Name: Friends Sports Tavern
Owner: Mary Diek
Address: 31911 Dove Canyon Drive, Trabuco Canyon.
Phone: (949) 709-1010
What’s Nearby: My Gym, Gold’s Gym, Something Special Catering, Grandma’s House Doggie Daycare
What Makes It So Awesome: Whether you’re looking for a place to watch the game, do some dancing, play trivia, meet friends or grab a steak sandwich, Friends Tavern is the perfect place. It’s more than just a neighborhood restaurant, it’s a home away from home -- with 27 big screen televisions.
What’s the Scoop: “Eat, drink and meet Mary,” the website says. Four years ago, Mary Diek was a “retired” stay-at-home mother of 25 years, her three grown kids off on their own. Always one to stay busy, she tried her hand at selling makeup and volunteering but was restless for more. One night over dinner, Diek’s friends suggested she open her own bar. Diek and her family often played trivia at local restaurants and enjoyed the pastime together. With a love for people and her community, Diek toyed with her friends’ suggestion, and in the summer of 2007, she opened Friends Tavern in the Dove Canyon Plaza.
“I wanted to create a place people could call their second home,” she says. Indeed, Friends Tavern has become just that. Locals from Dove Canyon and surrounding areas pop by after work for a drink and gather on the weekends with their friends. At the door is a sign that says, “Enter as strangers, leave as friends.” The restaurant was designed not just to be another place to grab a bite to eat, but as a sort of neighborhood “Cheers,” a place where everyone knows your name. And with her friendly, upbeat spirit, Diek knows many of her customer’s names the minute they walk in the door. A Philadelphia native, Diek now makes her home in nearby Coto De Caza. Her husband, Larry, a general contractor, stops in to help in the evenings and takes care of many of the behind-the-scenes details at the restaurant. Together, they have created a memorable place where people are sure to return to again and again, whether it's for the food, the atmosphere or the fun events.
Diek runs a team of 22 employees, most of them in their 20s and 30s. “I consider them all professionals at what they do," she says. "I treat them all like I would my own children, praising them when they deserve it and correcting them when they need that, too.” She tries to keep her employees’ busy personal lives in mind when making up the schedule, and they appreciate her for that.
What’s Unique: One step inside Friends and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the liveliest hangouts in town. With big-screen TVs surrounding the bar area, ample dining space and an outdoor patio complete with a fireplace and a stunning view, Friends offers an ambience of both fun and relaxation. On the weekends, the chairs and tables are moved back for live bands who entertain and dancers who come in to get their groove on. Small TVs are even stationed at booth tables so children can enjoy a show or parents can watch the game up close over their meal. Business folks stop in sometimes for meetings during the daytime, too.
If it’s the food you’re coming in for, you won’t be disappointed. Appetizers include the Me and My Friends Loaded Nachos, Aioli Artichoke and Cibatta Grillers with warm goat cheese. Entrees like the Seared Ahi Sandwich with Mary’s lemon dill sauce satisfy healthy palates, while the Grilled Steak Sandwich “Your Style” includes such fixings as apple wood bacon, guacamole, mushrooms and buttermilk fried onions. If there’s still room for dessert afterward, the Lavender Vanilla Bean Cream Brulee or Flourless Chocolate Cake are just a few of the delectable choices. Weekend brunch is from 10-2 p.m. and includes mouth-watering items like Cinnamon French Toast and the Friends Omelet.
If it’s the fun atmosphere you’re after, Friends is the place to be any night of the week as more than 20 big screen televisions provide angles to any number of sporting events. Taco Tuesdays include $1.50 tacos and $3 domestic pints, as well as karaoke sponsored by Moondance Productions. Wino Wednesdays include wine discounts and live magic with Ryan from 6-9 p.m. And on the weekends, the place transforms into the hottest dance spot in town with live bands and DJs on Saturday night. “I wanted to create a safe place for teens to be able to come and dance on the weekends,” says Diek. So far, Saturday nights have been one of the busiest of the week.
If it’s sports you’re into, there might not be a better place to watch the game than at Friends. The large selection of brews on tap will go perfectly with the game on the big screen above. Football Sundays are especially popular. “Sometimes, local coaches will come in, put on the game and go over the plays,” says Diek. For other sports fans, trivia and poker is available anytime, and QB1 NFL is available on Monday nights as well. “Trivia was always a fun way for me to bond with my kids,” adds Diek. She hopes others will enjoy it, too.
What’s New: Friends has implemented a program called Friends Cares. Organizations from schools to sports teams to charities can come in from Monday through Thursday and receive 10 percent of all sales during their scheduled event. The group is responsible for spreading the word to the community; these events always produce a good turnout and are lots of fun, too. Some of the past recipients of Friends Cares include OC Hitmen Baseball, Trabuco Hills High School Music Boosters, Code Red to Fight Leukemia and a Multiple Sclerosis fundraiser. Friends recently raised thousands of dollars for a local boy suffering from leukemia. They plan to host another big event next spring; it will include a silent auction and be put on by several doctors at Hoag Hospital.
From the unique food to the fun atmosphere, this restaurant is truly the go-to place for locals to come together. And as the slogan says, though they may enter as strangers, they might just go home as friends.