A Doug's Life: Annie's Restaurant Satisfies One's Search for the Perfect Little Diner

I drove right past the place once, turned around and almost missed it again.

You won't find Annie's Restaurant on Highway 74 in Romoland unless you look real close. It's tucked between small businesses on the north side of the street, just a few blocks east of Interstate 215. The sign is low to the ground, has no neon nor bright colors.

Only the locals really know about the place.

Acting on a tip from a friend who knows I love old-style diners like this, I walked into Annie's one weekday morning. "Mexican breakfast," the place advertised. I don't know about that, but I was ready for some small town atmosphere and decent grub.

Seating was not a problem. The seven booths were empty and only one gentleman sat at the counter. I chose a stool near him and plopped my appetite down.

"Is this a normal crowd?" I asked, explaining that I was a starving columnist, looking for a hot meal and a good story.

"Come back on Saturday," he suggested.

As long as I was there, why not order? The stranger had summoned "Mike," the waiter. Who also turned out to be the cook. Who also turned out to be the owner, Miguel Villavicencio.

I ordered a ham and cheese omelette, handed him a business card and tried to explain what I wanted. Free publicity, I told him. I write about you and your place on our website. How can you not agree?

"No," Miguel said. "No money. No customers. No money."

"He doesn't understand," the other guy said. "He thinks you want to sell him an ad."

OK, I decided, back on Saturday. So a few days later, there I was on a Saturday morning, excited to see about 10 people in the place, enjoying breakfast.

Again, I sat next to the only guy at the counter, a rather crusty old man we'll call Earl. He doesn't want me to use his real name because he's been cheating on another diner down the road with Annie's and he doesn't want word to get out.

"You'll have to move over one," he grumbled, looking up to greet another regular who had just walked through the door.

No problem. But hey, I know that guy. Didn't you used to sing at The Beer Hunter? Sure enough, it was Jerome Robinson, former singer with The Platters, about whom I wrote in my first article for Menifee 24/7 last fall. Apparently, he lives in the area and stops in almost every morning for breakfast.

This time, because of the "larger" crowd, Mike was joined by his wife, Sidronia, who was taking orders. Everyone calls her Annie, but she doesn't mind. She didn't have much to say either, but seemed to enjoy the attention and allowed me to talk to customers and take photos.

Meanwhile, Earl ordered huevos a la Mexicana and Jerome asked for a large bowl of menudo. I played it safe once again with the ham and cheese omelette.

"This is a real breakfast," Earl mumbled to Jerome, then nodding toward me. "He eats like a gringo."

Sorry, guys. Don't kick me out. I like the place.

"Mike" and "Annie," with help from son Miguel Jr., have operated Annie's Restaurant since 1981. It got a nice facelift, the locals say, a while back when a City of Menifee beautification project renovated the front of the building, making it more attractive to visitors.

Fortunately, the inside still looks old style. One keeps expecting a juke box to kick in with some oldies but goodies. The area in front of the counter is lined in wood paneling and ceiling fans twirl slowly overhead. Counter stools and booth seats, made of brown naugahyde, have a clean, retro look.

Miguel Jr. was 10 when his father, a longtime cook in the Los Angeles area, decided to take a chance, move his family east and buy what was once called Annie's Truck Stop.

"The place has been around since the '60s," Miguel Jr. said. "We used to get calls from truckers, so we took off the 'truck stop' part of the name. My mom and dad couldn't speak English when we first came here, so they took classes.

"The thing that gets me ... did you see the prices? I keep telling my dad to increase the prices. He's afraid he'll scare the customers away."

That's doubtful. He could double the prices with no problem, as Jerome Robinson pointed out as he sipped from his bowlful of menudo.

"You can't beat the food, and the prices! Where else can you go to have bacon and eggs, hash browns and coffee, and with the tip it comes to six bucks?" Jerome said.

With that, I walked to the head of the counter, where "Annie" collected the $4.67 I owed her. She politely thanked me, filed away the handwritten ticket and stuck the money in an old cash register. At Miguel's insistence, there is no computerized order system or ATM machine.

Just a lot of good food and friendly atmosphere.

Annie's Restaurant
Mexican and American Food
27666 Highway 74
Romoland, CA 92585

A Doug's Life: From One Generation to the Next, Nothing Beats a Good Book

Ethan Rutherford is 8 years old. He could've been on the living room couch, remote in hand, playing video games like most other kids his age on a Saturday morning, right?

Or maybe I have this all wrong. Maybe I've misjudged the younger generation. Is it possible they actually read books once in a while? I mean, real books, where you turn the pages and put them on the shelf when you're done?

All I know is, Ethan walked out of the Sun City Library with a shopping bag full of books Saturday during the library's quarterly "Bag of Books for a Buck" sale. So did his brother, Cody, who's 11. And they weren't the only kids there.

In fact, there were a lot of people there -- people of all ages and reading interests. The community room was full of books, crammed onto long tables and spilling out of boxes on the floor -- and there were people everywhere. And somehow, I don't think they were all there just because of the bargain price.

True, the deal was you could fill a big shopping bag with books and pay just a dollar. Any used book you could find, just throw it in the bag and you walk out with a bunch of books -- and you're just one buck poorer.

I can see the appeal of that deal to someone who grew up reading books that don't require a battery and an Internet connection. There were a lot of us there. But to see the kids in there, jockeying for position around the book stacks, well ... it was enough to make me want to go home and dig out my Hardy Boys books.

But first, a peek into that bag Ethan was clutching as he headed toward the door with 11-year-old Cody, brother, and mom Lauren.

Let's see ... hmm, some heavy reading. Really, Ethan? Lord of the Rings? At age 8?

"They have Legos for Lord of the Rings, so I wanted the book," he said. "It might take me a month or so to read it."

At least. OK, next book. Kareem, the biography of former Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who retired 15 years before Ethan was born. So Ethan, how do you even know who Kareem is?

"The skyhook," he replied, referring to Jabbar's signature hook shot. "My dad and brother taught me about it."

Now we're getting somewhere. So the parents are passing on to their children a love for history, which can best be found in old books? Sounds nice. But couldn't Ethan find the same thing in a web search?

"We have quiet time every day when they have to sit down and read," Lauren Rutherford said. "They have a choice between books, comic books or a newspaper. They do have a Kindle and they use that sometimes, but most of the time this is a 'no electronics' time."

Wow. And the kids actually seem to like it.

"My dad started telling me about Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan," Cody said about two other retired NBA greats. "After that, I read books about them. I even made a bobblehead of Magic Johnson."

Maybe that's the secret: Caring enough about current (and past) events and the education of our children to share knowledge that will send them to the book stacks, searching for more.

The Internet is great for looking up statistics, mapping a location and reading a short bio. To get the whole story, crack open a book.

"We have a Kindle, but I still read more of the printed books," said Len Keeler, another Menifee resident at the book sale. "My wife is into foreign languages and wanted a book on learning another language. She found one. She's still in there, filling bags."

Inspired, I headed back inside to grab a shopping bag. Now where are the Western novels?

A Doug's Life: All for One, One for All

Ever since I first introduced the idea of a volunteer "Menifee Rides" carpool program to help get Menifee students to school this fall, I have been faced with questions. So before we move any further along in the process, here are the answers:

Why didn't someone do this before?

Having lived here only since October, I can't say for sure. My guess is that most residents of Menifee would rather have a root canal than get involved with a project so widespread with so many challenges. I'd say that's a pretty natural reaction. What I hope is NOT the reason is that people may have become disillusioned about the whole concept of volunteering.

Don't you know this idea will fail?

"Failure is not an option," as someone once said. This project might not be as successful as we'd like it to be, but it won't fail. Its degree of success depends on the number and attitude of the folks on the Menifee Rides bandwagon.

Do you have the support of the school district or City Hall?

Officially, they can't give it and I don't expect it. For liability reasons, organizations such as these can't give formal endorsement or get involved in the operations of the project. The rest of us, we're private citizens offering to help each other out. They can't stop us from doing that.

How will you protect our children when they get into someone else's car?

I can't protect all our children. WE can protect all our children -- by partnering with friends and neighbors, not strangers; by checking the backgrounds of those we don't know through the Megan's Law website and by other means; by STICKING TOGETHER and finding the best way to provide safe transportation for each other to and from school.

How do you know my child won't be getting into a car with a child molester?

How do you know a child molester won't snatch your kid up on the sidewalk? You don't, but you take every available precaution, you pray, and you make smart choices. If you don't believe in this program, you don't have to participate. Just don't criticize those who do.

How many people have volunteered to help?

Not enough. I have received several emails to the address set up for this project, menifeerides@gmail.com, but we need lots more to address the need at each individual school.

What's the next step?

We need to:

-- Start pairing up people who live in the same neighborhood and identifying who needs rides, who can drive, who can trade days, etc.

-- Get some volunteers who can help me recruit and organize transportation in each area.

-- Consider a planning committee (I can't do it alone!)


As the headline says, we must have a "All for One, One for All" mentality. With this, we can get it done.

Please email me at menifeerides@gmail.com

Until then, have a nice day. :)

A Doug's Life: Thanks for the Lemonade

There's a new corner sign twirler in town, but he's not hawking housing developments or pizza joints.

He's 8 years old, has a sister for a co-worker, and carries a bright green sign advertising lemonade for 50 cents a glass.

Take you back to your childhood? Carefree summer days in a safer place and a kinder, gentler time?

That's what I like about Menifee.

OK, it's one of the reasons I like Menifee. But this one pretty much sums it up. I'm not saying it's Mayberry, but Menifee is a place where you can stretch out, take a deep breath and enjoy the little things again. We just fail to recognize this sometimes.

There I was, heading southbound on Menifee Road Tuesday afternoon, making a quick stop at the intersection at La Piedra Road before heading on my way. Halfway through the intersection, a dancing green sign caught my eye. A young boy was waving it and hollering, while a girl sat at a card table behind an inviting pitcher of lemonade.

I smiled to myself and started to head down the road. Then it hit me. Am I really in such a hurry that I'm going to let this Norman Rockwell moment pass me by?

Besides, it was 100 in the shade and I was darn thirsty.

Turning around and pulling over in front of Wheatfield Park, I introduced myself to Tanner Nelson and his sister Hailey, age 13. Handing them my 50 cents, I had a choice between regular lemonade and pink lemonade. Pink turned out to be a great choice.

"Are you selling a lot of lemonade?" I asked Tanner.

"You're our first customer," he said. "We just got here."

A few feet away, parents Erik and Allison Nelson explained that after several days of listening to their children beg for this grass-roots sales opportunity, they agreed to help them set up, sit in the shade for a couple hours and see what happened.

"A couple weeks ago, I was telling them how when I was little, we used to sell lemonade in front of my grandmother's house," Allison said. "They wanted to do the same thing. We've been putting them off, but today they finally nailed us. We decided to do it at this corner where there was more traffic."

It didn't take long before the customers started to show up. First a couple who pulled over in their car after noticing the waving sign. Then a young boy on a bicycle. The little lemonade stand was doing all right.

"It's a lot different atmosphere out here," said Erik, who works in Los Angeles as a firefighter. "You really have that hometown attitude."

You have that hometown attitude, and you have that gleam in a young boy's eye as customers approaches with a smile on their face and two quarters in their outstretched hand. At least for this old boy, it was 1960 again for a few minutes. No one was complaining about the traffic, arguing about school bus routes or belittling local politicians.

It really was kind of nice.

"At least they're not inside the house, playing video games," Allison Nelson said.

No, they're not -- thanks to the kids' ambition, the parents' support and a few nice gestures from people passing by.

Yeah, I like Menifee.

A Doug's Life: Want a Solution to the School Busing Problem? Take Me Up On This Offer

Here we are again, the residents of Menifee, facing what appears to be a serious problem.

No, we're not talking about the traffic jams. Nor the debate over the impending arrival of a Wal-Mart store. Nope, not candidates for the November city election, either.

This is an important administrative action that could impact thousands of school children in the Menifee area: A drastic reduction in busing for the coming school year.

In short, the announcement earlier this week of a reduced bus schedule was really an admission by the Menifee Union School District Board that a huge number of students will no longer have bus service -- even from some remote locations that require long walks over hills and dirt roads on the way to school.

Only three of the district's nine elementary schools will be served by bus routes in the new academic year, which begins in mid-August. Even for those who remain eligible for busing, bus pass rates increased dramatically. A report of this announcement on Menifee 24/7 on Tuesday has generated nearly 50 comments on our Facebook page -- virtually all in strong opposition to the move.

I don't blame these people a bit. While I believe district officials when they say the cost of providing the bus service far exceeds available funding received for it, I agree with the masses that there must be something that can be done about this.

There is.

I'm not talking about marching in protest or writing one's elected officials, as some parents have suggested. Those are good ideas and are certainly worthy of consideration by any concerned parent. Attending future school board meetings to voice your opposition remains your right as well.

But because barring a miracle, nothing will change for this school year, there is only one reasonable solution. We must help each other get through this.

I propose that the residents of Menifee unite in an organized effort to provide transportation for those students who need it. We have stay at home moms who have an extra seat in the SUV and a few extra minutes each morning and afternoon. We have senior citizens looking for ways to stay involved in the community. There are residents who could make enough time to drop a neighbor's child off at school on the way to work. Churches seek service opportunities.

There even are part-time journalism professors and Menifee 24/7 writers who often work from home and have the capacity to help out.

That's right. You parents need help getting your kids to school? I'll be the first to volunteer. My car has four seats available almost every morning and afternoon. I am at your service.

In fact, I'll do more than that. I volunteer to coordinate an effort to identify those in need, find volunteer drivers, and provide transportation to as many students as possible.

I know what you're thinking: "Nice gesture, but he's crazy. He'll never find enough volunteers. Besides, I'm not letting my kid climb into a car with a stranger."

First, I assure you I am not crazy, although I have my moments. Second, I may not find enough volunteers, but I bet I can find a lot. Third, they won't be strangers by the time your children take their first ride to school.

Here's my offer:

If you have a need for transportation for your children to a Menifee Union School District school that does not provide bus service, write me at the following email address:


Put "rides needed" in the subject line. You don't have to give me your name, exact address or any personal information at this time. All I need is your email address in order to respond to you. Include the following in your email:

-- How many children need rides and which school(s) they attend
-- The approximate area in which you live (nearest major cross streets)
-- Exact time you need the students to be picked up each morning and any information about dropping them off after school
-- State whether you are willing to reimburse a volunteer driver for gas expenses
-- Add any additional details you believe are important

If you are willing to be a volunteer driver, write me at the same email address. Put "rides offered" in the subject line. Include the following in your email:

-- Type of vehicle you drive and its condition
-- The approximate area in which you live (nearest major cross streets)
-- How many passengers you can safely take
-- Any restrictions on days/times you are available
-- Indicate if you are willing to provide this volunteer service without asking for gas money
-- State whether you personally know any families for which you could provide this service
-- Add any additional details you believe are important

Once the responses come in, I will evaluate the responses and find the best matches of drivers and students. I am willing to do this by myself, but of course I would welcome volunteer assistance with this -- including city officials and members of law enforcement.

Rest assured, no parent would EVER be asked to send his or her child into a car with someone they have not met with more than once and whose background has not been checked out first. This process would constantly be monitored and adjustments made as needed. Contact information for all those involved would be verified in advance.

Of course, any parent has every right to reject a volunteer who is proposed as the driver for their children. Drivers won't be given any personal information about those in need -- including home address -- unless the parent first agrees to the meeting after correspondence through our common email address. Liability issues would be addressed and covered in the agreement between the parties involved.

Also, to make it clear, I am not making this offer as a representative of Menifee 24/7. This is strictly my personal proposal and has not been endorsed by Menifee 24/7, although I would welcome its support.

This is a huge project, you say? It might be. That depends on you. If only one parent emails me a request for help, my job is easy. Unfortunately, the rest of you lose out. What I'm counting on is the honesty and compassion of the people of Menifee. If that makes it a huge project because of the sheer numbers, I have faith there will be enough volunteers in the group who will help me with the organizational aspects.

So who's in? Parents, are you just going to complain about the lack of busing, or are you willing to explore an alternative in getting your kids to school? As for the rest of you, how many are willing to add the word service to the word community?

The ball is in your court. The email address is now active. I await your response.

A Doug's Life: Menifee Throws a Party

Everyone loves a parade -- and apparently, everyone in Menifee also loves a carnival.

Call it a carnival, festival, fair, celebration ... it doesn't matter. What took place at Wheatfield Park on Saturday was the best example of the word community.

The weather was great, spirits were high, and smiles were everywhere during the city's annual celebration of Independence Day. So what if it took place on June 30? We had hot dogs, fireworks and constant reminders of the freedoms we enjoy. I'll celebrate that stuff any day.

To be honest, I wasn't quite sure what to expect as Kristen and I headed to the event with daughter Courtney, daughter Megan, son-in-law Jeff and grandkids Kaylee (6) and Cameron (almost 3). My previous experiences with city parades and carnivals included an excessive amount of marching youth clubs, a few primitive "floats" and commercial carnival rides that cost you an arm and a leg.

The parades usually are OK, but trying to include everyone often leads to chaos. Depending on whether you're a participant or spectator, sending a thousand kids down Main Street on a hot day can be tiring, noisy and -- dare I say it? -- kind of boring.

As for the carnival, it can be fun, but expensive. When the Ferris Wheel or the mini roller coaster costs four tickets at 75 cents a ticket, grandpa's wallet takes a beating. As for the games ... well, it's fun to watch the little ones try to pop balloons with a dart, but not so fun when they miss badly and are handed a plastic spider as a prize.

That's why Menifee's Independence Day celebration was so refreshing. They didn't try to cram everyone and his brother into the parade. They let most of those folks line the curbs. As 25 or so vehicles, youth organizations, kids on bikes and walking adults headed down that short stretch of La Piedra Road, most families were united as spectators, enjoying the scene together as the kids scooped up candy thrown or handed to them.

As a representative of Menifee 24/7, I walked in front of our company's parade entry, a float carrying Chamber of Commerce queens, including our own Tina Walker. Kaylee and Cameron joined the children of Menifee 24/7 sales and marketing superstar Shelli Stovall in passing out candy to spectators while cruising the parade route on bikes and scooters.

There were no commercial carnival rides, a fact that didn't seem to bother any of the thousands who attended. There was, however, a "bounce house" for the kids, along with several giant inflated slides and play areas. There was a dunk tank. And guess what? All were FREE. (Pop is happy).

Instead of costly game booths, kids enjoyed FREE craft making under the big tent. Cameron was very proud of himself for coloring a styrofoam airplane. Kaylee designed a thank you card to our troops, colored her own plane and decorated a beach ball. Kids and smiles were everywhere.

Then came the fireworks -- a colorful display overhead that could be seen for miles.

How does the city fund this, you ask? They charge local groups and businesses a fee for setting up vendor booths, where said vendors can make a few bucks selling food, clothing and other things a bit more appealing than a plastic spider. This helps to cover the cost of the craft items and other attractions that are the City of Menifee's gift to the people. So the local groups raise some money and the customers save some money. Everyone wins.

At the city's booth, a large roll of butcher paper on a long table invited residents to write suggestions about future developments in the city. As expected, there were lots of comments about a Trader Joe's, a movie theater and a bowling alley. But I'll settle for something else.

How about another festival?