More Magic Pan History AND Cheese Fritters

The Magic Pan opened in San Francisco by Laszlo and Paulette Fono had quite a backstory. In 1968, a trademark application (serial #72294035) for a device to speed up making crepes. Mr. Fono had engineered “The Magic Pan”. It looked like a ships wheel, with inverted pans affixed to this wheel, and were heated from below. The operator would spin the wheel, ladle on some batter, and spin the wheel. A half dozen crepes could be made quickly, and uniformly. (Easier than a chef could manipulate a half dozen crepe pans, I’d guess.) The Fono’s, native Hungarians, came to the United States after the revolution in their country, in 1957. They initially moved to Colorado. For 8 years they held various jobs. Mr. Fono worked in taxidermy, as a groundskeeper at a country club, and later, processing checks for a bank and doing bookkeeping. Mrs. Fono worked in a bank, but she also did catering, with recipes learned from her Mother. The crepes were popular, and people encouraged her to open a restaurant.

So, they opened a restaurant.

In 1964, after a move to San Francisco, the first Magic Pan, a very small 20 seat restaurant, was opened on Fillmore Street. A second was opened in Ghiradelli Square in 1967.

Ghiradelli had their main a chocolate manufacturing plant in huge brick buildings since the early 1800’s They had a great view of the waterfront, and only a few blocks from the tourist mecca, Fisherman’s Wharf. When Ghiradelli moved manufacturing to the East Bay suburb of San Leandro in the early 1960s the property was sold to Bill Roth and his mother Lurline Matson Roth. They envisioned a daring experiment to combine art, culture, dining, outdoor living and entertainment in a historic San Francisco building that, otherwise, if not for the architects and others hoping to preserve the building. It was a preservation success. The move to convert a massive factory into small shops and restaurants was slowly accepted (not an “overnight-success” by any means). Ghiradelli Square was opened “officially” in 1964. At first there weren’t many retail occupants, so rents were very low. The Magic Pan was an early “anchor” tenant. Over the next decade it was populated by clothing designer shops, hand-made jewelry stores, pottery and other handcrafts, a candle shop (where you dipped a wick in vats of wax, to make your own candles), a toy store, a chocolate and ice cream shop (featuring Ghiradelli chocolate, of course), and an immense glass walled shop in the center of the open square that featured an immense, very expensive, Alexander Calder Kinetic Sculpture in the center of the building, but sold works by more local (and affordable) artists such as bay area artist Joel Hotchkiss. Other restaurants and a rathskeller opened (only accessible from the street). It was an unusual way to spend an afternoon, it was next to a cable car turn table, and only a two block walk to Fisherman’s Wharf.

They received a great deal of good press, including an August 1965, article in Sunset Magazine, and several newspaper articles. The San Francisco Chronicle reviewed it glowingly. They received several offers to either purchase or franchise the restaurant. In all, they negotiated with Stouffer Foods, Holiday Inns, but, finally made a deal with Quaker Oats 1968.

Quaker Oats purchased the restaurants ($56,015.94 in 1968 dollars would equal $480k in today’s dollars) and, the assignment of the Magic Pan device for $221,584 ($1.9 million today), and gave them each jobs. $30k to Mr. Fono (about $260k today) and in a glaring sign of the times, Mrs. Fono received $20k ($170k). Mr. Fono became President of Magic Pan Inc, and Mrs. Fono became VP and Assistant Secretary. They were both on the board of directors. In addition, they were to receive 1% of the net sales (if any) of frozen crepe products that Quaker Oats wanted to bring to the market. (They never did.) And, an annual bonus of 5% of the profits (net profits) of the restaurant subsidiary for each fiscal year for ten years. Quaker had promised up to a million a year.

Unfortunately, the promises were not reality. Quaker Oats failed to live up to promises made.

The man at Quaker who became their boss (Frederick D. Montgomery III) was a upper crust Chicago native, a graduate of Yale and the Sorbonne, was difficult to get along with. In later court filings it came out that there was a great deal of acrimony. In memo’s to his bosses, Montgomery heavily criticized contributions of the Fono’s, and impugned their personal integrity. He was sharply critical and derisive. The Fono’s received nothing in bonuses, and were eliminated from all PR. There were several lawsuits, and Quaker settled. In 1970’s Mr. Montgomery became the President of Magic pan took on the chain as his own. (In his obituary it says “he grew it from a single restaurant to 110 over the United States.”)

Once the Fono’s left the business the menus and recipes were changed by Quaker, and towards the end of it’s ownership, some of the newer recipes lacked ‘crepes’ and those that stayed were drastically different.

Some of the recipes incorporated into the Quaker run Magic Pan are available around the web.

The recipe for Cheese Fritters attributed to the Magic Pan:

CHEESE FRITTERS

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 oz blue cheese
  • 1 1/4 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • dash each: cayenne/salt
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 6 ounces grated cheddar cheese
  • Parmesan cheese, for garnish, grated
  • Vegetable oil for frying.

Mix dry ingredients. Set aside. Melt butter in pan, and add about 1 tablespoon of flour mixture. Make a smooth roux. Add milk, and (stirring constantly over medium heat) add crumbled blue cheese. Stir until melted. Remove from heat. Break eggs into a measuring cup, and whisk. Add, one tablespoon at a time, and stir in well 3 tablespoons of the milk/cheese sauce into the eggs, to temper them. Then, add the whisked, tempered eggs into the sauce. Stir well. Add cheddar cheese. Let sit for a few minutes, and stir again. In a pan heat 1″ of vegetable oil to very hot, drop fritters into hot oil, turn once, cook until lightly browned. Remove, and garnish with grated cheese. Prepare dipping sauce.

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard
  • dash of lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Whisk together mayo, mustard, with lemon juice and sugar.

One response

  1. The trick with the mustard sauce is to whip it using your Hobart or KitchenAid on low until the sugar is dissolved. A previous recipe I read on this site was using Dijon mustard that is not correct.

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