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Keeping It In The Family


Posted on May 29

Roy Wilcox

In successful family-owned businesses, it’s not just that everything’s relative— everyone’s a relative. We cast an appreciative outsider’s eye on some of the area’s most prominent names.

The Tsakopoulos Family

Is there an arts, charity or special interest group in this region whose members—in the throes of a fiscal or political dilemma—haven’t made the plaintive five-word suggestion, at least once, “Why don’t we call Angelo?”

While developer and philanthropist Angelo Tsakopoulos, a native of Greece who first came to the United States 54 years ago, still is the omnipresent member of his family empire, he has successful businessmen brothers (George and John), children, nephews, nieces, cousins and in-laws throughout the region who’ve made or are making their own marks in business and in giving.

The new generation includes Angelo’s son, Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, president and chief executive officer of KT Communities; Angelo’s daughter, Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, who now serves as president of her father’s AKT Development Corporation; Angelo’s niece Cathy LaGesse (daughter of Angelo’s brother John), who owns the popular Greek Village Inn restaurant in Sacramento; and Angelo’s nephew, Sotiris Kolokotronis, an emerging “infill” developer whose residential projects are changing the face of downtown and midtown Sacramento.

In a moment straight out of the films America! America! and The Godfather Part II, Angelo Tsakopoulos first saw the Statue of Liberty on his 15th birthday, from the upper deck of the steam ship that brought him and hundreds of hopeful immigrants into New York Harbor. Having grown up on a farm in the mountain village of Rizes, Tsakopoulos was never afraid of hard work. Even today, as he nears his 70th birthday, he exudes the enthusiasm, energy and—as his admirers and detractors alike would concede—ambition of a much younger man.

When he actually was a much younger man, Tsakopoulos attended what was then called Sacramento State College. This was where he first became interested in land dealing, the activity that formed the basis not only for his family’s fortune but also for the risk-taking altruism that has become a personal trademark for him and his grown children. (In all, his two marriages have produced six children, who then turned around and produced his seven grandchildren.)

During the past 30 years, the Tsakopoulos family has contributed millions of dollars to, among others, the Greek Orthodox Church, St. Hope Academy, Sacramento Country Day School, the Crocker Art Museum, Jesuit High School, the Roseville Arts Center, the Sacramento Tree Foundation and UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute for the study of neurological disorders. And though his name often winds up on the monumental signage or commemorative plaque of buildings and campuses, his son Kyriakos says Tsakopoulos is surprisingly shy about the accolades. (“Sometimes, things get named for my father by others, out of respect,” he told us in a 2003 interview.)

As with any powerful family, Tsakopoulos family members are often embroiled in controversy. Although they are ardent, pro-environment Democrats, their building and development activities occasionally put them at odds with segments of that very community. Students of history and founders of the Western Policy Center in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., they’re sometimes characterized by their critics as latter-day Medicis, the money-mad merchants who pretty much ran Italy for three centuries.

Very few of those critics would say any of that for attribution, of course. Who’d want to risk a hang-up the next time they needed to ask, “Why don’t we call Angelo?”

The Fat Family

One is always tempted to ask: Can there be a better name for a restaurant dynasty?

It’s now been 66 years since Frank Fat—a Chinese immigrant whose first foray into the business was as a dishwasher (and whose real given name was Dong Gai Fat)—opened his eponymous eatery at Eighth and L streets in downtown Sacramento. Its rather immediate success as a hangout for politicos, lobbyists, local celebrities and their hangers-on (oops, we mean entourages) has frequently been attributed to its proximity to the State Capitol, one-and-a-half blocks, or a short stagger, away. But that sells the founder’s charisma and the place’s epicurean cuisine short. What Frank Fat managed to provide for his customers was nothing less than a safe haven, a place where impossibly emotional arguments could be quietly resolved over a tumbler of scotch or a slice of the restaurant’s signature banana cream pie. Frank Fat’s became, for many, a home away from Dome.

Frank Fat died eight years ago. His nearly identical, soft-spoken eldest son Wing Fat died this past winter. But the founder and his offspring had long before entrenched their large and extended family in the business. For example, Lina Fat—a pharmacist who became a gourmet cook and author after marrying Frank’s son Ken, a dentist—serves as the executive chef for all of the Fat restaurants. A highly visible community activist, she recently helped create the Historic Old Sacramento Foundation to preserve, protect and promote the district where the family operates two popular side-by-side restaurants, Fat City and California Fats.

The entire family prides itself on corporate citizenship. Fourteen years ago, its patriarch created the Frank Fat Foundation, which endows and supports an extensive buffet of cultural and educational projects. Two years later, the family launched the annual Pacific Rim Street Festival in Old Sacramento, which features Asian and Pacific Island food booths every few feet. And every year, thousands turn out for the raucously nutritional Chinese New Year celebration that fills and spills out of Frank Fat’s original downtown restaurant.

The Fat family also owns namesake restaurants throughout the Sacramento region, including a campus cafe at California State University, Sacramento, and dim sum bistros at three regional Indian gaming casinos. It owns and operates Fat City Steak House in San Diego, as well as a vigorous portfolio of commercial holdings within its Frank Fat Properties.

Unlike the dynamic of many family businesses, Fat family decisions on items large and small are often made collaboratively. Architects, developers and graphic designers (and even lowly copywriters like this writer) often have come away from a Fat chat with their heads swimming—not because the concerns or ideas expressed at the business meeting weren’t thoughtful or relevant, but from a numbing sense of awe at the sheer number of decision-makers who’d been in the room, all with an apparently equal vote.

As the family and its enterprises continue to expand, might this process undergo some streamlining? Fat chance.

The Raley / Teel Family

Yes, kids, there really was a time when the choice of “paper or plastic?” wasn’t the cleverest innovation at a grocery store.

For example, just 70 years ago, Thomas P. Raley introduced the country’s first drive-in market when he opened his store in Placerville. Twelve years later, he created the country’s first self-service meat counter at his Sacramento stores—which certainly didn’t do the world’s butcher shops any favors, though a number of their owners ended up finding much more stable jobs working for him.

By the mid-1970s, Raley’s supermarket kingdom had expanded not only its territory, with stores across the country, but also the very definition of what constituted a grocery store. Realizing that the drug stores often located right next door to his grocery stores attracted a steady stream of customers, Raley literally tore down walls, instituting the first of his hybrid “superstores.” Before too long, his emporia also began to stock natural foods, another product line previously available only in specialty markets.

Today, the Raley family owns nearly 140 stores—85 Raley’s stores, 20 Bel Air Markets, 25 Nob Hill Foods stores and seven Food Source outlets. Last year, it opened Aisle 1, a full-service gas station, in Galt, which may be the pilot for another line of Raley businesses.

Since Tom Raley was the second youngest of 14 children, it’s probably not surprising that he believed in keeping things in the family. After his death 14 years ago, his only child, Joyce—who had begun working for her father selling doughnuts and is now listed as one of the Forbes 400 Richest Americans—became the sole owner of the Raley’s empire. She and her husband, Jim Teel, are co-chairs of the company’s board of directors. (For a time, their son, Michael Teel, served as the company’s chief executive officer; he’s now involved in other enterprises.)

Raley has remained one of the region’s most recognizable names by carefully combining its community-mindedness with business acumen. The company knows that its customer base is dominated by families, and therefore provides “play care” areas for children at a number of its stores as well as rent-free spaces for Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts to meet. It also is a generous, reliable contributor to numerous family-oriented facilities, activities and causes. (When he was the company’s CEO, Michael Teel told us that even though he was not really a baseball fan, he knew that Raley’s customers were; hence, the company built Raley Field, home of the Sacramento River Cats.)

Just like her father, Joyce Raley Teel has made it her business (and pleasure) to be a familiar community presence, serving on a number of nonprofit boards, showing up at and often sponsoring major local soirees (such as the Crocker Art Museum’s signature society event, the Crocker Ball). Trim, athletic and fun-loving, she has inherited and maybe improved upon her father’s ability to make a participant in even a casual chat feel like the most important person in the room. Or superstore.

The Anderson / Lucchetti Family

For the past 52 years, Pacific Coast Building Products, the company founded by the late Fred Anderson, has done a lot more than lumber along.
When he began his business, Anderson knew that his principal product, wood, was a construction commodity readily available from any number of competing purveyors. So he rethought his company’s mission, deciding that what he did for a living was less about peddling material objects than offering personal warmth. And that’s when the company took off.
Anderson was one of a vanishing breed of entrepreneurs who managed to convey to his customers the tremendous kick he got out of his work and his life. Eventually working alongside David Lucchetti, the man who married Anderson’s daughter Chris, Anderson expanded Pacific Coast Building Products from a single lumberyard into a vast network of related companies that sells everything from roofing and waterproofing materials to paving stones, irrigation systems and even its own material transport company for shipping its products throughout the country. Befitting Lucchetti’s status as a pilot, the company also owns a jet charter business.
The Anderson/Lucchetti family business was green before it was fashionable (or fiscally rewarding) to be so. It used recycled water for its various manufacturing processes and created its own 24-hour environmental emergency department.
Five years ago, Pacific Coast Building Products kick-started its own charitable foundation by donating $1 million to what’s now known as the Sacramento Region Community Foundation. Principally devoted to children’s causes such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Stanford Home for Children and Fairytale Town, PCBP’s foundation also has been a key funder of the Sacramento Food Bank and UC Davis Presents. The company actively encourages (and financially supports) its employees’ volunteer community activities.    
Chris and Dave Lucchetti’s daughter, Megan Vincent, who serves as the company’s community relations manager, tells us that Anderson’s heirs—her mother Chris, aunts Carol and Cathy and uncles Jim and John—are still involved with PCBP’s various enterprises. In addition, Megan’s brother Ryan and her husband, Don Vincent, work in sales, as do her young cousins Michael Vota and Michael Cook.
“We use the word ‘family’ a lot around here,” she says in a voice that, appropriate to her heritage, has a nice timbre.

The Teichert Family

Once you learn that a company holds California State Contractors License No. 8, a number that’s awarded on a first-come, first-qualified basis, you might deduce that Teichert, which has been doing business in three centuries, no longer qualifies as a promising start-up.

Adolph Teichert, a German immigrant and mason, founded the company in 1887. For perspective, this was the year that saw Thomas Edison kick off operations in his myriad companies, the year in which artist Marc Chagall, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and showman Harry Houdini were born, and when scientists first discovered the skeletons of a stegosaurus and a triceratops.

Teichert’s son, Adolph Jr., joined the company in the early 1900s. Eventually, it was run by the founder’s grandson, Henry Teichert, one of the founders of the law firm that became known as McDonough, Holland & Allen. He passed the torch to his brother-in-law, Louis Riggs, who ran the company for 30 years, overseeing its growth into a business with annual revenues of well over half a billion dollars (though since it’s a privately held firm, just how well over half a billion dollars is anyone’s guess). Five years ago, Riggs’ son, Jud—who, at both his and his father’s insistence, spent 20 years working his way up through the ranks—became the parent-company’s president. Two years ago this month, he became Teichert’s chief executive officer.

Ubiquitous might be the best word to describe the Teichert name and presence in Northern California. The company’s familiar lime-green and blue triangular logo, created decades ago by local graphics designer Audrey Tsuruda, adorns not only cement mixers and pickup trucks but also the souvenir programs and playbills of arts and charitable groups throughout the region. Its Teichert Foundation, chaired by Henry’s son Fred, contributed the seed money and rallied the community support to build additional facilities for the capital city’s Boys & Girls Club, a nonprofit agency that serves disadvantaged children.

One of the reasons a venerable company like Teichert has stuck around long enough to be called venerable is because it’s stayed youthfully entrepreneurial. While the company’s core business continues to be construction—it maintains construction districts (branch offices) in five strategically located central and northern California communities—it also has separate entities for the mining and manufacture of various aggregate and precast concrete products.

The Teichert family’s impact on other California families is a daily affair. The company has built, and continues to build, the rudiments of contemporary life: hundreds of thousands of miles of sidewalks, roads, curbs and gutters, residential streets and freeways that span the state or cross the city. It moves earth, creates sewage and drainage systems, paves the way for water delivery and lights up roads and communities. 

Closer to home, Teichert spends a good deal of money and time each year on ensuring that the employees who show up every morning return home each night. In the past three years alone, the company has won a truckload of awards not only for the establishment of its zero-injury safety programs but also for its precedent-setting results. (Its aggregate plants have won awards for passing successive, rigorous U.S. mining safety inspections.)

All of which leads one to conclude that Adolph Teichert’s little startup company may just end up delivering on its initial promise.

The McClatchy Family

To some of us, “The McClatchys” has always sounded like an ideal name for an action-packed family saga about a rough-and-tumble dynasty that helped settle the American West in the 19th century. Others of us might even put the word “Fightin’” in the middle of that.

The facts of the media empire’s history lend themselves nicely to spontaneous mythmaking. Irish immigrant James McClatchy founded the dynasty 148 years ago when he published the first issue of The Sacramento Bee. An adventurer who first wrote for the late New York Tribune, McClatchy had joined the discombobulated pilgrimage known as the California Gold Rush in 1849. After a hair-raising series of nautical mishaps, followed by a hungry hike from San Diego to Sacramento, McClatchy arrived hoping to strike gold. Instead, he struck out. So, pragmatic dreamer that he was, he decided to exercise his fallback career option: journalism.

And that’s when he hit pay dirt. By the time he died in 1883, The Sacramento Bee was an established presence in the young state and McClatchy’s two sons, C.K. (for Charles Kenny) and V.S. (Valentine Stuart) were more than ready to build on that. Fortunately, the siblings not only got along well but also knew their own strengths and limitations. C.K. was the writer, V.S. the businessman. (Eventually, C.K. proved to be both, buying out his brother in the early 1920s and ensuring that his own descendants would retain a controlling interest in the company, which they do to this day.)

C.K.’s daughter, Eleanor, took over the family business in the 1930s, and ran it into the 1970s. Before she died, she appointed her nephew, also named C.K., as editor. Since his death in the 1980s, the company—while still owned by the McClatchy heirs—has brought in mostly nonrelated professionals to keep the presses running. The McClatchy empire now includes 12 newspapers across the country, and an Internet subsidiary. 

To Sacramento newcomers and natives alike, the McClatchy and Bee names are as pervasive as summer heat, tule fog and the Sacramento Kings. The region’s sole predominant newspaper, which has won a passel of Pulitzers, has morphed with the times, hosting the region’s predominant website (SacBee.com). It has inserted its presence into every available niche, usually with success. The lively Sacramento News & Review begat the competing Sacramento Bee “Ticket” sections. And when The Bee  introduced its “Neighbors” (now Regional) editions, a number of suburban papers went the way of all fishwrap. But The Bee’s attempt to take on the weekly Sacramento Business Journal by publishing its own tabloid-sized business pub, fell flat.

The McClatchy empire’s local philanthropy has been especially laudable, considering it has no real business need to contribute to local causes. (What will you read for local news if you cancel your subscription?) Yet The Bee regularly donates not only money but also huge amounts of advertising space to struggling arts and charitable groups. And it continues to hire ombudsmen who write columns that take occasional potshots at the paper’s own coverage, courage and decision making, and run editorials that boldly buck the prevailing zeitgeist.

Why should a paper this big still bother to be so feisty? Must be something in the genes of those fightin’ McClatchys.    

More Powerful Families

The Benvenuti Family—Anyone who remembers the building of Arco Arena also should recall the name Benvenuti. Joe Benvenuti may be one of the largest commercial developers in Sacramento (JB Co.), but he and his family will long be best remembered for bringing the NBA to town in 1985 and building Arco Arena. Today, Benvenuti still holds one-third ownership of the Sacramento Kings. 

The Burnett Family—When you eye the intricate woodwork restoration at the State Capitol, chances are you’re appreciating the talent of Burnett & Sons Mill and Lumber Company. Philitus Burnett and his son Henry established the firm in 1869—the second-oldest business in Sacramento. Today, siblings Fitz, Simone and Jim run the business, while their retired parents, Burnett and Mimi Miller, promote the arts in Sacramento when not residing in their Paris apartment.

The Fiddyment Family—“When my great-grandmother, Jane Fiddyment, acquired an 80-acre parcel in 1856, there wasn’t a Roseville or a railroad,” says David Fiddyment. The parcel grew to 2,200 acres of livestock, grain and pistachio farms. Part of Sun City Roseville sits on what used to be a Fiddyment turkey farm. In 1990, the Fiddyment children started selling off their land, thus spurring Roseville’s huge growth spurt.

The Friedman Family—Attorney Mort Friedman and his wife, Marcy, changed the way Sacramentans shop when they resurrected Arden Fair mall, luring retail giants like Nordstrom to town. Mort Friedman works diligently with tolerance issues and is the founder of the Capital Unity Council. The couple has entertained President Clinton in their home—which also was featured in an issue of Martha Stewart Living. Their son, Mark, continues the Friedman development legacy.

The Gormley Family—W.F. Gormley and Sons is one of the largest and oldest independently owned funeral homes in the region. Begun in 1897 by William F. Gormley, who was also the first coroner and first sheriff of Sacramento County, the business originally catered to the Catholic community. (Bishop Manogue, Sacramento’s first bishop, was an uncle to the Gormleys.) Fourth-generation Rick Gormley now runs the family operation.

The Hansen Family—In 1921, a Danish immigrant, Carl Hansen, put his life savings into the purchase of the struggling, 20-year-old Crystal Cream & Butter Company. From that moment on, the Sacramento dairy was a family affair, with Hansen’s children pitching in before and after school. Together, Hansen and his three sons—Vernon, Gerald and Kenneth—built the creamery into one of the largest milk processors in California.

The Niello Family—In 1955, Richard Niello Sr. and Les Lasher opened a Volkswagen dealership in Sacramento. By 1969, Niello moved forward with his own Porsche-Audi dealership. Today, he and his sons employ “600 people in the Sacramento Valley and will boast nine dealerships by the end of the year,” says Richard Niello Jr. Patrons of the arts, the Niellos contribute to both the Sacramento Youth Symphony and Music Circus, along with various charities. Richard Niello Sr.’s son Roger is a member of the California State Assembly.

The Saca Family—Tony Saca came to the United States with $200 in his pocket and forged an appliance and development dynasty with his family. Beyond their Filco stores and ambitious development undertakings (like the Tower Project, a proposed high-rise condo development downtown), the family has raised millions of dollars for Sacramento Food Bank Services through its annual Saca Benefit Ball. “The community has been generous to us,” says son John Saca, “and we are committed and thankful to the community.”

The Setzer Family—In 1927, Carl Setzer founded Setzer Forest Products, a mill which today is owned by “third-generation Setzers,” most notably Hardie Setzer. The mill began by producing agricultural box plant but quickly grew to include a variety of forest products, yielded from 15,000 acres of timberland. 

The Slobe Family—“The North Sacramento Land company was founded in 1910 by my great-grandfather, D.W. Johnston, and a group of about 17 partners,” says Bob Slobe, current president of the business. Slobe’s grandmother, Myrtle Johnston,  and mother, Carolyn Dean Slobe, both ran the North Sacramento Land Company upon the deaths of their husbands.  Bob Slobe’s grandmother  developed Commerce Circle Industrial Park.  Other company projects include neighborhoods Woodlake and Hagginwood, which Slobe says held a “Frank Capralike, fairytale” quality until the 1960s.  With Bob Slobe at the helm, the company has worked hard to redevelop Del Paso Boulevard. He and his spouse, Kim Mueller,  follow in the Johnston-Slobe tradition of civic involvement.

The Yee Family—The Gold Rush lured tens of thousands of Chinese to California in the 1800s, including Yee Fung Cheung, an herbalist, who opened a store first in Fiddletown and later in Sacramento. Credited with saving Gov. Leland Stanford’s wife from a severe pulmonary disorder in 1862, word of Dr. Yee’s talents spread and his business flourished. Although he ultimately returned to China, his descendants remained in Sacramento and include doctors and dentists who continue the family’s medical tradition. Dr. Herbert Yee, a great-grandson, has practiced dentistry in Sacramento for nearly 50 years. His four children also have entered medical professions.                                                      —Lynne Marie Rominger   lS

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