Olé, Lynne Davidson!
June 23, 2022
Life just came full circle for that 12-year-old girl who worked part-time clearing tables at Tito's Tacos, her grandfather's restaurant, in the summer of 1966. One day, exhausted after several hours of running to the tables to clear them before new customers arrived, she discovered someone had left a tip of 50 cents – twice her hourly wage! – with a note: "For the cutest little waitress."
That did it, and the restaurant business has played an active, all-encompassing role in Lynne Davidson's life since then, culminating in her receipt of the Elizabeth Burns Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Restaurant Association Los Angeles chapter on June 10th at Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, a gala that included dancing plus entertainment provided by Eric Schwartz (standup and master of ceremonies) and the renowned all-female Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles.
Davidson is the president and co-owner with her husband, Wirt Morton, of Tito's Tacos (https://www.titostacos.com/), a highly lauded and award-winning Mexican fast casual restaurant that was founded in 1959 by her grandfather, Benjamin Davidson, and famed for its hard shell tacos, among other dishes. This summer marks the restaurant's 50th anniversary at its current location, 11222 Washington Place, Culver City, CA 90230. Prior to that it was just down the street at the corner of Sepulveda Blvd. and Washington Place.
The extensive buffet of community involvement and honors that Davidson has amassed would satisfy the most demanding appetite for excellence. She has supported a great many community events and organizations, a sampling of which includes the Culver City Arts Foundation, the Arthritis Foundation, the Veterans Administration for Greater Los Angeles, and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, all the while being a tireless advocate within the restaurant industry. Notably, in 1999 she received recognition as "Small Business Advocate of the Year" from the California Chamber of Commerce.
A longstanding board member of the California Restaurant Association (https://www.calrest.org/) and a trustee of the California Restaurant Association Political Action Committee, she has held various leadership positions that include serving on the Policy Advisory Committee of the California Coalition on Workers' Compensation and being chair of the Culver City Chamber of Commerce.
And now this latest honor has been bestowed by the California Restaurant Association, an organization that acts as the uniting force of the restaurant industry by bringing that community together, impacting legislation, cultivating relationships, and providing its members with valuable resources to help them run their businesses. Additionally, it supports the California Restaurant Foundation (https://calrestfoundation.org/), whose mission is to "strive to promote the health and prosperity of the foodservice industry by investing in our youth and our workforce."
"I've known Lynne for several decades," said Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association. "Her restaurant is one of the most iconic in the state. She is invaluable for her leadership, is universally respected, and is extraordinarily smart and very engaged in our policy-making deliberations. She's always been a calming force in the midst of strong opinions and contentious issues, is very involved, and is revered by political policymakers on both sides of the aisle. She's in good company with previous recipients of this award and very deserving of it. And you can't beat her tacos!"
The award presented to Davidson was named after Elizabeth Burns (1924 – 1999), co-founder and operator of the Bob Burns Restaurants, who became the first woman president of the California Restaurant Association in 1992. A remarkable and dedicated advocate for restaurateurs in need and willing to jump in at any level, including bussing tables and washing dishes, Burns effectively lobbied on legislative issues within the often changeable hospitality industry.
Selwyn Yosslowitz, co-founder of Marmalade Cafes, who was mentored by Burns and is a former recipient of this prestigious award, commented that "I have sat on the state board for the California Restaurant Association for the past 25 years with Lynne Davidson. Lynne has always been a vocal supporter for the independent restaurants in California. Lynne is never afraid to support positions that protect restaurants to ensure their future in California. Through her dedication and leadership, Lynne has commanded so much respect from her peers in the California restaurant industry. Lynne's incredible support and caring for her employees and the larger restaurant community makes her a well-deserving recipient for the 2022 Elizabeth Burns Lifetime Achievement Award."
One of those employees is Wilman Medina, who started at Tito's Tacos eight years ago as a part-time server and is now a day manager on the morning shift. "With the pandemic we had to start again from the bottom up," he said. "We closed for two months but it felt like longer. We rebuilt ourselves stronger than before. Lynne kept us employed. The way we operate now is very different. We separated the operation into categories, more team-based and more efficient in how orders are taken and assembled. She's a very giving person, donating many orders of food to various organizations, like veterans and schools. She is just amazing, a wonderful person and a hard worker, six days a week. She has treated me with the utmost respect. My most special memory is when Lynne personally promoted me, and I will be forever grateful. I feel valued."
"Lynne has been wonderful to CCAF," enthused Sehnita Joshua Mattison, vice chair of Culver City Arts Foundation, which has received substantial financial support through Tito's Fiesta Mexicana since the inauguration of this fun event in 2018. Jim B. Clarke, CCAF's chair and a former mayor of Culver City, elaborated that "Lynne and her husband, Wirt Morton, have been most generous in hosting the annual Tito's Fiesta Mexicana along with Tito's Handmade Vodka of Austin, Texas. All the proceeds from the event benefit the Culver City Arts Foundation, and those funds the last four years have helped us to support local artists and arts organizations through our Arts Resiliency Fund. We are looking forward to Tito's Fiesta Mexicana on October 4th because it will be on a Tuesday, and everyone knows Tuesday is taco Tuesday."
There is no question that between fiestas and myriad other activities, Davidson is one extremely busy individual. Talking about a full plate . . .
"Last year I was appointed by California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara as a Public Member to the Workers Compensation Rating Bureau, representing small businesses," she said. "There are four public member slots, two for business and two for labor. Six insurance companies are represented."
Her term as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the California Restaurant Association included a slew of unexpected challenges, as it coincided with the first year of the pandemic. "So many plans were being cancelled," she recalled. "It was horrible. One board member, a very nice woman, lost her business. None of us knew whether we'd make it. It was a very dark time, but we rallied. We had to pivot in how we did business. We already had our own online ordering and pickup, and delivery was added in 2020. We increased and improved the air flow inside, and revamped how orders were prepared."
She explained that the gala was a fundraiser to help support ProStart, a high school culinary arts and restaurant management program that is run by the California Restaurant Foundation and connects the restaurant industry with the classroom. Many of the schools served are under-resourced and in disadvantaged communities. Her best advice to someone wanting to enter the restaurant business is "join California Restaurant Association, find a mentor, hang in there, believe you can do it, keep trying, and don't give up!"
She shared an anecdote that reflects one of the rewards of her decades of perseverance and service.
"A customer recently came in with her husband and sister," Davidson said. "She told me their parents brought them here while in high school. Then she showed me pictures of the grandchildren, a baby and a toddler." Undoubtedly future patrons, as it's all about building relationships. As for the immediate future, she's already gearing up for Tito's Fiesta Mexicana this Oct. 4th: "It'll be on taco Tuesday, outdoors, and should be our greatest ever big event!"
There's a saying that the only constant is change, but clearly two things have not changed since 1966: (1) Lynne Davidson conscientiously continues to take very good care of her customers, and (2) she's definitely still cute.