Before Now – Fat Boy Barbecue

In 2006, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors designated the Doggie Diner sign as City landmark No. 254. Along with Mission Dolores (No. 1), Coit Tower (No. 165) and the Golden Gate Bridge (No. 222), a seven-foot-tall dachshund head wearing a chef’s hat now enjoys official City recognition and some legal protection from alteration or destruction.

Few places outside San Francisco would recognize the historical significance of a burger-joint sign. The Doggie’s fight for survival — with the help of syndicated cartoonist Bill Griffith, and local residents Diana Scott and Joel Schechter — became national news, and the result proved to be a rare triumph for preservationists of the quirky.

What most people don’t know is the flop-eared dog with the smirk was only set upon his beachside pole around 1972. His predecessor on the same site had survived for at least as many years and oozed just as much personality. So why doesn’t anyone laud Fat Boy?

Fat Boy Barbecue Great Highway

Fat Boy Barbecue, Great Highway and Lincoln Way, 1964. Photo: San Francisco Public Library / Alan J. Canterbury

Fat Boy Barbecue Cabin was born in the 1920s on the corner of 46th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard. The restaurant served “big hot sandwiches” of barbecued pork under the image of an obese, bow-tied youth with his hands in his pockets. Where the Doggie has his hat and smile, Fat Boy had knee pants and a friendly wink. The portly logo stood at least six feet high, but didn’t have the Doggie’s attractive three-dimensionality, being just a jig-sawed board affixed to a sign. I assume the Fat Boy restaurant called itself a cabin to evoke a rustic authenticity, much the way that national chains identify themselves as “crab shacks” today.

Fat Boy’s customers came from the crowds out to enjoy Ocean Beach and the Fleishhacker pool, playfield and zoo. Enough “genuine oak” barbecue pork and beef sandwiches were sold on Sloat Boulevard that by the early 1930s a second Fat Boy opened up at Great Highway and Lincoln Way. The new outlet’s namesake was nailed to the restaurant chimney.

Frances Larkin lived across the street for decades and remembers it well:

“The aroma of that barbecue, oh my, it was magnificent. Their menu was very limited: milkshakes, coffee, soft drinks and the barbecue sandwiches. They had chairs, like school chairs, lined up against the wall, or you could walk away with [your order].”

With the rise of personal automobiles, Fat Boy Barbecue Cabins began popping up all along the highways of the Peninsula: South San Francisco, Colma, San Mateo, San Jose. Teenagers and college students made up a key customer demographic and the Fat Boy in Redwood City was particularly popular with Stanford students.

The Fat Boy Barbecue on Lincoln Way closed in the late 1960s, and about 1972 the branch at 46th Avenue and Sloat turned its spatulas over to Al Ross’s expanding Doggie Diner chain. While it’s hard to imagine such a rotund character as Fat Boy succeeding in our more health-conscious era, there are still barbecue businesses across the country with similar names.

Dan Zelinsky Fat Boy sign

Dan Zelinsky with his Fat Boy sign. Photo: David Gallagher

Locally, at least one of the local Fat Boy signs survives. Dan Zelinsky has it in storage at his Musée Mécanique nickelodeon at Fisherman’s Wharf. The Western Neighborhoods Project is in discussion with Dan about finding a way to get the corpulent lad back out on display. It’s time for Fat Boy to join his Doggie descendant in the glow of public approbation.

Trivia answer: Last column’s question was, “What alternative name for the Oceanside Water Treatment Plant (just south of Sloat Boulevard) was proposed in a 2008 ballot initiative?” Proposition R proposed calling it the “George W. Bush Sewage Plant.” (“President Bush has left us with a gigantic mess, and that this facility symbolizes the city’s deft ability to clean up its share of the financial and diplomatic mess left in this administration’s wake,” it suggested.) The initiative failed by 132,000 votes.

New Trivia Question: Name the more recent Sloat Boulevard barbecue restaurant (1970s to early 1990s) that occupied the small shack across 46th Avenue from the Doggie Diner/Carousel restaurant.

Woody LaBounty is the founder of the Western Neighborhoods Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the history of western San Francisco, and the author of “Carville-by-the-Sea: San Francisco’s Streetcar Suburb.”

http://www.outsidelands.org/doggie_diner.php
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13 Comments

  1. It was Leon’s Soul Food and I miss it all the time!

    • Leon’s was great !

    • Leon’s was great: the snap of a hot-link skin, the crack of a cold can of beer, and the tingle of the barbecue sauce on my lips. I wish it were still there.

      • When I was a boy and my family would drive down the Great Highway, we’d always shout at my brother (who was going through a portly stage) to get down quick, we’re passing the Far Boy Barbecue! Don’t let them see you!

        • I ran across this photo and the building in the background didn’t seem right to me. I vaguely remember the buildings out at the beach in the 60s, and this building wasn’t on Sloat. I did remember that there was a Fat Boy on Lincoln and Great Highway, a space now occupied by a Thai restaurant, part of the Great Highway Inn.
          Sure enough this is a picture of that restaurant, because the apartment building in the background is the same as it is today, on Lincoln and La Playa. I think Fat Boy went out in the early 70s, but I don’t remember if the buidling was razed, or if it was remodeled out of recognition.

          Thanks for the great picture!

          historydigger

          • HistoryDigger, the caption of the photo identifies it as the Fat Boy on Lincoln. I do have a photo with the one on Sloat but the BBQ is very far in the background.

    • It was fun and nostalgic to find this ramble on the FAT BOY Bar-B-Que in San Francisco.
      My Mom’s parents used to manage the Fat Boy on the corner of 46th and Sloat in the 40′s. They lived upstairs in the building I believe. She worked as a waitress there in her teens and has many a tale about life in the restaurant during that time.

      • I have a relative that also manged a Fat Boy in the 40′s.
        What was your mom’s parents names?

        • Hi, your relative didn’t manage the one in Milpitas by chance? I’m currently looking for anything old history for Milpitas. Photos, Menus, matchbooks, restaurant stuff…It’s tough to find anything original for Milpitas. Such a tiny city compared to San Jose and San Francisco.

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