Friday, September 19, 2008

Famed Tales from the Frontlines: Guess Who Came to Dinner at Straw Hat?

It’s always intriguing to me when I go to a restaurant and there is a buzz about all kinds of celebrities that have passed through their doors. So, I decided to ask the Straw Hat owners to name the rich and famous who have been drawn to Straw Hat’s warm, welcoming ambience, and it’s down home cooking style.

It turns out; Straw Hat has its very own who’s who in the celeb world. In coming months, we’ll give you a sneak peak at some of the rich and famous who have passed through and are regular Straw Hat diners. And, please since we don’t have paparazzi chasing Hollywood types down in our parking lots, let me know of any high-profile types you may have spotted enjoying the original California pizza.

Makes you wish there was recycling back then and napkins were washed and kept for framing, when you realize that Thomas Kinkade, America’s most-collected living artist, ate many a pizza at the Rancho Cordova, near his boyhood home of Placerville. Turns out when the 50-year-old painter was in his teens, he would come into the Straw Hat and draw cartoons on napkins. His dad, who worked at the eatery back then in the ‘70s, would downplay his son’s talent, so we’ve been told.

Well, in the wish I could eat my words category, today, Thomas Kinkade’s art is said to be found in one out of every 10 American homes.

Coming from a modest background, Kinkade emphasizes simple pleasures and inspirational messages through his paintings. As a devout Christian, Kinkade uses his gift as a vehicle to communicate and spread inherent life-affirming values.

It was while growing up in the small town of Placerville, California that these important values were nurtured. It was also during this time that Kinkade began to explore the world around him. He spent a summer on a sketching tour with a college friend, producing the best-selling instructional book, The Artist's Guide to Sketching. The success of the book landed the two young artists at Ralph Bakshi Studios to create background art for the animated feature film Fire and Ice. It was also during this time that Kinkade began to explore light and imaginative worlds with abandon.

After the film, Kinkade earned his living as a painter, selling his originals in galleries throughout California. In 1982, he married his childhood sweetheart, Nanette, and two years later they began to publish his art. Today the couple has four daughters: Merritt, Chandler, Winsor and Everett, all named for famous artists.

Perhaps this famous hometown boy will accept our invitation to our upcoming 50th anniversary bash.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Talk About Loyal Customers!!!

At the Straw Hat Pizza, 3001 Delta Fair Boulevard in Antioch, California, you can find a woman who has eaten at least three meals a week there for more than three decades. You will find she orders a pepperoni pizza, with salad bar, every Friday. You will also discover that the guy painting the parking lot is also the owner, and you will find that he’s been hanging out at Straw Hat, since he was eight-years-old and his dad and he would stop in their for a “soda” on Saturdays when they were doing errands. You can find out what it means to order a “Genuine California Pizza.” And, you will probably discover that one of the big, strapping guys inhaling a large pizza could be one of three professional football players who have been frequenting this pizzeria since their youth sports teams celebrated after-game victories.

Go to the Antioch Straw Hat and see life unvarnished, unexpurgated, in need of Garlic Parmesan Groovy Sticks, or a “Meat-E-OR” pizza.

“It’s my second home,” says Josephine Aiello, 64, the three-times-a-week regular. “We always go there, my daughter, my brothers, all week long and then for special occasions like our birthdays.”

Owner Sal Listek says “Josie is an institution.” “All our regulars know they can count on seeing her in the same seat, ordering the same pepperoni pizza every Friday.”

There was, as still is, a buzzing about the place, a consoling murmur of conversations that are familiar for decades, explains Sal, who today owns three Straw Hat locations in Antioch, Brentwood and Discovery Bay. The soda kid who came in with his dad, became a bus boy at Straw Hat in the 1970’s and today puts his own three kids – Jared, 12, Caitlin, 11 and Megan, 7, to work busing tables when they ask dad for extra cash.

He listens to a lot of conversations, but since he has heard the same ones for years, he does not listen too closely. Some of the long-timer diners were and are employees of Rowley International Inc., a major pool manufacturer.

“We’ve got two ladies who meet here two or three times a week since before 1990 when we were in another location,” says Listek. “They just moved with us.”

Indeed the Antioch Straw Hat is the community hub, a place where sports teams and townspeople have been gathering for decades. So who are the jock-looking football players who you’ll sometimes spot hanging out here? Stay tuned for an upcoming blog.