Los Angeles’ noted Brown Derby restaurant played host to many stars during Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age.’ The eatery was an example of novelty architecture, as it was built to look like a brown derby hat. The Brown Derby was the first restaurant to serve chiffon cake, a recipe invented by an insurance salesman and later given wide distribution by Betty Crocker.
It is said that the greatest food legacy of the Brown Derby is Cobb Salad. The dish was invented by and named after Bob Cobb, one of the restaurant’s owners. Bob’s wife asserts that he raided the refrigerator late one night and just chopped up some leftovers for a meal. Later that night, some of his Hollywood friends visited the restaurant and joined Bob in partaking of his concoction. When they began to ask for it on later visits, the rest was history.
The Brown Derby was named after a restaurant of the same name located in Malverne, New York that was a trendy vaudeville hangout. The first Brown Derby in Los Angeles, also called the Little Hat, opened its doors in February 1926, directly across from the Ambassador Hotel. It was often the site of after-parties following shindigs at the Coconut Grove nightclub. This was the only Derby that was actually constructed like a hat.
A second LA Brown Derby restaurant was opened on Vine Street, near the famous Hollywood and Vine intersection, on Valentine’s Day in 1929. Other Derbies were then constructed in Beverly Hills and in East Hollywood. The latter had a car cafe that followed the then-new drive-in trend.
The Brown Derby in Hollywood closed down in 1985. The building shell was restored and placed atop a strip mall on Wilshire. It is now colored orange and known as the Cafe SheeRi.
In June 2004, the Derby and adjacent lots were purchased by a realty company and the plan was to demolish it to clear space for a condominium complex. A group of interested parties, called ‘Save The Derby’ sought to prevent the shell from being demolished by getting it designated as an official historical landmark. Due to their efforts, in May 2006 the LA City Council voted unanimously to recognize the entire edifice as an official Historic Cultural Monument of the City of Los Angeles.
In an ‘I Love Lucy’ show episode Lucy, Ethel and Fred take in lunch at the Brown Derby. During the show, Lucy inadvertently causes a server to dump a plate of food on famed actor William Holden. Presently, there is a replica of the Hollywood Brown Derby at the Disney-MGM Studios in Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort.