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Category: food and wine

Murray Handwerker of Nathan's Famous hot dogs dies at 89

Murray Handwerker, who helped grow Nathan's Famous from his father's Coney Island hot dog stand into a national franchise, died Saturday at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was 89.

Handwerker had suffered from dementia and died in his sleep, said his son, Bill.

Handwerker's father, Nathan, opened the Coney Island stand in 1916, four years after emigrating from Poland. Murray was born on July 25, 1921, and spent so much time in the restaurant that he said he came to regard the frankfurter bun boxes as his playpen.

He worked in nearly every aspect of the business, from stacking pallets of hot dogs to manning the grill. As a teenager, Murray Handwerker told his son, he sometimes worked at the grill so long his body had trouble recovering.

"His fingers started flapping like he was using the pincher when he came home from the store," Bill Handwerker said.

Seeing the appeal Nathan's had, Handwerker returned from the Army during World War II with a broader world view and new ideas on expanding the business.

He offered franchises. He led the company to go public. And he put its hot dogs on supermarket shelves across the country.

Handwerker sold the company to private investors in 1987.

-- Associated Press


Jess Jackson, Kendall-Jackson founder and thoroughbred owner, dies at 81

Jess Jackson, the founder of the Kendall-Jackson winery and a prominent thoroughbred owner, died of cancer Thursday at his home in Geyserville, Calif. He was 81.

Caroline Shaw, a spokeswoman for Jackson Family Wines, confirmed Jackson's death.

In recent years, Jackson was one of horse racing's leading owners. He campaigned two-time horse of the year Curlin, and then purchased a majority interest in Rachel Alexandra, the sensational filly who was horse of the year in 2009.

As a California vintner, Jackson built a multimillion-dollar empire on chardonnay with his popular Kendall-Jackson brand before moving into the racehorse business with his Stonestreet Stable.

A letter on his company's website ended by asking friends to "take a moment this week to lift a glass and join us in a toast to our friend and founder Jess Jackson."

More later at


Bill Dwyre: New breed of owner is just what horse racing needs

-- Associated Press

Photo: Jess Jackson in 2005. Credit: Los Angeles Times


One year ago: Fess Parker, TV's Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone

FesIf you grew up in the United States in the 1950s or '60s and watched television, you probably remember Fess Parker, the 6-foot-6 actor who first played Davy Crockett and then Daniel Boone for chief Imagineer Walt Disney. And you might have demanded your own own coonskin cap. Many kids did.

When Parker died one year ago at age 85, Times staff writer Dennis McLellan reminded readers in the obituary that Disney's Davy Crockett character became a marketer's dream:

[Ten] million coonskin caps reportedly were sold, along with toy 'Old Betsy' rifles, buckskin shirts, T-shirts, coloring books, guitars, bath towels, bedspreads, wallets -- anything with the Crockett name attached.Viewers also fell in love with the show's catchy theme song. Bill Hayes' version of 'The Ballad of Davy Crockett' soared to No. 1 on the hit parade and remained there for 13 weeks.

It was a pop-culture phenomenon. As essayist Neal Gabler put it in The Times: "Before Elvis Presley, Beatlemania, 'The Simpsons,' 'SpongeBob SquarePants,' there was Davy Crockett."

After his acting career, Parker became known for his upscale hotels and winery in Santa Barbara County. Although Parker is gone, you can still visit the winery, where you can not only sample wine but also purchase a coonskin cap.


Photos: Fess Parker, 1924-2010

Saddle up at Fess Parker Winery

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. Credit: Associated Press / Walt Disney Co.

Former Tyson Foods Chief Executive Donald J. Tyson dies at 80

Tyson Donald J. Tyson, the former Tyson Foods Inc. chief executive who led the poultry company to dominance in the industry, died Thursday in Little Rock, Ark. He was 80.

Company spokesman Gary Mickelson said Tyson died from complications from cancer, and passed away at home with his family.

In 1952 Tyson joined the business his father had founded in the '30s, and Donald Tyson became its president in 1966. The company became the world's largest poultry producer under his leadership, when it bought Holly Farms in 1989. Tyson retired as senior chairman of the Springdale, Ark.-based company in 2001

The former executive was recognized for his "no bad days" outlook and "was known by all to work hard, but also to play hard," the company said in a statement announcing Tyson's death.

Tyson was fined $700,000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2005 and Tyson Foods paid $1.5 million to settle an investigation into lavish spending of company money between 1997 and 2001.

The SEC found that he used $3 million in company funds to pay for vacation properties in England and Mexico, and items that ranged from jewelry and artwork to a horse and clothing, all improperly documented in company regulatory filings.

Tyson Foods Inc. was founded by Don Tyson's father, John Tyson, in the early 1930s. Don Tyson added the titles of chairman and chief executive in 1967, the same year his father was killed in a car-train accident. He left the daily operation of the company in 1995 but remained chairman, when Leland Tollett became chief executive.

Under Don's son, John R. Tyson, the company became the leading meat company with its purchase of IBP Inc. in 2001.

The Stephens Media Group first reported Tyson's death.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Don Tyson in 2004. Credit: Associated Press

Elaine Kaufman, whose Manhattan restaurant was haven to literary and entertainment figures, dies at 81


Restaurateur Elaine Kaufman, whose Manhattan establishment, Elaine's, has long been known as a haven for show business and literary notables, has died in New York City. She was 81.

A statement issued by the restaurant's representative said Kaufman died Friday at a Manhattan hospital. She suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and pulmonary hypertension.

More later at

-- Associated Press

Photo: Elaine Kaufman at her restaurant in 2004. Credit: Joe Tabacca / For The Times

British turkey tycoon Bernard Matthews dies at 80

Matthews Bernard Matthews, who parlayed an investment in 20 eggs into a business that became Britain's biggest turkey processor -- once raising the birds in the rooms of a large country home -- has died. He was 80.

Matthews died Thursday at his home, the company said Friday. The cause of death was not announced.

"Bootiful," Matthews' Norfolk-inflected pronunciation of "beautiful," became one of Britain's best-known advertising slogans in a series of television ads in the 1980s.

In recent years, the company was targeted by animal-rights groups for its intensive farming, and sales were hit in 2007 when one farm reported Britain's first outbreak of bird flu.

One of the company's products, Turkey Twizzlers, was singled out five years ago by TV chef Jamie Oliver as an example of excessively fatty food in school meals, and the product disappeared from many lunch menus.

Matthews, who stepped down as chairman of the company in January, started the business in 1950 with 20 eggs and a secondhand incubator. A dozen eggs hatched, Matthews sold the chicks at a profit and he was on his way.

Three years later, he bought a derelict country house, Great Witchingham Hall, where he and his wife, Joyce, raised turkeys in all but one of the 36 rooms. It is still the company headquarters.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Bernard Matthews outside No. 10 Downing Street in 1979. Credit: Associated Press

Jose H. Rodriguez, chef-owner of Mexican seafood restaurant La Serenata di Garibaldi, dies at 76 [Updated]


Jose H. Rodriguez, the chef-owner of La Serenata de Garibaldi, one of the most celebrated Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles, has died. He was 76.

[For the record, 11:07 a.m. Nov. 24: An earlier version of this post said Rodriguez was born in 1933 and was 77 when he died. In fact, he was born in 1934 and was 76.]

Rodriguez died of heart failure Monday at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, said his brother, Jorge.

Soon after the restaurant opened in Boyle Heights in 1985, The Times reviewed it beneath a headline that declared: “Mexican Treasure in East L.A.” Crowds soon followed, his brother said.

In a September review marking the restaurant’s 25th anniversary, Times critic S. Irene Virbila noted that it was “love at first bite” when she first tasted the establishment's Mexican seafood in the mid-1990s.

Born in 1934 in Torreon, Mexico, Rodriguez was the eldest of eight children. He started learning the restaurant business in the 1950s in Juarez and the next decade moved to Los Angeles, where he waited tables at fine restaurants.

With his wife, Aurora, he opened La Serenata de Garibaldi. Two other locations, in West Los Angeles and Santa Monica, followed.

“What Nobu Matsuhisa is to Japanese cooking, chef/owner Jose Rodriguez is to Mexican: a genie of sauces,” Virbila wrote in The Times in 2000 when the Boyle Heights location reopened after it was remodeled.

His “remarkable repertoire,” another Times reviewer wrote in 1985, included fish quesadillas, an exceptional mahi-mahi enchilada and an impressive chicken mole.

A complete obituary will follow.

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: The dining room at La Serenata di Garibaldi. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

One year ago: Sheila Lukins

Lukins Sheila Lukins showed that takeout food could be gourmet fare.

Lukins, an influential cookbook author who died a year ago at 66, wrote one of the 10 best-selling cookbooks of all time, "The Silver Palate", in 1979 with her business partner, Julee Rosso. They ran a takeout shop of the same name.

"From tiny little shops like the Silver Palate, people started realizing they didn't have the time but still wanted it handmade and delicious," Mary Sue Milliken, co-chef and co-owner of the local Border Grill and Ciudad restaurants, told The Times' Valerie J. Nelson for Lukins' obituary.

"Look what's happened -- now you walk into every grocery store and they have this 'grab and go' thing, which all spawned from these shops."

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: Sheila Lukins in her New York City apartment. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Morrie Yohai, Cheez Doodles creator, dies at 90


Morrie Yohai, the creator of the crunchy, finger-staining orange snack called Cheez Doodles, has died at his home on New York's Long Island. He was 90.

Yohai died July 27 in Kings Point, N.Y. His family said he had cancer.

Yohai developed the snack in the 1950s. The company already was selling Dipsy Doodles rippled corn chips, which were made with a machine that spit them out under pressure.

His son Robbie Yohai says his father applied a similar concept for Cheez Doodles, adapting the machine to extrude liquefied cornmeal into a tubular shape. The shapes were then coated with seasoning and cheese.

Yohai was always amused that people thought the cheddar cheese snack produced in the Bronx was the highlight of his life, his son said, adding that it was only one of many things his father did.

In the 1970s, Yohai was the associate dean of the business school at the New York Institute of Technology on Long Island.

He also studied mysticism and was a poet and philanthropist.

One of his two poetry books focused on the Torah.

He was a graduate of the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Morrie Yohai in 2005. Credit: Bill Davis / Newsday

One year ago: Robert Young

Young Third-generation Sonoma County farmer Robert Young started with plum orchards and made prunes. But in the mid-1960s he took a chance and replaced his crops with grapes, a decision that a decade later would lead to his name showing up on wine bottles distributed around the world.

When Young uprooted his trees and planted a vineyard, he put himself at the leading edge of California's emerging wine industry. His focus on quality brought him to the attention of a young winemaker named Richard Arrowood, who became an internationally renowned wine master at Chateau St. Jean in the Sonoma Valley.

Arrowood signed a contract with Young to buy his grapes and, using only that fruit, made a wine he labeled 1975 Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay -- the first single-vineyard wine so designated in California.

"Bob was one of those visionaries who really applied himself, so he researched things out," Arrowood told The Times. "He was way ahead of the curve."

For more about the successful grape grower, read Robert Young's obituary published by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Robert Young. Credit: The Young family

Egon Ronay, who produced English restaurant guides, dies at 94

Ronay Food critic Egon Ronay, whose eponymous restaurant guides helped Britain embrace fine dining after years of postwar austerity, died Saturday. He was 94.

Ronay died at his home near in England after a short illness, said family friend Nick Ross.

Born in Budapest in 1915, Ronay was the son of a prosperous restaurant owner whose business was ruined by World War II and the subsequent Soviet occupation. Ronay left communist Hungary for Britain in 1946.

He began writing about food for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, and in 1957 produced the first Egon Ronay Guide to British restaurants, modeled on France's Michelin guides. The annual guides, researched with the help of a team of anonymous reviewers, became immensely popular, and restaurants displayed the blue Egon Ronay label as a seal of approval.

Ronay later said that in Britain until the 1960s, "food was not a polite topic for conversation."

More later at

-- Associated Press

Photo: Egon Ronay in 2006.

Credit: Associated Press

One year ago: Norman Brinker

Brinker Norman Brinker had his own vision of fast food. He didn't want to waste any time developing repeat customers.

"You have about 45 minutes to convince the customer to come again; that's your objective," Brinker told the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper in 1991.

Brinker, who died a year ago today at 78, was an innovative restaurateur whose chains included Chili's, Bennigan's and Steak & Ale.

Chief among Brinker's new concepts for eateries was the salad bar, which he popularized at Steak & Ale starting in the late 1960s.

You can find the obituary that ran June 10, 2009, here.

--Keith Thursby

Photo: Norman Brinker at his Dallas home in 2004.

Credit: Associated Press


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