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Cashing out at Fat Smitty’s
by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Casey Carson, manager of Fat Smitty’s, estimated $6,000, while his wife, Jenna, guessed $8,000.
Fat Smitty, the man himself, estimated there was $5,800 attached to the walls of his namesake restaurant.
Sean Neal, Sinclair Senior District Executive for the Boy Scouts, guessed $5,000. “But I’m from Oklahoma,” he said. “We don’t do math well.”
In the end, all fell far short of the actual amount: $10,316 was removed by Boy Scouts and other volunteers during a day-long event at the famous restaurant Saturday, Jan. 30.
Smitty, who has owned the restaurant for 40 years, said the tradition of attaching dollar bills to the walls and ceiling of his Discovery Bay eatery has been ongoing for decades, starting in “1984 or ’85” with “a couple guys — salesmen — from Caterpillar.” The two asked Smitty if they could post their business cards along with a dollar bill.
“I said sure.”
Smitty said it took quite a few years to really get going. At first it was “just grown-ups putting up their cards.”
“Then the kids got involved.”
Smitty said in all those years “we never took a dime” from the growing stash.
A new look
Casey Carson, who will inherit the business from Smitty, laughed before the crew got started. “I’m scared” to find out what’s below those bills, he said, but then added: “I think it’s going to be fine.”
“A little elbow grease and it will be OK.”
Along with 10 grand in U.S. currency, the workers pulled down a mountain of memorabilia: business cards, photos, love notes and more. A quick glance at just one small portion of the wall revealed three foreign currencies pinned to the wall: Filipino pesos, Iraqi dinars and Hong Kong dollars.
Carson was quick to point out that the tradition hasn’t come to an end. The bills attached to the ceiling remain and a new collection of bills soon will start to spread across the walls.
“Once people know it all went to charity, it will fill up again, but more quickly,” he said.
Carson said, “It’s been Smitty’s and (Smitty’s wife) Mickey’s intention to do it. Eventually you just have to do it and I think it’s great.”
Smitty said the sheer volume of the bills had become problematic. “Actually, it’s become a pain. There’s too much here.”
Carson said he’s been fascinated by the public reaction. In the past week — after the announcement was made — customers have been regularly throwing $20 bills into a donations bucket. One local came in with $40: “Just make sure it goes to charity,” he told Carson.
And so it is: $3,000 will soon find its way to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. The balance is going to the Boy Scouts, with the money helping to build a new dining hall at Camp Parsons in Brinnon.
Neal, who helped pluck the funding from the walls, said he was in the right place at the right time. In 2009 he dropped by for one of Smitty’s famous burgers — standard practice for all Boy Scouts traveling through, he said — and struck up a conversation with Carson, asking him what would happen to the money.
“Well, we have plans to give it to the Boy Scouts,” Carson said.
Neal was quick to offer his assistance.
Family owned, family run
Family owned Fat Smitty’s is a story unto itself. The iconic restaurant, which also is famous for producing the most luxurious amalgamations of beef and bun ever, is owned by Carl and Mickey Schmidt, who have been married for nearly 50 years. The two met when Smitty was a Marine stationed in Mickey’s native Okinawa in the early 1960s. Though it arose from a tragedy, Smitty has a second reason to be grateful for his time in the Marines. Carson is the son of Smitty’s best buddy in the Marines.
When the elder Carson died, “We became a family,” Mickey said.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.