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It's A Gray Area: Uncle Jim is more than a namesake

August 20, 2011|By James P. Gray

As my father told the story, when he asked my mother to marry him, the only condition was that if they had a son they would name him after his younger brother Jim. I guess mom agreed, because that is what happened.

My uncle, James L Gray, was a special and unique man. He was a natural gymnast, golfer, skier and windsurfer, and also a natural leader. After graduation from UC Berkeley, and flying fighter airplanes out of Pensacola, Fla., during the Korean War, he returned to his native Southern California, bought a small house on Lido Island and sold heavy construction equipment for Hal Anawalt.

But one day he met a restaurateur named John McIntosh, the owner of the Snackshop and Coco's Restaurants, who wanted to open a steak house. Because of Jim's people and entrepreneurial skills, McIntosh asked him if he would be interested in being his partner. McIntosh already was highly knowledgeable in the food part of the business, so it became Jim's responsibility to learn and then oversee the bar and entertainment facets.

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One evening as these plans were progressing, Jim was having dinner at our home in La Cañada and talking about what they were going to name their new restaurant. We had a great time discussing the possibilities. But eventually they settled upon John McIntosh's middle name, which was Reuben. And so the restaurant became known as Reuben's.

I went to the grand opening of the original Reuben's, which was on Coast Highway in Newport Beach at the present location of the Sol Restaurant. It became so successful that, with time, they opened more. So I also went to the grand opening of the Reuben's in Santa Ana, which became popular with many people in the area, including attorneys who worked at the courthouse.

Later they opened a Chinese restaurant next to the original Reuben's, which was called Wu Ben's. Unfortunately, even though the restaurant was successful, Jim said that the labor in providing quality Chinese food was disproportionate to their ability to get a proper return on their invested capital.

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