Lost Tables | Remembering Fatman’s Subs

Harley Hammerman, Special to the Jewish Light

Ever wondered what happened to that restaurant you once loved and have memories of dining at with your family and friends? We did! There is an amazing website called Lost Tables, dedicated to celebrating the restaurants of our past. We are partnering with the site’s creator Harley Hammerman and celebrating these wonderful stories. Hammerman and his wife Marlene are members of Shaare Emeth, and she is past president of the National Council of Jewish Women of St. Louis.  Visit Lost Tables on Facebook

In the mid 1970s, St. Louis television featured a commercial with two brothers selling auto parts. It started with the oldest hollering to his brother, “What’s the story, Larry?”

This is Larry’s story.

Nathan (Nat) Lampert was born in St. Louis in 1908. He married Adele Kaskowitz and together they had three sons – Marvin Donald (Donnie) in 1938, Jack in 1941 and Lawrence (Larry) in 1950.

In 1946, Nathan Lampert opened Lampert Home & Auto Supply at 1629 South Broadway. The family lived in a four-room flat above and the boys worked in the store as soon as they were able.

After their father retired in 1972, the Lampert brothers took the business in a new direction, specializing in high-performance parts and accessories that appealed to teenagers with automobiles.

With the new direction came new advertising, which proved highly successful.

Take the Lampert brothers, Larry and Jack. They do their own ads to help sell tires, automobile parts and accessories. Jack, the oldest, starts off by hollering to his brother: “What’s the story, Larry?”

Larry, who is short and heavyset, tells what’s for sale by racing through a loose script twice as fast as most announcers would.

In the process he’ll knock his competitors by name and attempt to convince the viewers that he wants their business because he is ambitious and aggressive. The brothers may do a clumsy song and dance or other slapstick routine. Larry finishes by saying, “And that’s the story, Jack.”

The Lamperts say they have become local celebrities of sorts because of the ads, even though some people write letters saying they would never shop at the stores because of the ads. Jack takes it philosophically: “We can’t do all the business.” He says the commercials have helped the business expand to 11 stores.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb 27, 1977

The Lampert brothers would part ways at the end of 1977, with the business bifurcating into Jack Lampert Auto Centers and Larry Lampert Auto Centers. And by the end of 1985, after AutoZone and Advance Auto Parts had come along, the Lamperts were forced to liquidate their stores when it became impossible to compete as independents.

In 1979, Larry Lampert underwent intestinal bypass surgery. The man who loved to cook (and eat) then shed 130 pounds.

In 1980, to celebrate his weight loss, Lampert opened a potato chip factory. The Grand Potato Chip Company was located on South Grand, just south of Juniata.

I just got sick of eating the potato chips that we get around St. Louis here. I am a connoisseur of potato chips. I was a connoisseur of food.

Lampert claimed his chips were superior because his potatoes were superior.

These potatoes . . . these are special grown potatoes. That’s the secret. These potatoes are grown just for potato chips. You can’t use a white potato or russet potato; we tried it. It took me 800 pounds of throwing away potatoes to find out that we did the wrong potato. These potatoes that we use now are potato chip potatoes – low sugar content so that they don’t burn up.

They come out of the ground, they’ve got some dirt on ‘em. We plop ‘em into the peeler and just scrub off the dirt and scrub a little bit of the peeling off; we want to leave as much peeling as we can. From there they go into a slicer. We measure that slicer out so that we get the same size chip every time.

The salt that we use is a fine flake potato chip salt. We get that here in St. Louis.

That’s it. It’s potato, pure vegetable oil and salt. We put in no preservatives, no chemicals to keep the shelf life up. You’d be surprise, you can get a good shelf life without putting any chemicals in.

Lampert’s Grand Potato Chips were sold at Dierbergs, Schnucks and Amighetti’s. They were so popular that within three years Lampert was forced to close the business, as he couldn’t keep up with the demand.

In April on 1985, Lampert turned from chips to pizza. He opened Papa Nate’s Pizza at 2627 Cherokee Street in a building that had housed one of his auto parts stores.

The pizza was made from Lampert’s own recipe and incorporated traditional toppings, such as hamburger and pepperoni. The menu also featured a mixed green salad, soft drinks and pizza chips – an Italian version of bagel chips which were baked and seasoned with butter and garlic.

The pizza dough was made in balls by a commissary on the Hill. When rolled out, it was closer to a thin than thick crust. Sauce was a prepared mix that Lampert had blended to his specifications and the toppings were prime grade.

Lampert offered  home delivery, which he guaranteed in 30 minutes. He promoted his new venture with 10-second TV commercials in which, like his auto center spots, he was the star.

By November of 1985, a second Papa Nate’s location had opened at 9773 Olive at Warson, in Creve Coeur. In addition to pizza, the menu included deli subs. While the sandwiches sold well, Lampert saw his pizza business lagging.

By May of 1986, Papa Nate’s Pizza had become Papa Nate’s Pizzadel, and by July it was Papa Nate’s Subs & Pizza.

In June of 1986, Lampert formed Fatman’s Sub Shop, branding the business with his pre-bypass persona. The first location was at 10204 Page in Overland.

By October, the original Papa Nate’s on Cherokee had closed and the Papa Nate’s at Olive and Warson had been converted to a second Fatman’s location.

Lampert’s signature sandwich was the Fatman’s Supreme, with ham, salami, mortadella and cheese, plus the standard sub garnish of lettuce, tomato, onion and a dash of salad dressing. Also popular were the meatball sandwich, the chicken parmigiana sandwich and an Italian beef sandwich called “The Bernie,” named for one of Lampert’s employees.

Fatman’s took off. The following year locations opened in Rock Hill at 2813 South McKnight Road and Downtown at 215 North 9th Street.

Lampert stirred up the competition by advertising on television, opening stores next door to his rivals and cutting prices on his sandwiches.

Marketing is the key. I’m not a restaurateur. I’m a retailer . . . We aren’t afraid to advertise and promote our product.

Lampert starred in 10-second TV spots, which began with the question, “What’s the story Larry?”

Click here to read the Harley’s complete story on Fatman’s.