Rod’s Liquor was a fixture in Old Towne Orange for more than 70 years before it closed in early 2020.
It wasn’t all bad news, though. The word soon got out that Bosscat Kitchen & Libations was opening a second local location in the Rod’s Liquor spot.
The original Bosscat Kitchen opened more than 10 years ago in Newport Beach, at a retail complex owned by local real estate investor John Saunders next to John Wayne Airport.
It quickly became popular for its Southern-influenced cuisine—and an impressive whisky list, with more than 300 labels from around the world.
The Orange Bosscat was under construction for almost a year, delayed by the pandemic and the desire to ensure that the design of the 5,000-square-foot space paid homage to the history of the 100-year-old building it sits in; prior to Rod’s, the space was an auto repair garage.
“We searched for the right restaurant group to pull in for a long time. We’re really happy we teamed up with Bosscat and I think they’ve done a fantastic job” said Rick Fraser, original Rod’s Liquor owner.
Rick’s son, Rod Fraser, was so impressed with the Bosscat renovations that he stated “the liquor store has meant so much to the community—to have that in here and kept in place, I think it’s going to go over really well with everybody, especially those that weren’t happy to see the liquor store leave. I think it’s really going to make them happy.”
Bosscat has incorporated many of Rods Liquor’s relics on the walls in an effort to make the community feel at home while dining at the restaurant. A main focal piece is the large iconic ICE Machine door hanging on the dining room wall. The ICE Machine, dating back over 70 years, was an important part of Rods Liquor’s history. The original oak wood that previously lined the ICE machine floor has been repurposed for the community table in the whiskey room, next to a bright Rod’s neon sign.
“I’m good at recycling,” said Bosscat co-founder Leslie Nguyen during an interview in the Whiskey Room, which, true to its name, is lined with shelf after shelf of whisky.
“I added the element of the birdcages with whisky bottles, the whisky shelves. I wanted to showcase each whisky because the artwork is beautiful.”
Nguyen said she and her partners were not looking to grow the restaurant in California—they also own a Bosscat in Houston—but their real estate broker put the Rod’s Liquor property on their desk so they made a pilgrimage to Rod’s before it closed.
“We fell in love with everything down here, and we met the family and that made us fall in love even more,” Nguyen said. “But how do you turn a liquor store into a bar and restaurant?”
One visit to Bosscat and you’ll see how they did it.
The vibe is vibrant yet retro, with vintage furnishings meshing perfectly with modern nuances. But atmosphere is only part of the charm of Bosscat. The cuisine is the co-star, thanks to Executive Chef and Partner Peter Petro, who has been developing the menu for many years.
“One of my biggest things is to do something a little different, not what everyone else is doing,” Petro said.
“You get a familiar dish at a restaurant and it always tastes roughly the same or it looks the same. The ingredients are the same. An example—our spicy chicken and cheese dip. The idea came from wanting to put a dip on the menu, like some places do a spinach and artichoke dip. I don’t want to do that, so we came up with the chicken and cheese dip. Now it’s one of my favorite things on the menu. That’s how I do everything on our menu—what can I do to make it wonderful and give it a twist and make it a little different. I want to give people a reason to want to come back.”
That explains the Fruity Pebbles French toast and the Donut Burger on the brunch menu, and the pork belly poutine with spicy sausage gravy and the pulled pork hush puppies on the lunch/dinner menu.
“No one ever comes to a whisky bar and says I want a salad to go with my Old Fashioned,” Petro said. “We have salads, but the poutine has everything you’d want in a dish that stands up to drinking whether its whisky or a nice cold beer.”
Other favorites sampled from the Bosscat menu: the Bosscat Burger, the BC Press with barbecue pulled pork and ham, and the fried apple pie served with ice cream.
“I remember growing up eating McDonald’s Apple Pie, and I wanted to replicate that,” Petro said. “It’s been a great success, I love it.”
As for the original Bosscat in Newport Beach, it will be moving in early 2022 to a new location a little more than a mile away in Irvine.
The new location at the Lakeshore office complex, near the Il Fornaio Restaurant on Von Karman Avenue, will retain the same great menu and whisky selection that keeps diners coming back, officials said.
Bosscat, 118 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 716-1599, bosscatkitchen.com