Fatburger

11: Lovie Louise Yancey (1912-2008) was born in Bastorp, Texas, east of Austin. Her parents farmed, and her father also taught at the county school. In 1931, Lovie gave birth to her daughter, Gwendolyn, whose birth certificate indicates that the father was residing in Los Angeles. That may help explain what took Lovie from Austin to L.A.

But for the next few years, the trail goes cold for a while. Lovie’s Social Security card was issued in Nevada, so she must have spent some time working there. It is also said that she ran a cafe in Tucson.  In the mid-1940s, she finally settled in Los Angeles.

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In 1947, she teamed up with Charles Simpson to open a tiny, three-stool hamburger stand, which she named Mr. Fatburger. Simpson built the stand with scrap materials he rescued from work. The “fat” part of the name came from jazz slang, similar to the more contemporary phat, and not intended to be a commentary on the burger’s nutritional character.

The effort was successful, and Lovie and Simpson went on to open three more stands. But then in 1952, their partnership was dissolved. Lovie kept the original location, and Simpson and his wife took the others. Lovie dropped the “Mr.” from the name, and Fatburger was born, featuring burgers made of cooked-to-order fresh beef, not frozen, and tasty chili fries, along with good music. Lovie threw herself into her work. She said she was working “16, 17 and 18 hours a day…seven days a week.”

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Fatburger soon became an LA icon. Redd Foxx, a regular customer, mentioned it frequently on his popular ’70s sitcom, Sanford and Son. In 1973, Lovie opened a Fatburger in Beverly Hills, which quickly became popular with celebrities.

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     The Beverly Hills Fatburger at the intersection of La Cienega and San Vicente

Fatburger has been mentioned in a number of songs, such as Ice Cube’s classic “It Was a Good Day,” where his good day includes a Fatburger at 2:00 in the morning.

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Lovie sold out in 1990 to an investment group. Several celebrities have had investments in the expanding franchise, including Magic Johnson, Montel Williams, Queen Latifah, Kanye West, and Pharrell Williams.

In 1986, Lovie gave a $1.7 million endowment for sickle-cell anemia research at the City of Hope National Medical Center. It was in honor of her grandson, Duran Farrell, who died of the disease at the age of 22. Meanwhile, Lovie herself lived to the ripe old age of 96, finally succumbing to pneumonia in 2008. Her obituary appeared in papers across the country.

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Author: Dan Anderson

I'm an Iowa boy by choice. I love cooking and I love history, so I thought I'd put the two together.

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