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Pepper’s a Stewart favorite

Restaurant critics who claim all the good restaurants are in Beverly Hills and the Westside probably have never ventured east to Arcadia. We have a lot of fine eateries in this city.

For special occasions, there’s the Derby. My wife is particularly fond of Sesame Grill across the street. For Chinese, we like Wang’s on Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia.

Larry Stewart

But the restaurant my family and I have frequented the most since moving to Arcadia from Pasadena in 1978 is Pepper’s, located on Huntington Drive across from Santa Anita Race Track.

Pepper’s opened in 1974 and I recall going there a few times with friends when we still lived in Pasadena. But after we moved to Arcadia and our daughters, now 33 and 30, became old enough to go out to eat, we became regulars. A testament to the popularity of Pepper’s is that friends, relatives and business acquaintances from out of town usually fall in love with this Mexican restaurant after their first visit.

For the past 30 years I wrote the TV-Radio/Larry Stewart column for the Los Angeles Times Sports section and often entertained business associates by taking them to Pepper’s. One friend who is the head of publicity for HBO Sports would usually stay in Beverly Hills or downtown L.A. But he would drive through rush-hour traffic just to eat at Pepper’s. One time, unsolicited, he brought along an autographed Oscar De La Hoya boxing glove to be hung on the wall. There have always been many others as well. I once took Dodger announcer Charley Steiner there when he was working for ESPN.

Our younger daughter, a UCLA graduate, studied in Scotland her junior year, and when three of her friends from school there came to visit, they devoured Pepper’s fajitas plate as if it was their last supper. Pepper’s opened in 1974 on Huntington Drive just around the corner from its current location. Gary Barringer bought the restaurant in 1984. One of Barringer’s first hires was a 17-year-old Arcadia High graduate named Kelly Concannon. She had briefly worked at Baskin-Robbins, but said that her boss there thought she was eating more than her fair share of ice cream – two scoops instead of one.

She then moved on to Pepper’s, where it was okay to sample more than one scoop of ice cream. She quickly moved up the food chain, so to speak. It wasn’t long before she was running the place. Kelly became the face of Pepper’s, always greeting customers with a friendly smile and an enthusiastic “Hello, how are you guys?”

Kelly is also a well-known Arcadia realtor, currently working for Century 21 Ludecke Realty, located on Foothill Boulevard. In 1994, Pepper’s moved to its current location after the restaurant and property there became available. Five previous restaurants at that location had failed. “We took a big gamble,” Kelly says. By then, Gary and Kelly were dating and on their way to becoming both life partners and business partners. They are now married, having finally tied the knot about nine months ago. Kelly Concannon is now Kelly Barringer. She and her husband are co-owners of Pepper’s. And the restaurant is flourishing. One indication of its success is that there is often a wait for a table on weekend nights. And it must be a good place to work since employee turnover seems minimal. Waiter Rigo Miramontes has been there nearly 30 years. We always request to sit in his area whenever possible. His handshake and friendly smile are as welcomed as the guacamole and taco-enchilada combination plate.

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