New Restaurant Coming to La Verne

September 18, 2009
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Chase, as in Chases, with his mom, Linda Wilkinson

Chase, as in Chases, with his mom, Linda Wilkinson

Linda Wilkinson is downsizing.

The magnificent backyard of her 20-plus room modern Colonial estate on Old Ranch Road in La Verne that has hosted so many weddings and fundraisers over the years will be replicated on a smaller scale in her new Third Street restaurant called Chases, expected to open in December or January.

The new restaurant, which will offer an eclectic menu of “fine libations and delicacies,” is going in the space vacated by the children’s clothing boutique, Peek-a-Boo.

If the new venture is successful, it could provide downtown La Verne with a much-needed lift and late-night alternative for a town whose sidewalks are infamous for rolling up early. Built out, it should accommodate about 80 people, which includes both interior and courtyard seating that will run up close to the street curb.

Wilkinson thinks that rubbing shoulders with the popular Café Alegro, one hop away, is a plus. “We’ll complement each other, in that they’re more a dinner destination spot, where we’re almost like a before-you-go-to-dinner place or an after-you-go-to dinner place,” Wilkinson said. Before dinner, have a glass of wine, a glass of beer, and some appetizers. After dinner, have a glass of wine or some coffee and dessert.”

“I know there’s a need for someone to stay open late for people who work at the restaurants and bars around here that close at 11 p.m. I envision this as something that will definitely have a good impact on downtown.”

However, Wilkinson, a USC graduate and former director of operations for an international real estate company who today owns and manages several properties, including the new Chases, didn’t envision going into the restaurant or hospitality business.

She said someone in the retail wine business had approached her about leasing the Peek-a-Boo space for a similar retail wine operation. The proposal intrigued Wilkinson so much she said she wanted to trade part of the business owner’s rent for gift certificates to the new business. When Wilkinson and the potential lessee couldn’t agree on the monthly rent, Wilkinson knew it was her “aha” moment.

The long driveway leading to their home. Another British red phone booth, like the one to left of the driveway, will be part of the whimsical new restaurant.

The long driveway leading to their home. Another British red phone booth, like the one to the left of the driveway, will be part of the whimsical new restaurant.

“I decided that if I thought it was such a great idea, I should do it myself. Yet, every day I wake up and I think that I’m crazy for doing this. I ask myself why am I not just floating in my pool today and enjoying my life.”

The answer is, it’s not in her DNA. She’s not ready for the lounge act. Wilkinson has always been a do-it-yourselfer, a woman known for her tenacity and temerity. It was a decade ago that Wilkinson acquired her vintage 1919 landmark property in north La Verne that has hosted everyone from Ronald Reagan to Thai royalty. Before Wilkinson took ownership, it was home to Stephen and Denise Oleesky who pleaded guilty to grand theft (the result of a charitable food bank scam), tax evasion, conspiracy to file a false lawsuit, stalking and conspiracy to stalk. The infamous couple received six-year suspended prison sentences after spending more than two years in county jail and a halfway house. Wilkinson said she visited the couple in jail to discuss mortgage papers and escrow instructions on the property that she was told countless times “she’d never get,” because of all the legal wrangling.

Wilkinson remodeled the backyard with a cozy fire pit, firewall, infinity pool, kitchen, bar and hammock rooms and other cool seating arrangements to command sweeping vistas of San Dimas Canyon and the city lights below.

“The courtyard at Chases and the back of the patio area are mirrored after my home, down to the British telephone booth,” Wilkinson said. “If I didn’t have this huge courtyard, I wouldn’t do it, and if I didn’t own it, I wouldn’t do it, because the cost of renting something like this would be prohibitive.”

Wilkinson has hired Jonescape Construction for the landscaping and A.P. Builders for the interior construction. Lacy Lomeli, daughter of La Verne City Manager Marty Lomeli, has furnished some of the landscape renderings. But it’s Wilkinson’s vision that’s most responsible for carrying the project forward.


The entrance to their modern colonial home.

The entrance to their modern colonial home.

“I pretty much have got the whole thing laid out,” Wilkinson said. “I’m pretty good at visualizing and getting things done. I’ve done enough projects that this undertaking is actually less than what I’ve done in my own house.”

Wilkinson owns the two properties that currently share the courtyard. To the east is Wishes Boutique, a chic and sassy clothing, jewelry and gift shop that will have steps leading into the 3,000- square-foot courtyard. Patrons — kept cool in summer months with misters and warm in winter by heat lamps — will be able to relax comfortably in rockers and love seats.

Chases’ 1,250-square-foot interior will feature a color palette of tiffany blue, walnut brown, silver and “some creams with a touch of crimson red.” The bar’s glass counter will be illuminated underneath to create a robin’s egg glow. A mantle on the back bar hails from the Art Deco period.

On the first day that Wilkinson was handed back the keys to her own building, she pulled down old ceiling tiles, exposing a vaulted ceiling. For the most part, the structure is in good shape, with recent roof, air conditioning and electrical upgrades. It’s all part of her grand design that again represents her own unique and distinct preferences.

“I have never really gone out to look at what other people are doing,” said Wilkinson, who drives a 1967 grey Ferrari around town and several other classic cars garaged at her home, including a 1956 Thunderbird. “I just want to stay true to my vision. I don’t want to be distracted.

Their doors are almost open for business.

Their doors are almost open for business.

“I’m very much one of those people who have to tape down everything on the floor. I have to have it all taped and chalked so I can walk down the hallway and into the kitchen and see where all the different components will be and how the flow will go.

“This is something I believe in. I’m just putting everything into it. Success is not an option. It’s mandatory.”

She also already knows what role she’ll play when Chases opens.

“I’m going to be mopping floors at the end of the day, and when I’m not doing that, I’ll be passing out sample appetizers and sample drinks,” she said. She plans to have 10 beers on tap. “I’m not going to manage it. I just want to know everyone’s name.”

Speaking of names, Chases is named after her oldest son Chase, a senior defensive back on the Bonita football team and a four-year letterman on the school’s soccer team. She also has a son Brooks, but that name, in the possessive, doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily. She, however, calls the two downtown properties her “B” and “C” buildings.

The theme of Wilkinson’s big house is “Come walk with me, the best is yet to me.”

“I’ve done a lot of things in my life,” Wilkinson said. “Now I get to open a beer and wine bar. How many people get so many chances in their life to do something different? I owe a lot to my mother because she was always behind me financially. I always had that safety net. Luckily, I didn’t need to use it, but if I did, she would be behind me.”

In Wilkinson’s case, behind a very good woman stands another strong woman.

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