Charles “Charlie” Chitchjian loved people and loved greeting them at his Fresno restaurants. He was a friendly, fun, cool man, friends and family recall, and an always dapper dresser.
“He always had a smile on his face — good times or bad,” said friend Jim Pardini, owner of Pardini’s Banquets and Catering. “You never knew which because Charlie always had the same temperament, and that’s something to be admired, especially in business and the restaurant business.”
Mr. Chitchjian died Feb. 21 at the age of 96 surrounded by family and friends at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno.
Mr. Chitchjian's restaurant career began in 1947 with the opening of the Mars Drive-in. He went on to run The Ranch Kitchen, The Carriage House and Charlie’s — along with a catering business, market, and ice cream business for a short time — until his semi-retirement in 1987. Over the next two decades, he helped stimulate business working for the Fresno/Clovis Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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Mr. Chitchjian was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the California Restaurant Association’s Fresno chapter in 2000.
The businesses he opened are now closed, but memories live on. Pardini recalls the Mars Drive-in as "iconic."
"It was a pretty neat place back in the day when I was a young man. … It was in the '40s-50s era when drive-ins were very, very popular," Pardini says, "and it was atypical of that era."
Mr. Chitchjian bought Charlie’s in 1975 from the Pardini family. The restaurant later became The Remington, which is now closed.
The native Fresnan was born to Armenian immigrant parents and graduated from Roosevelt High School. Before starting his career in food service, he was a radio operator and mechanist for the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. After the war, he worked as a mechanist for Douglas Aircraft Company for a short time.
Mr. Chitchjian stayed active into old age. At the invitation of a friend, he continued one of his favorite activities, greeting customers, at The Big Fresno Fair's Turf Club until he was 94.
"He was always calm and cool," says son, Chuck Chitchjian, "and people loved him. … He was definitely a people person."
Charles “Charlie” Chitchjian
Born: Nov. 10, 1921
Died: Feb. 21, 2018
Occupation: Retired restaurant owner
Survivors: Son Chuck Chitchjian, daughter Debi Haymond, two grandsons and numerous cousins.
Memorial service: 11 a.m. March 17, Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church, 3673 N. First St., Fresno.