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CHAINS—From the Littlest Businesses Grow Mighty Corporations

Certainly the San Fernando Valley is home to thousands of small family-owned and operated businesses, but there are also several larger companies based here that started in the same way as single units – and have grown to become successful franchise operations with locations all over Southern California and, in some cases, as far away as Singapore and Japan. But whether they have remained a regional chain or spread out across the hemispheres, a few of these companies can trace their roots right back here to the Valley. Big Boy Grows Up Toluca Lake is home to the original Bob’s Big Boy. Built in 1949, the business evolved from a small hamburger stand called Bob’s Pantry in Glendale to what is now an internationally recognized slice of roadside Americana with more than 900 restaurants in operation worldwide. Parent company Big Boy Restaurant’s International Inc. now is headquartered in Warren, Mich. The original is at 4211 Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake. And by the way, the store, now operated by a franchise owner, recently brought back its 1950s-style carhop service, available from 5 to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The Original Pancake House The first International House of Pancakes opened July 7, 1958, also in Toluca Lake, by company founder Al Lapin. Today the company is based in Glendale and the IHOP name has become synonymous with pancakes. There are now 978 locations in 41 states, Canada and Japan. That’s a Lot of Tennis Balls In 1959, Norbert Olberz paid $4,000 for a small sporting goods store in La Canada Flintridge. Today, Sport Chalet has 22 stores from Valencia south to Point Loma and east to Rancho Cucamonga. And the flagship store has moved across the street from its original quarters at 975 Foothill Blvd. Sport Chalet now is a publicly held company with annual revenues of $214 million. Olberz and his family still own almost 70 percent of the company’s stock. Martha Stewart Would Be Proud The year was 1951 and Bernie and Eugene Gelson, sons of an Iowa farmer, had just arrived in Burbank to set up shop offering fresh produce and market staples at rock-bottom prices. That original Burbank store is no longer standing, but Gelson’s Markets now has 17 locations dotting the Southern California landscape (five still in the Valley), including two Mayfair Markets. A new Gelson’s market in Pasadena is set to open later this year. While that original store in Burbank merely may have featured low prices and fresh fruit and vegetables, today the chain is known for its high-end gourmet products. Gelson’s is still headquartered in Encino, but it is now a subsidiary of Arden Group Inc., a holding company headquartered in Compton. A Very Taxing Situation When David Lieberman decided that the time was right in 1966 to start a tax preparation and accounting services firm in Van Nuys, and followed that up two years later with a second San Fernando Valley location, he had little idea he would eventually be at the head of a franchising operation bought by one of the largest CPA firms in Europe. In 1970 he acquired six offices of a local tax/accounting firm called “Triple Check,” moved the chain briefly to Paramount and started bringing on franchisees in 1977. Triple Check became Fiducial Triple Check Inc. in 1999 when Lieberman sold it to France’s largest CPA firm, Fiducial Inc. Nevertheless, the company is still headquartered in the Valley, having moved to its current location in Montrose in 1998. The company was chosen as The Business Journal’s top Valley franchiser in February and now has more than 800 offices. The San Fernando Valley is also home to some of the biggest and best-known film and TV studios in Southern California. The entertainment sector has long been one of the region’s most prominent and profitable exporters and remains one of the Valley’s largest employers. A Ranch With Universal Appeal Universal Studios, once known as “Universal Ranch,” was established in 1914 on a 230-acre plot in North Hollywood as the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. The first full production completed on the lot was “Damon and Pythias.” Universal is now a subsidiary of Vivendi Universal, the French utility and media firm created when Vivendi bought former parent Seagram Co. in 2000. Universal Studios produces and distributes films, television programs and home videos. The corporation also operates 10 theme parks and more than 630 Spencer Gifts retail outlets. From First ‘Talkie’ to America Online Warner Bros. Studios was founded in 1923 in Hollywood by brothers Jack, Sam, Harry and Albert Warner. They moved the studio five years later to a 110-acre lot in Burbank following the successful production of the motion picture industry’s first “talkie” starring Al Jolson. The studio shared space for several years with Columbia Pictures, now part of the Culver City-based Sony Corp. Time Warner Inc., Warner’s parent company, merged with America Online last year in a $163 billion deal that made it the largest media company in the world. Welcome to the Mouse House Perhaps Burbank’s greatest claim to fame is its title as home to the “Mouse House.” The Walt Disney Company set up shop there on a 51-acre plot in 1937, paid for by profits from the successful animated feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Today the company is one of the top media conglomerates in the world with operations in television, film, theme parks and on the Internet. Disney owns the ABC television network, broadcast TV and radio stations, and has a financial stake in cable channels like ESPN (80 percent) and A & E; Television Networks (38 percent).

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