DISCOVERY BAY — Carl Edward Schmidt, founder of the iconic Fat Smitty’s restaurant at the intersection of U.S. Highway 101 and state Highway 20, has died at the age of 75.
Casey Carson, who purchased the restaurant in 2010, said Schmidt died peacefully at his home in Discovery Bay on Saturday after a long illness. A celebration of his life is being planned.
Schmidt’s wife, Miyo, 86, died April 6. A memorial service was held for her at the restaurant May 19 which Schmidt attended.
Schmidt was a long-time restaurateur in the Port Townsend area.
After his Marine Corps service, he worked in restaurants in California before relocating to Port Townsend in the early ’70s. In Port Townsend, he worked in several establishments including a bakery; “Topside,” a burger house where Sea-J’s is currently located; the cafeteria st the paper mill, which was then owned by Crown Zellerbach; and a restaurant in Port Hadlock.
He also worked in construction, but his passion was for feeding people, according to Schmidt.
In 1983, Schmidt found a restaurant, Curley’s Place, for sale in Discovery Bay. He bought it and renamed it Fat Smitty’s, poking fun at his sizable girth.
Carson said it was the perfect outlet for him.
“It’s true Americana,” he said. “Smitty worked at a small burger shop in California and wanted to do something like that here. So he developed his favorite recipes and opened the door for business.”
Carson said the place is pretty much the way it was back then, with most of the same recipes.
“The original counters show elbow wear after all these years,” he said.
“We serve five generations. Most people don’t know I’m the owner now. I’m trying to keep everything the way it was intended to be.”
He said the most popular item on the menu is the Smitty Burger.
“It’s a classic burger with bacon and cheese, at a reasonable price.”
Carson said Smitty played an important part in his life.
Carson’s dad, Gary, and Schmidt served together in the Marine Corps in the ’60s and became close friends. Carson moved his family from Alaska to the Olympic Peninsula in 1986, and he went to work for his friend at his restaurant.
Three years later, he died and Schmidt took Casey under his wing and formed a bond that lasted for the rest of his life.
“Smitty was a good man, like a father to me,” Carson said.
After a tour of duty in the Marines and work with the State Patrol, Carson retired in 2009 and started to work at Fat Smitty’s.
Schmidt was thinking of retiring the next year, and Carson wanted to keep Fat Smitty’s “in the family.” He bought the business, and intends to keep it as it is.
One of the things that makes Fat Smitty’s so beloved is the “wallpaper.” For the past 30 years, patrons have pinned dollar bills to the walls and every available surface.
Schmidt asked the local Boy Scout troop to come in and take the money down every five years. It is then donated to the Scouts and other organizations.
In 2017, Carson said they pulled 26,582 dollar bills from the walls. Beneficiaries included the Scouts, Captain Joseph House Foundation, Discovery Bay Fire & Rescue, Seattle Children’s Hospital and the local branch of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.
He said the tradition will continue.
Schmidt was born in California and had a brother, Howard, and a sister, Susie, who preceded him in death.
His survivors include cousins Gary Dempsey from Chimacum, Tim Schmidt from Ellensburg and Penny Baldridge of Port Townsend.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]