By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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Schmidt, 67, doesn't know how much money is tacked to the walls and ceilings of his Discovery Bay hamburger haven.
"I don't know how much is up there," he said. "You're welcome to count it yourself, if you want."
The ritual began years ago when a traveling salesman wrote his name on a single dollar bill and tacked it to the wall.
Since then, visitors have scrawled their names or messages on bills, and the restaurant now resembles a greenback rain forest.
It's well known in the neighborhood that money hangs off the walls of the restaurant, but so far no one has attempted to shake some of it loose -- even if the economy forces people toward desperate measures.
For one thing, there is an intricate electronic alarm system, and Smitty lives out back.
Another is the fact that each bill is personalized in some way, most of them addressed to Smitty himself.
"If someone takes this money they won't be able to spend it because everyone knows where it came from," said Casey Carson, who works at the restaurant and who will manage the restaurant if and when Smitty retires.
"One of the bills turned up at a bank a while back and it came right back to us."
Then Carson warned: "If someone tripped the alarm in the middle of the night they would meet Smith and Wesson."
Schmidt has sold Smitty Burgers for 40 years, 27 of these in the current location.
For a while he was in Port Townsend, but now speaks of that town as if it were a bastion of wanton liberalism.
The restaurant is peppered with political slogans, including a huge, red "support the troops" banner front and center.
When asked whether the troops aren't getting the support they deserve, Schmidt responds with a curt "just go to Port Townsend and you'll see."
The menu is typical comfort food; burgers, barbecue, sandwiches and fries.
But if you've come this far for a meal you might as well order the specialty of the house, the Fat Smitty Burger: Two patties, three slices of bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and sauce, all for about $9.
Like the money on the ceiling, Schmidt has no idea how many calories are included.
Carson said it is irrelevant.
"When you give someone a big hamburger like this they get an incredible expression on their face," Carson said.
"Everyone's happy when they leave here. To see all these satisfied customers makes it worthwhile for me."
Schmidt refers to Carson, 40, as his son. Later, Carson acknowledges that his biological father and Schmidt were brothers. Carson's father died from a brain aneurism when Carson was 18.
Schmidt took Carson in and raised him the rest of the way, through stints in the Marines and the State Patrol, before settling in Discovery Bay a few months ago.
"We are all family," Carson said. "It doesn't matter what the real connection is. Smitty and [wife] Mickey are my mom and dad."
The politics of burgers
Schmidt describes himself as "redneck" and "conservative," staying away from the word "Republican."
His disdain for politicians crosses party lines, and the only one he likes is former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin because she is "down to earth."
His politics aren't subtle, and most of what he says can fit on a bumper sticker.
He criticizes the government for its interference in business and social areas.
With regard to this week's prime topic, he sees no reason for a federally-controlled health care system.
"If people want health care all they need to do is go out and work for it," he said.
"There is too much government interference, and it gets worse every day."
Carson said that few customers come into the restaurant to argue politics, and the burgers themselves have no party orientation.
"People come for the food," Carson said. "It doesn't matter if they agree with our politics. These are great burgers."
Schmidt will tolerate politics different from his own long enough to serve a burger, but he does have certain strict rules.
"In here customers are always right," he said. "As long as they agree with me."
He does not serve alcohol because it has become "too expensive. If I wanted to run a tavern I would have opened one."
He also accepts cash only, or if he knows you, a check. This isn't as strict as it sounds, since there is an ATM in the back hall.
"If I take credit cards then someone who brings cash pays for everyone else's credit cards," he said. "I take 'George.'"
Schmidt can't be pinned down on a lot of things. He may retire at the end of 2010, or not. He could stay open Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout the summer, or decide against it.
The only certainty is the destination of the money growing out of the walls, if and when he closes.
"This will go to charity or to the Boy Scouts," he said. "None of this money is mine."
Until then, people will continue to come from miles around, attracted by notices in travel guides or online. Or they may drop in because of the giant wooden sculpture of a fat guy in an apron next to a (not to scale, but close) giant burger.
On a recent day at the restaurant, Crystal Boothman had brought her family from Ellensburg, ordering Fat Smitty burgers for her sons, 9 and 11, but she lost out.
"I figured that I would get a bite of theirs," she said. "But they ate them so quickly I didn't get a chance."
Fat Smitty's is located on U.S. Highway 101 in Discovery Bay, near the corner of state Highway 20. You can't miss it, because of the aforementioned statue.
The restaurant is open from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, unless Smitty decides otherwise.
For more information, phone 360-385-4099.
Jefferson County reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.