By Kendra Sitton
Since 2006, Richard Walker’s Pancake House has been a mainstay for breakfast in Downtown San Diego. Trendy eateries have opened and shuttered in the neighborhood but the Gaslamp restaurant survived. Amid the tumult of economic crises and pandemics, its excellent service and delicious menu drew customers back time and again. Specialties like the baked apple pancake and a German pancake shaped like a large bowl have become favorites.
Although it has been in San Diego for 15 years, the history of the family-owned, family-operated pancake house extends back much further in both time and place. This is the third pancake house Richard Walker Sr. has owned as sole proprietor. The first two opened in Illinois in 1989 and 1996, respectively.
The Walker pancake house legacy now encompasses three generations. Walker’s father, Victor Walker, entered the food business through an Illinois snack shop with his brother in 1948 and opened 18 franchises of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Victor became a pancake house owner by franchising through the Portland-based The Original Pancake House. Victor’s sons started their own pancake business, Walker Bro.’s Original Pancake House, in the ‘80s, before Richard struck out on his own. Now Walker’s own son, Richard Walker Jr., owns and operates three locations of Richard Walker’s Pancake House on San Diego’s coast.
One of the draws of the breakfast business for the three generations of Walkers is that it allowed more family time. Even after administrative tasks were completed, they still had evenings to be with their spouse and children.
“I did have a seafood restaurant a long time ago… and I really did ultimately like the breakfast thing the most, just [a] more wholesome lifestyle,” Walker said.
Walker always envisioned his future on the west coast although he did not plan to become part of the family breakfast business. His father encouraged him to explore all his options and find something he enjoyed. The elder Walker supported his son in all pursuits but he did extend a promise: If Walker spent one year as manager, he would help him open his own restaurant.
“He really did train us boys to work hard, to stay focused on whatever we give ourselves to and be the best at whatever we do,” Walker said.
With his father’s support, Walker studied classical piano at the University of San Francisco. During graduate school at a conservatory in Boston, he decided to work a pancake house his dad at a connection with just so he could explore that possibility.
“I went in as a manager trainee and I ended up really liking it. I was really shocked. I really didn’t think I would like it because it’s just kind of what I grew up with,” he said.
It was several years before Walker moved back to Illinois and took up his father on his promise to help him open a pancake house with his brother.
Still, he always planned on his future being on the west coast. At 51, he was on a flight to Phoenix to visit his daughter when he spotted an ad on the plane about a new building project in Little Italy. The ad interested him so much he ended up visiting San Diego to see the project. The direction of the city enticed him to nix his plans to move to Santa Barbara and relocate to San Diego instead. In 2006, he made good on that dream and moved to an apartment overlooking the bay that is next door to his pancake house on Front Street.
He remains hands-on at the restaurant and visits every day to speak to the manager and customers. He has pulled back as he grows older and spends more time playing music and traveling with his family.
Walker said he has passed on his father’s lessons about providing fast service and treating customers well to his own son. Walker said the younger Richard has integrity in the way he operates the locations in La Jolla, Carlsbad and Del Mar.
To taste the legacy of the Walker family, visit 520 Front Street from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for a delicious pancake breakfast.
— Reach Kendra Sitton at email@example.com.