By Nancy Luna | Food Reporter
Orange County Register
BUENA PARK—Remember the National Sports Grill in Buena Park?
The defunct sports bar was a key landmark in a tiny strip center along the 91 Freeway. The restaurant building was demolished in 2011 by the property owners, the Lyons family, to make room for fast-casual restaurants.
Recently, three generations of Lyons family members gave me a brief history of the Orangethorpe Avenue property, part of a hog ranch run by the family patriarch decades ago.
At one point, Charlie Lyons Sr. – an Armenian immigrant from Turkey – owned about 80 acres of land in Buena Park. In the postwar boom of the 1950s, Lyons sold some of the land to residential developers. Other parts he converted to retail, including the triangular-shaped land at the Valley View exit of the 91 freeway.
Today, the center – home to a Marie Callender’s, Motel 6 and El Torito – is undergoing a makeover.
No longer interested in leasing to full-service concepts, the Lyons family has spent $2.5 million sprucing up the property to accommodate fast-casual chains. Over the past year, the center has added Chipotle Mexican Grill, Starbucks and Jersey Mike’s.
“We really thought the area lent itself well to these types of concepts,” said Celeste Lyons Macer, granddaughter of Charlie Lyons Sr. (whose original surname was Arslanian.)
The Pizza Studio, Yogurtland and The Habit Burger Grill are next to arrive.
The Pizza Studio, a build-your-own pizza concept near USC, is the only unknown entering the center.
The restaurant is similar to Pieology and Blaze Pizza. For $7.99, diners can create their own custom thin-crust 11-inch pizza with unlimited toppings. The menu offers five crusts, four base sauces and four cheese toppings, including crumbled goat and feta cheeses. A special “Starving Artists” section of the menu features preset pies with limited toppings for $5.99.
The Pizza Studio’s founders are fast tracking the brand. The company expects to have more than 150 locations in development by the end of 2013.
The restaurant, along with Yogurtland and The Habit Burger, is expected to open in the fall. Lyons Macer, who oversees the management of her family’s properties, said the fast-casual tenants have exceeded her expectations. In recent months, she has received several offers to buy the land.
She’ll never sell.
“It is heritage. This is where my dad was born and raised. That all means something to me,” she said.
The center is at 5970 Orangethorpe Ave.