Sunday, January 1, 2012

My world famous cousin Fanny

Ada and children Fanny and
Amelia in a photo sent by Ada
to my grandmother Anita.
January 2, 2012
I earlier blogged that most of my known ancestors were farmers, other than a few semi-famous Spadonis from 1000 years ago who may have been my ancestors. But I recently stumbled across some information about a famous restaurateur who was my dad’s second cousin. I learned her name and saw her photo courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law, who have contributed much to the research of our family line, but I was the one who found out about her fame.


In looking at a family album at Roger and Rosemary’s house, I came across old photos of cousins Ada and Fanny Bachechi, who were said to have visited my grandmother Anita many years ago. Anita and Ada had the same grandfather, Giacondo Capocchi, so they were first cousins. Ada’s daughter was Fanny, who was second cousin to my dad and his brothers and sisters. Roger recalls meeting Fanny at some time in Gig Harbor, and Rosemary met Fanny's sister Millie (Amelia) at a 4th of July party at Aunt Clara's house. Fanny lived in the Chicago area, married Henri Bianucci and had two children. Later in life she married Ray Lazzar.

Fanny cooking at her restaurant. Courtesy
of Carolyn Pieri.

In searching the web, I discovered that in 1946, Fanny founded a restaurant, Fanny’s of Evanston, that achieved some considerable fame. She was also an author with a weekly column in an Evanston, Illinois, newspaper and even authored a book, Fanny’s Way of Life, published in 1967.

The following account of Fanny’s fame is taken directly from the website www.fannysofevanston.com:
 Fanny's World Famous Restaurant was founded by Fanny Bianucci in 1946. One year later, she took out a full page ad in a local paper thanking her patrons for making her restaurant World Famous! How did that happen?
She indeed had launched on a most illustrious career at 1601 Simpson Street, Evanston, Illinois, beginning with just 4 tables, faith in God and hard work.
When I saw this on the restaurant's
web site, I knew I had found the
Fanny who was our cousin. Her 
mother's maiden name was Ada
Pieri. Apparently this is the
Pieri family shield.
She had begun as a small café owned by her father, who emigrated from Italy. He served lunch to workers in what was then Evanston's industrial area. Fanny wanted to create a very special dinner restaurant. To this end, she spent long hours and countless recipe combinations to perfect for exquisite taste and digestability her salad dressing and spaghetti meat sauce. She used her own sensitive digestion as a guide to perfection, and history would later record she found it, in her Salad Dressing and Meat Sauce.
She wasn't sure what food to feature and other than herself had no cook. Being a religious woman, she prayed for help. Two days later there was a knock on the back door of the restaurant. When she answered, there was an African-American gentleman, Bob Jordan, who asked to see Mrs. Bianucci. Fanny asked what she could do for him, and Jordan answered, "The Lord sent me to be your cook." Fanny asked, "What do you cook?" and he answered, "The best fried chicken around!" Thus was born the fried chicken that helped make Fanny's Restaurant famous. He remained the Chef at Fanny's restaurant for 25 years.
Early on, Fanny asked one of her customers what his name was, and when he said Marshall Field III she admonished him "You should be ashamed of yourself for impersonating such a well known man as that." The next day a writer from the Chicago Sun-Times, owned by Field, came to the restaurant and told her he had sent her to write a story about it. Fanny, of course, apologized to Field, and they became fast friends. He promoted the restaurant not only through the newspaper, but among his wealthy friends on the North Shore. What developed was an unusual combination of a reasonably priced restaurant, serving outstanding food in modest surroundings.
Fanny insisted on using only the finest and freshest ingredients, but didn't believe in having an expensive building in a fancy neighborhood. She observed "Why the overhead . . . Let's put it in the food instead." Even though the restaurant was in an unfashionable part of town, the food was so good, and in no small part because of Fanny's enthusiasm and promotional skills, the restaurant flourished and was frequented by a very broad range of people, including the rich and famous, such as President Dwight D. Eisenhower and wife Mamie, Louis Armstrong, Mae West, Charlton Heston, Admiral Nimitz. Mamie Eisenhower had Fanny's Salad Dressing mailed t her and the General's home.
To say the least, Fanny's became a very celebrated restaurant. One customer come specially four times a year from New York. It was recommended by Leoni's of London, LaTour d'Argent of Paris, and Tre Scalini of Rome. It received awards from Epicurean Magazine, Bon Apetit, and Holiday Magazine. The restaurant got the Grand Prix D'Excellence of the International Culinary Service in London, and the Epicurean Society of France Award. Fanny was the only woman to receive the Italian government's gold medal "Stella Della Solidarieta" for outstanding achievement.
As the fame of the restaurant grew, Fanny constructed additions on top of and next to the original building, and ultimately had 275 seats. Kraft Foods tried to buy the recipe for her salad dressing, but she refused to sell. Because of the restaurant, Fanny herself became a celebrity, writing a column in the Evanston Review and other North Shore papers, and a book dealing with her outlook on life.
By 1987 she was in her 80s, in declining health, and her husband, Ray Lazzar, had died. Fanny closed the restaurant for its usual August vacation, but decided not to reopen. Fanny Bianucci Lazaar passed away 3 years later.
Fanny was a strong believer in, and servant of, God having extended countless unnamed generosities during her lifetime. She was often heard to say, "We are spiritual being in a spiritual Universe."
Fanny serving at her restaurant. Courtesy of Carolyn Pieri.
I also found an article in the archives of The Chicago Tribune in which Fanny was referred to as "The First Lady of Evanston." It described how her restaurant had taken on cult-like status for its popularity. The author described meeting Fanny in person: "She greets her guests warmly but professionally . . . she banters about her food and her world fame. She insists that hers is one of the only restaurants around that uses all fresh ingredients, has no microwave and never has had a food poisoning case in all her years in the business. But you don't have to talk to her long before you see other sides to her. For example, she will utterly amaze you by reciting verse from memory. She was talking recently about aging--she is 80--and she recited a 50-line poem called Youth." Full text of the article can be found here: 
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1986-09-05/entertainment/8603060671_1_spaghetti-sauce-american-dairy-association-food

Although Fanny died in 1991 at age 85, it is still possible to order her meat sauce, salad dressing and barbecue sauce, as her descendants have carried on this part of the family business. I spoke with her daughter-in-law a few weeks ago and am planning to send in my order soon. Here is a link to the order form: http://www.fannysofevanston.com/order.htm. Because there is no way to order online and no e-mail address, I thought at first that the order form might be obsolete, but I was assured in my telephone call that I can still order; I just have to do it the old-fashioned way of sending a check in the mail. I plan to order some meat sauce and salad dressing next week, but first I have to make copies of the old photos of Ada and Fanny so I can add these to the envelope before putting it in the mail to my long-lost distant cousins.

1 comment:

  1. Wow that's so interesting! I want a sample of the treats!

    ReplyDelete

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