Cover photo for Lina Yu Fat's Obituary
Lina Yu Fat Profile Photo
1938 Lina 2019

Lina Yu Fat

August 25, 1938 — November 25, 2019

Restaurateur and civic leader Lina Fat, 81, died peacefully in her sleep on Nov. 25, 2019. Her husband, Ken Fat, and their children and grandchildren, were all at her side. They had planned to celebrate their parents’ 60th anniversary soon.

Lina Fat was born in Hong Kong as Po Ying Yue, Cantonese for “little butterfly.” An only child, her English name was Linda. When she started school at St. Paul’s Convent in Hong Kong, she couldn’t pronounce or spell it. She dropped the “d” and became Lina.

When she was 12, her mother died of cancer. As a teenager, she became enamored of the West. She watched Western movies and rode a Harley-Davidson. She came alone to America at age 17, landing first at a college in Tennessee for a pre-pharmacy program. In the American South, her diet changed abruptly from stir-fry to deep-fry. Her cooking skills were so meager that classmates joked “how can you burn rice? You’re Chinese!”

She obtained a degree from the University of California, San Francisco School of Pharmacy. On campus, Lina Yue met Ken Fat, a dental student and one of four sons of the affable restaurateur, Frank Fat, who in 1939 opened a Chinese-American restaurant where so many legislators rendezvoused it was called the Third House.

Lina and Ken graduated in the same class and married a year later. Lina worked a few years as a pharmacist. Ken began his dental practice. Except for her love of tennis, “Lina was very much like my dad,” Ken Fat said of his father, who died in 1997. “They were both always looking forward. My dad worked so hard to make a success of the restaurant, and Lina had the same drive, whether it was business, family or community, and compacted all that energy into 81 years.”

After a flourless chocolate cake she made for the family was a fiasco, Lina confronted her gastronomic deficiency. She attended the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, NY; the Cordon Bleu; the Dixon Culinary School in Hong Kong, and took private lessons there. When she attempted to work in a Hong Kong restaurant kitchen, she was turned away because women were not allowed. Undaunted, she brought one of the chefs to the U.S. to cook for a year at her father-in-law’s restaurant.

Lina had an eye for fashion, cultural textiles, daring ensembles, a penchant for brooches, and attire that glittered. Even as a student she added bows and extra pleats to her skirts to the required drab uniform at the Catholic school. With a spiritual respect for creativity and trends in design, she participated in transforming her father-in-law’s eponymous restaurant with carefully chosen architects and designers, all who upgraded it to regal ambience. One step into the entrance, the eye inevitably is drawn to a 3-foot tall golden bust of the Buddha perched above the dining room with a grin reminiscent of Frank’s Fat’s jovial smile.

For Lina’s first foray into hospitality, she enlivened Old Sacramento with China Camp, a restaurant themed to the Chinese connection to the Gold Rush, with trestles over the booths and railroad ties for beams.  Despite the restaurant’s historical look back, her initial menu looked ahead, possibly the first to fuse East and West by treating Western food with Chinese spices and technique. She then turned her attention to Fat City. Inspired by her brother-in law’s (Tom Fat) idea of a 70’s fern bar dining and gathering place, this Old Sacramento restaurant was decorated with Tiffany lamps, beveled glass, brass rails and a grand back bar imported from Leadville, Colorado. The menu was eclectic, “a little bar menu,” she said, with French onion soup, a quiche that to this day retains its fame as a restaurant standby, apple pie and the family’s most popular dessert, banana cream pie. Always experimenting on behalf of the customer, she installed one of Sacramento’s first espresso machines. When China Camp closed, it morphed into California Fat’s, a project of bold design with a three-story waterfall and a copper granite wall. Lina’s menu was a progressive debut of cascading cultures she called California/Pacific cuisine. Along with the rest of the family, she anticipated there could be good business in the suburbs and worked together to conceive the expansion of Fat’s Asia Bistros into Folsom and Roseville.

She began to spend as much time in civic activities as she did at the restaurants. The family provided generous philanthropy to the arts, gifts to the Chinese-American community, and endless food donations to charitable events. Among her recognitions are Sacramento Restaurateur of the Year by the California Restaurant Association (1987); Chef of the Year by the California Capitol Chefs Association (1998); Old Sacramento Citizen of the Year (2000); Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sacramento Chapter of the California Restaurant Association at “A Celebration of Food and Culture, Honoring Lina Fat” (2009); Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Legislature Assembly (2009); recipient of the James Beard “America’s Classic” Award (2013); Michelin Bib Gourmand Award to  the Frank Fat’s restaurant (2019); board member of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau. She also was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Commissioner of the California Travel & Tourism Commission.

Lina is survived by her husband Ken Fat; her children John C. Fat (Shareen); Kevin Fat (Sarina); Diana C. Fat-Carpenter (Charles), all of Sacramento, and eight grandchildren: – Michelle Fat, Michael Fat, Marisa Fat, Mason Fat, Malia Fat, Marshall Fat, and Cy and Eliana Carpenter.

Viewing and visitation is 1 pm to 3 pm Sunday Dec. 15, 2019, at St. Ignatius Parish, 3235 Arden Way. Vigil follows from 3 pm to 4 pm.

A funeral service is 9:30 am Monday Dec. 16 at Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, 1017 11th Street.  In lieu of flowers, the family suggests charitable donations to the Crocker Art Museum, Sutter Medical Center Foundation, St. Ignatius Parish, and the Chinese American Council of Sacramento Foundation.

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