kick out of surprising fearless guests with unexpected pairings, such as Champagne and blue cheese.”
The Green Thumb
Robin Jones, garden designer and beekeeper
Though Jones is newest to the team, she comes from a long line of farmers, nursery operators, and beekeepers. She has worked on garden projects for Red Bull and Snapchat headquarters and developed a bee-saving program for Camp Pendleton, shifting the base’s tradition of killing swarms. Her new organic minifarm on the grounds of Five Crowns is a collaboration with the entire team. If Mother Nature agrees, it will produce Peruvian hot peppers, lavender Thai eggplant, “mouse” melons, and even Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomatoes, an heirloom variety known for its technicolored looks and sweet flavor. Jones confesses she is “obsessed with edible flowers right now” and is growing perfumed lace dianthus, white borage, violas, and also petite leaves that include magenta spreen and horseradish leaf. And herbs, of course: verbena, anise hyssop, Siam Queen Thai basil, and more. Look for those in your drinks and on your plates. From a design perspective, Jones focuses on producing food but also everyday function so the chef can harvest easily and intuitively. “We want neighbors to admire the beauty and then go taste what’s on the menu, and ideally, (we want to) demonstrate how a beautiful, prolific food garden is also good for feeding our critical pollinators.”