By Jessica Elizarraras
January 12, 2012
Updated: January 18, 2012 11:01pm
Brother and sister Frank Torrez and Veronica Khan can read each other’s thoughts. This comes in handy as owners of Fattboy Burgers and Dogs, 2345 Vance Jackson Road.
The Donny and Marie of Burgers (as comedian Cleto Rodriguez refers to them) opened Fattboy Burgers in October 2010 after almost seven months of trying to get the lease from an existing tenant, finding the owner and refurbishing the restaurant to Torrez’s particular vision.
“This location’s been like six restaurants, but I had a feeling about this place,” Torrez says. Before Torrez moved in, the previous tenant was planning on making it a bar and chiropractic clinic.
The spot was ideal for Torrez and his family, who live blocks away from Fattboy.
“This is our neighborhood. I went to Taft (high school) and my sister went to Lee,” Torrez said. “My dad and grandmother live a few blocks away from me.”
Once plans for Fattboy were in gear, Torrez spent some time fleshing out his idea.
“I would drive up to the restaurant and find him just sitting there, kind of staring at the place,” Khan says. “Frankie knows how to cook. The hard part was getting everything else — the paint colors, the logo.”
Getting Khan to come on board to overlook the front of the house wasn’t an issue. This is the second venture for Torrez and Khan, who opened Tio Frankie’s in 1998 at ages 19 and 20, respectively.
“The menu was pages long; it was too much,” Khan says of the Mexican restaurant venture.
“I would have to wake up at 3 in the morning to make everything fresh — the beans, the rice,” Torrez says.
The siblings closed Tio Frankie’s after eight years of business, and Torrez tried his hand at sales. He worked with his brother-in-law, opening several Cricket cellphone stores before heading to Sprint as a general manager.
“That wasn’t his thing. Cooking is what he loves,” Khan says.
Torrez found his way back to the kitchen, though he didn’t start working on a recipe for his popular Fattboy burger, which earned them Express-News Critic’s Choice for best basic burgers in 2011, until a week before opening the restaurant.
“He took the recipe out of his head and tried different buns until he found one he liked,” Khan says. “We had a tasting with family and opened a week after that.”
Khan emphasized Torrez’s penchant for cooking and freshness. Now the go-to cook during family get-togethers and birthdays, Torrez cut his teeth in the kitchen of his grandmother, who he affectionately calls “Welita.” His other big influence is his mother, Patsy Sauceda.
“Our mom is our worst critic. She nitpicks,” he says. Onion rings, a favorite of Sauceda’s, were added to the menu; it took Torrez two months to perfect the recipe.
“She would come in and tell us if there wasn’t enough batter or if they weren’t fried enough,” Torrez says. “Last week, she came in and didn’t find anything wrong. That’s when I started to feel gung-ho about my food.”
Perfecting the onion rings is one thing; finding the right menu is another. Since opening, Torrez and Khan have added several menu items including the FattChick (which takes longer to get ready, they joke), the SlimmChick, Fatt Pickles and Fatt Shrooms. Torrez is currently working on his chicken wing recipe, which he lets customers sample.
The bar was modified to an ice cream bar to accommodate the family-friendly vibe at Fattboy.
“We both have little boys, and it started to become too much drama to have alcohol in the mix,” Torrez says. “We didn’t want our kids here, and that defeats the whole purpose.”
One major change for Torrez was starting a diet three months ago.
“I wanted to get healthy. I have a 6-year-old running around and I want to stay healthy for him,” he says.
As brother and sister, Torrez and Khan do have their minor squabbles, such as choosing which sodas to stock in their soda dispenser.
“Most of the time we’re able to walk away and approach it at a different time, Torrez says.”
Usually, the solutions are easier to come by.
“Arguments happen when we haven’t eaten,” Torrez says with a chuckle. “We talk about it after we eat.”
Torrez has more goals for the restaurant. The siblings are shopping the market for a second Fattboy location.
“We haven’t found a location where our hearts are in it yet,” Khan says.