You'd never notice the purple door, for instance, until a family member points it out. It's got a camouflaged wood panel that opens into a small window, now covered with an elaborate grate.
"I think it used to be bigger," said Joi Ferrando, descendant of "one of the bootleggers," explaining that Maria Fabbro, Italian matriarch and head chef of the former Fabbro's restaurant, used to serve day workers who couldn't afford to patronize the sit-down restaurant through the window — the original fast food.
The story of the door, and a plethora of other reminiscences and stories, were the focus of a private dinner held in the upper floor of John Bentley's on Saturday, March 24, where generations of the Fabbro family gathered in the same space some of their family members grew up in. Over an informal family cocktail hour, Fabbro family members talked about their years working at the family and community institution.
A rich history
The restaurant, says Mike Fabbro — who ran the business from 1997 to 2002 — first formally opened its doors for business in 1933, after Prohibition was lifted.
Mike took over the restaurant from his father, Frank, who took over from his father, George Fabbro.
George was well-known as a bootlegger and speakeasy proprietor.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he and his wife Mary ran a speakeasy out of their home before shuttering it and buying the 2915 El Camino Real building.
In 1933 they opened it as a restaurant and bar downstairs and lived in the apartment's upstairs with their children. The site quickly became a Peninsula hotspot, Mike Fabbro said.
George, remembered one relative, was known as a "bon vivant" who went by the nickname "Big Red." According to the Chronicle, the living room in the upper apartment was home to the first off-track betting machine in the state. Customers could reportedly walk up from the bar to place bets. Eventually the machine was moved to a red shed out back when authorities objected to its living-room location.
Deana Fabbro, who spent time working as a waitress at the restaurant, talked about some of her experiences and those she heard from her mother, who worked as a waitress there for about 40 years. When it started, the restaurant was exclusively open to men — it probably didn't allow women "in the front door" until the late 1960s, she said.
The restaurant was well-known for its marinated cracked crab, and offered the "best cheesecake in town," she added. Steak was served with both pasta and potatoes.
Among its frequenters were many of the judges and lawyers of San Mateo County, she said.
Fabbro's also hosted annual fundraisers for the Catholic Youth Organization, consisting of a golf tournament followed by a steak dinner at Fabbro's, she said.
John Fabbro, older brother to Mike and son of Frank, worked in the kitchen for a few years in the 1980s. He said he started working at the family restaurant around the time he was 13, and helped run the business as an adult.
John Bentley took over the site in November 2002. Mike Fabbro said he sold the business to him partly because Mr. Bentley's dad was a dedicated restaurant customer, Mike Fabbro said.
Their cocktail hour over, Fabbros and friends took their seats in Grandpa George's former gambling apartment — since converted to a private dining room — and broke bread together at their "last soiree."
The restaurant closed permanently on Saturday, March 31.
The site is proposed to be redeveloped into a senior living facility.
This story contains 650 words.
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