Food, Fleischer, Frisco

Well, it’s been an odd and interesting weekend, cartoon-wise. I had lunch at one Fleischer-themed restaurant, a couple of miles from my house–and learned that another such establishment existed decades ago.

I wrote about Betty Boop’s Diner in Union Square back in February, and ate there shortly thereafter–and found the experience so unremarkable that I forgot to report back here. The Boop theming seemed half-hearted, and the menu consisted of generic fast food. Big whoop.

Then I learned that the restaurant’s grand opening happened in June, months after I ate there, and involved a visit by Betty herself, along with a couple of (living) Fleischers. And King Features’ press release about the diner mentioned a Koko’s Chicken Sandwich.I began to wonder if I’d eaten there when the restaurant was in an unfinished state.

Indeed. When I went back today, Betty Boop’s Diner had me from the moment I went in and saw a giant TV screen showing footage of…Wiffle Piffle. And the counter ordering and humdrum menu I encountered before had been replaced by waitress service and diner fare such as the aforementioned Koko’s Chicken Sandwich, a Bimbo hot dog, and breakfast offerings called Grampy’s Morning Favorites. (I’m somewhat wary about the notion of Grampy being entrusted with breakfast, but it does one’s hart good to see a new restuarant in a posh San Francisco location paying tribute to him seven decades after his film career ended.)

Here’s the exterior:

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And here’s an interior shot:

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The best aspect of the decor are the murals by Ned Sonntag and Frank Caruso (which, I must concede, were there during my first visit). They’re so Fleischeresque it’s a little scary, with Grampy, Fearless Fred, and a skeleton working in the kitchen, Bimbo and a multibosomed centipede waitress behind the counter, and Betty herself serving a hippo customer:

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Also entertaining are a couple of large paintings by one T. Peterson, depicting La Boop in San Francisco settings:

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Betty Boop’s Diner isn’t the ultimate cartoon-themed restaurant (nor California’s greatest monument to a character owned by King Features), but I’m glad it’s here. (Another one is opening at a local mall soon, apparently.)

And I’m sorry I didn’t leave here back when there was a Wimpy’s Inn at 576 Haight, about a mile and a half from where I’m blogging. While perusing the catalog for Hake Americana’s most recent auction, I came across a vintage menu for Wimpy’s, which at the time seemed to consist of the Haight location and one across the Golden Gate Bridge–assuming the bridge had been completed at the time–in San Rafael. Here’s its cover, which suggests that the Segar association was extremely tangible (Hake’s says the menu dates from the 1930s):

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I know absolutely nothing about Wimpy’s Inn other than what the Hake’s listing tells me–including how long it existed, and whether it’s any relation to the UK-based Wimpy’s chain, which, when I ate there thirty years ago, didn’t promote a connection with J. Wellington (which was just as well, considering that even he might have refused one of their “burgers”). How long it was at 576 Haight is anyone’s guess, but today, that address is still one of a restaurant–a BBQ joint that Wimpy would probably be extremely happy in, were he to show up in the ‘hood today–in a little shacklike building that looks like it might indeed have once been a Wimpy’s Inn:

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One last thought: Why is it that all cartoon-themed restaurants feature characters owned by King Features? It seems that way, anyhow: When I was a kid in Portland, there was a chain featuring another character who appeared with Betty in one short, Otto Soglow’s Little King. (Sadly, I have no memory of eating there.) And Blondie scribe Dean Young has, inevitably, founded a chain of Dagwood’s Sandwich Shoppes.



(I won’t mention Popeyes Fried Chicken here, even though my neighborhood one had a nice mural of the sailor and his friends until recently–since I see no mention of the seadog on that company’s current Web site, which claims it was named after the Gene Hackman character.)

4 thoughts on “Food, Fleischer, Frisco”

  1. Hey,

    I just came across your blog on September 14, 2010. I realize that this entry was written over four years ago — but I thought that I could add some insight about Wimpy’s Inn.

    There were actually two Wimpy’s Inns in the Bay area. The original location was the one on Haight Street. There is a Memphis style BBQ in that location as I write this. The second location was on Fourth Street in San Rafael.

    The Haight Street location was owned by my uncle Walt Schoch (actually my great uncle). He started the restaurant sometime in the late 1930’s. In 1939, my grandfather Adolph Schoch joined him in 1939 and opened the San Rafael location. Both men were the sons of Swiss immigrants who originally settled in New Jersey.

    These restaurants were not related to the British chain. I think that they just “borrowed” the trade mark.

    Hope someone finds this interesting!

  2. I have a ca. 1940 menu from the Wimpy’s Inn at 875 Fourth Street. The caption on the inside of the menu reads, “The Only Wimpy’s Inn.” I wonder if they closed the one on Haight Street sometime after the new location at 875 Fourth Street in San Rafael got on its feet.

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