Robert ‘Bob’ Falkenburg: 1926-2022

As any Brazilian will tell you, Bob’s is a restaurant chain that gives McDonald’s a run for its money. Famed for its milkshakes, Bob’s was the creation of Robert “Bob” Falkenburg, the 1948 Wimbledon men’s singles champion and business entrepreneur, who died at his home in Santa Ynez, California, on January 6. He was 95 and died of natural causes.

Bob passed peacefully, surrounded by his family: his wife of nearly 75 years, Lourdes “Lou” Mayrink Veiga Machado; his son, Robert Falkenburg II; and his daughter Claudia Falkenburg.

Bob and Lou bought a ranch in Santa Ynez in 1980. They commuted between the valley and Los Angeles until 2000, when they decided to make Santa Ynez their permanent home.

Born in New York City on January 29, 1926, Bob grew up in Los Angeles in a tennis-playing family. His sister, Jinx Falkenburg, was an amateur tennis player, as well as an American film star and model and a radio and television talk show host. His brother, Tom, also pursued a successful tennis career. In 1943, Bob became one of the youngest players to enter the U.S. Top 10 amateur ranks and remained in the Top 10 for five years.

Bob Falkenburg was famous for his thrilling win of the men’s tennis crown at Wimbledon in 1948, beating John Bromwich of Australia in a topsy-turvy five-set final. Bob memorably triumphed by fighting his way back and saving three match-points in the fifth set. Bromwich had a match point at 5-3, but Falkenburg managed to persevere and come out on top with a dramatic 7-5 win. At 22, Bob Falkenburg was the youngest Wimbledon men’s single champion until Boris Becker’s victory in 1985.

The feat was almost duplicated more than seven decades later in 2019 when Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer in the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Championships. Djokovic saved two match points against Federer to prevail. Falkenburg remains the only player to overcome three match points against him in a Wimbledon final on the way to capturing the Men’s Singles trophy.

Falkenburg had already won his first Wimbledon title in 1947, teaming up with Jack Kramer, another famed Southern California tennis champion, to win the Men’s Doubles Championship at the All English Lawn Tennis Club.

Falkenburg was inducted into a number of tennis institutions, most notably the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1974. Others include the Intercollegiate Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985, the University of Southern California Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 2010.

Another Wimbledon player, Tom Brown, who was a runner-up in the tournament the year before Bob’s famous win, described Bob’s competitive approach: “He would review the situation, figure out what was likely, and take chances.”

The same spirit imbued Bob’s decision to become an entrepreneur in Brazil, where he is still known as a colorful business and sports legend. Bob and Lou moved in 1950 to Rio de Janeiro, where Falkenburg embarked on a successful business career by introducing American-style fast food restaurants, the first in South America.

Bob had met Lou in Rio in December 1946, and they were walking on a hot day when Bob said he wanted a chocolate milkshake. The couple searched the city, but none could be found. Bob never forgot this. He decided he would create an American-style ice cream shop, and years later he opened one near Copacabana Beach. Immediately, lines formed around the block. Brazilians flocked to try the soft ice cream with sauces like hot fudge and strawberry. It was an overnight sensation.

What also led to the “Bob’s” chain of a dozen restaurants grew out of Falkenburg’s frustration at not being able to find a place to have a quick lunch in Rio. “When I first got here, I looked around and said: ‘They could really use a good quick lunch place in this town,’ ” he told a Brazilian journalist. “In those days, the concept didn’t even exist here. People in Rio used to go home for lunch or eat big meals in restaurants. It took two or three hours.” Today there are more than 1,000 Bob’s eateries in Brazil, and the franchise extends to other countries.

In 1970, the Falkenburgs moved back to Southern California, and in 1974, at the age of 48, he sold the Bob’s chain to Libby’s Foods (acquired the following year by Nestlé of Switzerland).

Falkenburg by then had already turned to another sport, as an amateur golfer. He put his competitive spirit into play in many international golf championships, and he won the Brazilian amateur championship three times. Bob won numerous amateur titles in the United States, Europe, and South America. He was also known to be a remarkably good bridge, poker, and chess player. He served as president of the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles.

In addition to his wife and two children, Bob is survived by four grandchildren and five great grandchildren.


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