Once every so often, Hans Khademi receives a phone call asking if Kobe Bryant is coming to his restaurant anytime soon.
"Like I'm supposed to know," says Khademi, who owns La Fogata Rotisserie Chicken in Corona del Mar.
Even if Khadmemi knew he wouldn't tell others because Bryant is one of his favorite customers and he doesn't want the Los Angeles Lakers star to be bothered. Khademi wants the famous Newport Coast resident to feel right at home.
Khademi has been a Lakers fan since the days of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. He was thrilled when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would eat at his restaurant, and he's just as ecstatic to have Bryant dine there with his family.
Khademi is one of many local business owners or residents who feel they have a special interest in today's NBA Finals Game 7 against the Boston Celtics. Their favorite basketball player - for some a great customer and to others a good guy - is playing for his fifth NBA championship ring.
Bryant has lived in Newport Coast since 2002. He has found a home. He's certainly comfortable at La Fogata (The Bonfire), Khademi said.
There's a photo of Bryant in the restaurant. When he enters, he'll usually speak Spanish to some of the employees and give them a high-five, Khademi said.
"He's a very good tipper," Khademi says. "When he comes here everyone is so happy. It's not because of the money. It's because he is so nice and the guys who work here they love sports. We are so lucky to have a team like the Lakers and to have him live close by. He's a great guy."
Apparently, Bryant likes Mexican food. He also eats frequently at Javier's Cantina & Grill in Newport Beach.
"This is his favorite place to eat," Pepe Fernandez, a manager, said somewhat jokingly. "He's very friendly with all the people."
Bryant also has a sweet tooth. He likes to go to Wonderland Bakery to pick up goodies for his wife, Vanessa, and their two daughters, Natalia, and Gianna, said Allyson Ames, an owner of the bakery near Bryant's home in Newport Beach.
"He usually comes in around once a month," Ames says. "He really likes our chocolate covered strawberries and our cupcakes."
Ames says Bryant is, "super nice," and has seen him pose for pictures with others and provide his autograph.
She says the bakery's employees are planning to wear purple and gold today.
"We are rooting for the Lakers," she said.
There are plenty of Lakers fans at UC Irvine, where Bryant has been known to work out and also shoot around in the gym. He's also helped the Anteaters with marketing. Before the 2008-09 men's and women's basketball season, he provided the opening for UCI's video introduction of the teams.
"I just want to introduce, bring to you right now your men's and women's basketball teams who are going to kick some serious ass! Rip Em Eaters!" he says in the video that's on youtube.
"It was really gracious of him to take the time to do that," said Robby Ray, the assistant athletic director for corporate relations.
A Costa Mesa resident, who would not reveal his name, is an employee for the helicopter service Bryant had used before switching to a different company this year.