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A Newhall institution scores

SCV’s ‘Sandwich King’ still passionate 30 years after Final Score in Newhall served its first meal

Posted: March 14, 2009 11:18 p.m.
Updated: March 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Joe Comella, owner of Final Score in Newhall, sits at a table in his restaurant. The walls of the restaurant are lined with hundreds of photos of SCV sports teams and celebrities.

 

Three decades in the business hasn't dampened restaurateur Joe Comella's passion for good food and good times.

Customers at his Newhall restaurant, Final Score Food and Beverage Company, are still greeted as if family. Sandwiches continue to be prepared in signature "boat" style, i.e. overflowing with meat, cheese, and chopped pickles, onions, and peppers.

High school sports photos line the walls. Students got 15 percent off their bill and sports teams got a 10 percent discount when Final Score opened in 1979. They still do.

Most importantly, Comella's sticking to his golden rules: Quality and value.

All of Final Score's meats are prime or choice. Fresh, nitrate-free cold cuts are brought in twice a week from Vernon. Bread is delivered daily from his cousin's bakery in the San Fernando Valley. Soups are made from scratch and hand-tossed pizza dough is dusted with cornmeal for a distinctly New York taste.

A $19.95 pizza, pasta and house salad meal feeds three people comfortably, while lunch specials include a $6.95 small sandwich with chips and a drink. Beer is served in 60-ounce pitchers and wine in nine-ounce glasses.

"Who else in town serves wine in nine-ounce glasses?" Comella asked incredulously.

Small sandwiches have four ounces of meat, mediums include six ounces, and larges contain eight ounces. Hamburgers are half-pound, freshly ground chuck and the popular Philly cheese steak sandwich is made with filet mignon. Roast beef and turkey are baked slowly in the Final Score kitchen before being sliced up for sandwiches and salads.

"I wouldn't want to eat anything else but healthy, real cooked food, so why should my customers?" he said. "My purveyors tell me I can change the quality, go more towards processed products, and come down on my prices. I say, ‘Are you kidding me?' No way! I'd rather close my doors."

A restauranteur grows in Brooklyn
Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y, Comella's start in the restaurant world came early. His grandparents owned a bakery that expanded to include a grocery and fish shop and eventually, a restaurant. As a child, Comella could often be found playing in the kitchen.

Cooking for others was a natural compulsion in his large, food-loving Italian-American family.

"It's the way Italians are. We're so happy to see you, we'll take you into our kitchen, where everyone hangs out," he said.

The family migrated to California when Comella was a teen. His uncle opened a small sandwich shop on Parthenia in Panorama City, and Joe helped out after school. Comella learned invaluable tricks of the trade from his uncle, who cooked all his own meats and made soup from the leftover bones.

Comella came up with unique techniques of his own like his signature chopped vegetable and pickle toppings.

"My uncle asked me where I got the idea from, but I didn't know. I just made it up. No one else was doing that at the time," Comella said.

In the 1960s, Comella used his hands-on experience to become a professional restaurant manager, assisting with the opening dozens of Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley restaurants and nightclubs, including The Whiskey A Go Go, Club Continental, the Classic Cat, Pier 7 and the Brass Ring.

After 30 such endeavors, Comella decided to open his own little place. Final Score was born in a 600-square-foot retail space in Newhall in 1979 and relocated to a 2,500-square-foot space in August, 2005.

SCV pilgrim
When Comella and his wife Linda moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1964, the area was largely uninhabited, a series of lonely roads where he and his friends and family would drag race or hunt.

"There's a tree on Pico Canyon that I can't believe is still there," Comella said. "We used it as target practice for years."

As his family grew to include five children, Comella began coaching sports, introducing AYSO to the community. Throughout his children's schooling and beyond, sports played a large part in Comella's world. Since the opening of the first Final Score, Comella's business was a consistent sponsor of local teams and soon become the place to hang out after games.

High school team photos line the walls at Final Score, with hairstyles, uniforms, and makeup giving away each era. Some of those young locals became professional athletes, some even became superstars. Their autographed pictures hang proudly at Final Score: Jerry Owens, of the Chicago White Sox; Kyle Boller, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens; Todd Zeile, retired from the L.A. Dodgers; and golfer Duffy Waldorf, to name but a few.

It's a thrill for Comella when they come back to his restaurant, often with families of their own in tow.

"When they bring their kids here, that's the greatest thing. Sometimes its three generations, right down to the grandkids. That's what it's all about," Comella said. "You can see the tradition from the people on our walls. They might be big stars today, but they made this place."

Interspersed with the sports heroes are autographed head shots of familiar entertainment industry faces: Victoria Principal of "Dallas;" singer Johnny Mathis; David Hasselhoff of "Baywatch" and "Knight Rider;" and the entire cast of "Home Improvement."
Comella earned a spot in the culinary limelight catering to the cast and crew of local TV productions, including "The Sopranos," "Melrose Place" and "The George Lopez Show."

"George Lopez used to order my turkey sandwiches up to three times a week. He loved my turkey," Comella said with pride.

A family affair
Comella's daughter, Kari, followed her father into the business, helping to build the new Final Score and managing it for a few years; her husband, Chris Simms, currently manages the restaurant. Linda Comella makes the desserts.
While they may not be related, other Final Score family members include Blanca Garcia, their first employee - she celebrated her 30th year of employment along with the restaurant's anniversary. Huynh Tran, the second Final Score employee, is still there too, a familiar face to customers for nearly 28 years.

"They couldn't speak English when they started here. I taught them," Comella said.

Comella himself still works seven days a week and has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

"These people are my family and I don't want to leave my family. I just enjoy people and making them happy. I'd get kind of bored sitting at home. I don't want to get old," he said.

One hobby Comella does enjoy outside the business is classic cars. He bought a 1964 Chevy panel truck half-built and completed the rest himself. The former Helms Bakery truck is now painted green and boasts a Final Score magnet.

"It's really cool cruising down the street in it," Comella said.

Final Score hosts a classic car event the first Saturday of each month, from 3:30 p.m. until the restaurant closes. It's attended by the Road Kings of Burbank, a classic car group Comella recently joined.

Any time of night or day, Final Score patrons enjoy real-time sports broadcasts from a multitude of flat-screen televisions placed through the dining room. Not surprisingly, Superbowl Sunday is one of the restaurant's most profitable days for dining, as well as outside catering.

The perimeter of the restaurant is outlined in booths, with the middle occupied by tables. The design is intentional, allowing large groups, teams, or families to huddle together and enjoy a communal ambience. Final Score offers their restaurant to nonprofits as a fundraising location Monday to Friday, with 15 percent of all sales benefitting the hosting organization.
What ultimately drives Final Score's success, according to Comella, is remaining true to his founding principles - real, tasty food at honest prices.

"If you had five kids like I did, you have to take them somewhere where the whole family can find something they like to eat. You still have to pay for it if they don't finish their food," he said. "That's Final Score. If you have kids, you belong here."
Final Score is located at 23254 Lyons Avenue, Newhall. (661) 254-6557.

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