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[COMMUNITY] Fat's Restaurant Celebrates 70 Years of Success & Politics

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  • madchinaman
    An American success story Frank Fat s Sacramento restaurant opened 70 years ago. It became a hit with the political crowd, before texting and term limits made
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 10, 2009
      An American success story
      Frank Fat's Sacramento restaurant opened 70 years ago. It became a hit with the political crowd, before texting and term limits made hashing out issues face-to-face a thing of the past.
      By George Skelton
      http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-cap31-2009aug31,0,5442923,full.column


      -

      The heyday for Frank Fat's restaurant, Kevin says, was when "people made relationships by talking face to face, not by e-mail, not by texting."

      And that's the second reason for observing this birthday: It's a chance to reflect back on an era when legislators tended to become bipartisan pals and pragmatic producers of good public policy.
      *
      "Fat's was the place where everything happened," recalls former Senate Republican Leader Bill Campbell. "We really solved all the world's problems. It was a much more pleasant Legislature back then. People got to know each other. We could sit down and disagree and have a friendly argument."

      Things have changed -- not just because of political reform, but because term limits have made legislators more competitive and left them without enough time to develop solid relationships. Plus, drunk-driving laws discourage bar-hopping.

      Lobbyists still lunch at Fat's, but legislators tend to eat at their desks or raise campaign funds. Fat's has more of a civil service crowd these days. Also, there are new restaurants nearer the Capitol.

      But Frank Fat's survives, even if the pragmatic politics it nourished for decades has regretfully perished.
      *
      Many political deals were struck at Fat's -- the most famous being the 1987 "Napkin deal."

      Lobbyists for trial lawyers, insurers, business, doctors and tobacco convened at Fat's one summer evening to negotiate the final piece of a product-liability bill that had been fought over for months. Speaker Brown came in late and forced a settlement. Then they adjourned to an upstairs private room to celebrate.
      *
      Fat's -- and other Capitol watering holes -- provided the political equivalent of campfire camaraderie.

      It wasn't always pretty from a reformer's perspective. Lobbyists usually sprang for drinks and dinner.

      "Pigeons -- that's what we called lobbyists in those days," recalls former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). "You'd go to Fats looking for a pigeon. My guess is Fat's is still sending some lobby firms bills from those years."

      That ended in 1974 when a Jerry Brown ballot initiative limited the pigeons' tabs to $10 per month -- "enough for two hamburgers and a Coke," Brown said.
      *
      Pic - Then-Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, right, pays tribute to Frank Fat on Fat's 80th birthday in 1984. (United Press International)

      -


      Seventy years ago today, a Chinese immigrant -- an "illegal alien" -- opened a restaurant in a rundown former speakeasy two blocks from the state Capitol.

      Frank Fat named the eatery after himself, advertising "something different . . . "

      "Chinese and American dinners served in lovely, peaceful Oriental atmosphere by charming, beautiful and courteous Chinese waitresses. . . . Dinners, full course with a large choice of entrees, 50 cents up. Lunches 25 cents. Try Frank's special steak . . . they're delicious."

      Yes, they were and still are -- sliced and smothered in sauteed onions and oyster sauce. Today's price: $25.95 a la carte.

      In 1939, the Depression still lingered and a half-buck wasn't spent lightly, even by lobbyists on politicians' dinners.

      But Fat's quickly became a hit with the political crowd, especially the state attorney general and future governor, Earl Warren, who regularly lunched there until he was appointed Supreme Court chief justice in 1953.

      Seventy years is a long time for any small business to survive in one location, especially a restaurant. But Fat's -- family owned and operated -- has prospered while other once-venerable capital fueling stations have gone belly-up.

      The principal reason is that, like any good politician, Fat's always has been liked and trusted by its constituents.

      "You give people good food, a nice place to eat it in and make them happy. Pretty simple, really," Frank Fat once explained.

      And political secrets are safe. "I try not to listen," says Frank's grandson, Weyland Fat, who shares host duties with his cousin, Kevin Fat.

      There are at least two reasons why this restaurant's birthday should be observed.

      One, of course, is that the Fat family is the epitome of the American Dream.

      Frank Fat sailed to San Francisco in 1919 at age 16, speaking no English and using a false ID. He picked fruit, washed dishes, swept up, waited tables -- in Sacramento, Detroit, Chicago -- endured discrimination and even slept nights on the stone steps of a restaurant basement. "It was good enough for me," he said years later.

      He and his wife, Mary, had six children, all college educated. The family now owns five restaurants and a catering service.

      Fat opened his original restaurant with $2,000 borrowed from a man whom he had impressed. He was waiting tables at a Sacramento restaurant with a basement gambling hall. A state official came in and asked him to go downstairs and place a keno bet. The guy won $2,000 but, not realizing it, left before Frank could return with the money. The immigrant waiter held on to the winnings until he saw the amazed, thankful man several weeks later -- and won himself a lender to launch his restaurant business.

      Frank Fat died in 1997 at 93. His son, Wing Fat, who had succeeded Frank as manager and smiling host in 1971, died in 2005 at 79. Kevin Fat, 42, Wing's nephew, is now the manager.

      The heyday for Frank Fat's restaurant, Kevin says, was when "people made relationships by talking face to face, not by e-mail, not by texting."

      And that's the second reason for observing this birthday: It's a chance to reflect back on an era when legislators tended to become bipartisan pals and pragmatic producers of good public policy.

      Fat's -- and other Capitol watering holes -- provided the political equivalent of campfire camaraderie.

      It wasn't always pretty from a reformer's perspective. Lobbyists usually sprang for drinks and dinner.

      "Pigeons -- that's what we called lobbyists in those days," recalls former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). "You'd go to Fats looking for a pigeon. My guess is Fat's is still sending some lobby firms bills from those years."

      That ended in 1974 when a Jerry Brown ballot initiative limited the pigeons' tabs to $10 per month -- "enough for two hamburgers and a Coke," Brown said.

      But these days, rather than popping for $25 meals, lobbyists routinely kick in $2,500 at legislators' fundraisers. And nobody has much fun.

      Political "reform" didn't stop people from going to Fat's. Many went: Gov. Jerry Brown, Speaker Willie Brown, most legislative leaders and wannabes -- and the next two governors occasionally, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson.

      "I'd go often," Jerry Brown says. "I'd go late. I was a single guy and didn't cook in my apartment. I probably ate at Frank Fat's more than anywhere else." Brown says he'd order Yu Kwok fried dumplings and Sang Gai Shee chow mein.

      "Legislators were there. My staff would be there."

      Many political deals were struck at Fat's -- the most famous being the 1987 "Napkin deal."

      Lobbyists for trial lawyers, insurers, business, doctors and tobacco convened at Fat's one summer evening to negotiate the final piece of a product-liability bill that had been fought over for months. Speaker Brown came in late and forced a settlement. Then they adjourned to an upstairs private room to celebrate.

      Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Bill Lockyer, now the state treasurer, joined the group and suggested that the warring interests agree to a five-year peace pact. Great idea, they said. Lockyer scribbled the pact on a linen napkin and the lobbyists signed it.

      "Everybody was handing me yellow pads," Lockyer later told me. "I thought it would be more theatrical to write on a napkin. I wanted to create more Capitol lore."

      Lockyer still has the napkin. A copy of it is framed at Fat's.

      "Fat's was the place where everything happened," recalls former Senate Republican Leader Bill Campbell. "We really solved all the world's problems. It was a much more pleasant Legislature back then. People got to know each other. We could sit down and disagree and have a friendly argument."

      Things have changed -- not just because of political reform, but because term limits have made legislators more competitive and left them without enough time to develop solid relationships. Plus, drunk-driving laws discourage bar-hopping.

      Lobbyists still lunch at Fat's, but legislators tend to eat at their desks or raise campaign funds. Fat's has more of a civil service crowd these days. Also, there are new restaurants nearer the Capitol.

      But Frank Fat's survives, even if the pragmatic politics it nourished for decades has regretfully perished.


      ======


      Frank Fat's will celebrate 70th anniversary
      http://www.sacbee.com/static/weblogs/capitolalertlatest/025219.html


      Frank Fat's restaurant, the fabled home-away-from-home for Capitol politicians, will celebrate its 70th anniversary Wednesday, and a number of the state's political old-timers are scheduled to attend.

      The 6 p.m. party in a parking garage next to the restaurant at 806 L St. is open to the public and is a fundraising event for Sacramento Crisis Nurseries. Among those expected to attend are former Assembly Speaker (and San Francisco Mayor) Willie Brown, former Gov. George Deukmejian and John Burton, former president pro tem of the state Senate and now state Democratic Party chairman, as well as members of the current Capitol crowd.

      The restaurant was opened in 1939 by Chinese immigrant Frank Fat and was operated for many years by his late son, Wing Fat. It's still in family ownership, but its status as the chief after-hours gathering spot for Capitol politicians has faded somewhat in recent years.

      Attendees are expected to recount many stories of political deals that were made in the dimly lit restaurant, including the infamous 1987 "napkin deal" on limiting personal injury lawsuits, and the late Houston Flournoy's decision to run for governor in 1974 during a poker game in the restaurant's upstairs private dining room.


      +++++


      From Humble Beginnings to a California Icon: Frank Fat's Celebrates 70 Years
      Sacramento's Party of the Year Set for 9-9-09
      http://www.sacramentopress.com/headline/11125/From_Humble_Beginnings_to_a_California_Icon_Frank_Fats_Celebrates_70_Years


      Frank Fat's restaurant, the oldest restaurant operated by the same family in the same location in Sacramento and possibly the entire West, is celebrating its 70th year as a historic Chinese-American restaurant and Capitol dining host.

      Located two blocks away from the State Capitol on 806 L street, Frank Fat's serves some of the region's most celebrated dishes such as Honey Walnut Prawns, Frank's Style New York Steak, Yu Kwok and Banana Cream Pie. In celebration of Frank Fat's opening in 1939, customers will be in for a treat. Frank Fat's is offering a sizzling special with the price of a gourmet meal rolled back to $19.39 per person. (Offer available August 1 to September 30, 2009)

      Not only is the cuisine phenomenal, but the restaurant is a notable part of California history. In 1919, the legendary Frank Fat, whose Chinese name was Dong Sai-Fat, immigrated to the United States from Canton, China at age 15. Before he became a successful restaurateur, Frank picked fruit, washed dishes and waited tables.

      "When customers asked my grandfather about his secret to success, he would modestly say he was `only an ordinary restaurateur who worked hard and had a bit of luck,'" said Kevin Fat, Vice President of Frank Fat, Inc. and Frank Fat's grandson.

      Frank's lucky break occurred in the 1930s when he waited tables in the basement of Hong King Lum restaurant where they offered Chinese Keno games when gambling was still legal in California. A prestigious state official came in for lunch and bought several Keno tickets. He marked the tickets, and Frank went to the basement to pay for them. A 50-cent ticket won $900 for the patron, but the official left before the game started. Frank held the winnings until the man came back for dinner. The thankful customer rewarded Frank for his honesty by giving him the business loan he needed to open Frank Fat's.

      In 1939, Frank turned a former speakeasy in downtown Sacramento into a thriving Chinese-American restaurant where dinner could be bought for 50 cents and lunch for 25 cents. The grand opening advertisement featured a portrait of Frank Fat's cheerful smile with the words, "Frank Fat Presents to Sacramento and Vicinity Something Different. Beautiful. Refreshing. Delightful."

      In the 1980s, Fat's became renowned as California's "Third House" where landmark bills were negotiated over friendly meals and tort reform arose out of the famous "napkin deal." Today, Frank Fat's remains the most popular Chinese-American restaurant among not only the Capitol crowd, but also with families, business executives, world travelers and entertainment and sports personalities.

      "My father knew how to provide great food and excellent service, and he had an instinct for good business," said Jerry Fat, president of Fat's restaurants and Frank Fat's youngest son. "He was well known for his joyful persona, humbleness and genuine interest in people. The Fat family carries on his legacy by combining excellent cuisine with personalized and friendly service in all of our restaurants."

      In addition to Frank Fat's restaurant, the Fat family has Fat City Bar & Cafe and Fat's Catering and Banquet Facility, both in Old Sacramento; Fat's Asia Bistro & Dim Sum Bar in Roseville and Folsom; and Fat City Steak House in San Diego. The Fat restaurant dynasty also includes Kung Fu Fats located at California State University, Sacramento and Cache Creek Casino near Woodland.

      THE PARTY OF THE YEAR
      Frank Fat's 70th anniversary celebration will take place September 9, 2009, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the garage next to Fat's at 806 L Street. Both Frank and his son, Wing, treasured family and the importance of family in achieving success. In their memory, the 70th anniversary celebration will benefit Sacramento Crisis Nurseries, which helps to prevent child abuse and neglect by supporting families during times of extreme stress and providing safe havens for their babies and children. The party will be open to the public in support of charity. To benefit Sacramento Crisis Nurseries, reservations are $125 per person and can be made by calling 916-441-4184 or visiting www.crisisnurseryonline.com/frankfat.htm.
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