The debut of the red, white and blue funhouse at 3610 Park Sierra Drive released childhood memories of Mark Nelson, 43-year-old IT worker, of time spent at the original Riverside Farrell’s on Tyler Street before it disappeared in 1985.
Joined by his wife, Melanie, Nelson felt the old magic working. The more the cast cranked up the cacophony with whistling train noises, wailing sirens, chanting, singing, clapping and madcap dashing with vats of ice cream, the more his stress melted away.
“I feel like a kid again when everything was so big, colorful and wonderful before the veil of adulthood dropped over my eyes,” Mark Nelson rhapsodized.
Nostalgia is exactly what Parlour Enterprises, Inc. is peddling along with a dollop of patriotism and religion for the born-again chain. At every store, a 7 ½-foot statue of Lady Liberty stands next to an authentic Shoninger player piano from the early 1900s to greet visitors. They depart under an engraved plaque on the door that says: “May God bless all who pass through these doors.”
At 8,700 square feet, the Riverside restaurant is the fifth and largest in the growing chain since investors resurrected the brand after a lengthy legal battle. Bob Farrell and Ken McCarty founded and launched Farrell’s on Friday, Sept. 13, 1963, in Portland, Ore.
At its peak, the ice cream palaces spread coast-to-coast to 136 locations, including a beloved, 3,300-square-foot Riverside store which opened in 1970. After new owners changed the concept, the chain collapsed in bankruptcy by the mid-1980s and the franchises shuttered by 1991 — except for one in San Diego.
The Lake Forest-based Parlour Enterprises, Inc., headed by CEO Mike Fleming (who calls himself “chief entertainment officer”) and president Paul Kramer, are hurtling guests back in time by embracing the old-timey Farrell’s signature scoops with trademarked names, a candy store, high-decibel, manic cast members, cheery furnishings and paper menus. Remembrances of Farrell’s heydays captured in 5-by-6-foot black-and-white photographs adorn the walls.
Fleming said that of all the locations, Riverside was the best and easiest city to work with. “They welcomed us with open arms for bringing 170 jobs,” he said. “They made the process so easy.” The restaurant can hold 396 diners and the parking lot offers more than 200 spots.
Server Jenessa Mercer, 20, of Riverside, passed a rigorous audition to make the cut: The company hired one out of 11 applicants.
“I’m so stoked,” she said, flashing her mega-watt smile. Her mother, Nancy Mercer, 50, still has the blue ribbon she won decades ago for finishing a Pig’s Trough with a friend: six ice cream scoops, two whole bananas, whipped creams, nuts and three cherries.
“I knew before they even built it that I was meant to work here,” Jenessa Mercer said. “I want to open my own restaurant and I can learn so much to help achieve my goal.”