- Courtney Jette
The best Fat Cats don’t move Much. And this ones here to stay.
Updated: Feb 4, 2021
April, 2020 "To me, I really appreciate customers because going out to eat is a luxury and they chose us"
If you've been on Edison and you haven't visited the establishment tucked away behind the car wash across the street from Kamiakian High.... Then I'm not sure why you were even on Edison. Just in the short time I was visiting the El Fat Cat Grill there were a few people that drove in to see if it was open. And there's definitely no question as to why.
Felix and Jenny, who run and own the Cat, are not only the funniest owners I've run into on this project, but their food is amazing. I didn't want to leave. Hanging out there was like laughing and joking with your favorite, extended family members. I hope I end up as lifelong friends with them. The Cat, which sets super close to the high school, is usually overrun on a week day during lunch hour. They have even had kids drive from Richland and Southridge high schools, too. A high school lunch is typically 22 minutes long. Driving to The Cat from Richland and then waiting in a line that you may think a roller coaster is at the end of, and then driving back to school... Are you getting the picture now? The food is bigger and better here than any food truck I've ever been to.
*What's your favorite item you have on the menu or that you created?
J: "Felix created the whole menu. My favorite is the Fiji mango torta." F: "The Firecracker burger, and the Porky adobo." J: "Oh, and the coco curry."
The Habayaki burrito is a crowd favorite. And if you are looking for breakfast, 'the morning farmer burrito'. Or the bacon gouda. Maybe I should just sit at the grill for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
While I was in the grill a couple of regulars were hanging around, and it was awesome to see that they were family, neighbors, friends. The vibe was contagious as everyone hung out and laughed.
They also had a chance to tell me a bit about the high schoolers that frequent their spot and how they've basically all become family throughout the four years they get to see them. They stay in touch, and I started wishing I was back in high school and could have had the El Fat Cat Grill to visit for lunch. If you forget about their bomb food for a second, interactions with them are the reason they have so many return clients. And why the high schoolers are so drawn there; they take care of them and provide them with a comfortable space that isn't home or school. And they KEEP IT REAL with them.
"I'm worried if the kids are eating, worried about our older customers, if they are OK. They're not just numbers. We're so blessed with the people that love us," Jenny said when asked what they're most concerned about right now.
F: "That's kinda hard. I guess it's the response of the public, the social distancing part of it. Some people, or most people are 50/50, 'do I take this serious or not?' That's maybe the only thing that's kinda scary."
J: "The other thing that worries me, is financially, I don't have a second job. This is family run. How long can we go? Take out costs more. More waste, it's costing you more to serve the same meal."
"To me, I really appreciate customers because going out to eat is a luxury and they chose us, that makes me happy. But now, in this moment, we don't necessarily have that leisure cuz we're afraid of the unknown."
The grill has been open for 9 years as of March 11th, and just recently had a major renovation in August and then reopened in mid-September. They have been at the Edison location since 2012.
Unlike most food trucks,The Fat Cat started out as a brick and mortar restaurant.
"We went to go look for a location for my photography business. We happened to see a spot next door that was the old bakery in Midtown Plaza. And Felix said, "This would be such a cool place for a restaurant." Driving back home the landlord called them and said, how about a restaurant then, did they want to do it? They looked at each other and were like well?
"We Literally went home and within a day or two he had the menu. Called up our family and were like we need a name."
Felix the cat is what was tossed out. They started at Midtown Plaza and were there for a year. At one year, rent was raised and they decided they weren't sure they wanted to stay. " We have thirty days to figure it out." Coming up empty, they decided to go the food truck route. "I had seen this food truck show, and was like... Should we?" Shortly after that El fat Cat was a food truck and they have only driven to success from there.
The Cat, like most fat felines, is not mobile and sits behind the self serve car wash on Edison, next to Parkside Driving School.
"We just had our 9th anniversary celebration a few weeks ago, and a patron said 'You're like the forefathers of food trucks.'"
"We sorta paved the way for food trucks in our area, and showed that it's possible for them to thrive here. And the area has really opened their arms for trucks to be here."
That is an understatement, for sure. I remember the first time someone mentioned The Cat to me, and I was like, 'A food truck??' What a foreign idea to a Tri-Cities kid. I'm so glad they established the Cat, and I'm glad they stayed. The family is such a blessing to this community I can't even think of them not being in my life now. Even today I had a phone chat with Jenny to make sure I had the menu items correct, and we had a 50 minute conversation! I could have talked to her all day. And though I'm seeing people, and I'm not hurting too bad for social interaction, just having that phone call with her, no matter the subject, was a boost to my day. And I can definitely say, this town is better off with The Fat Cat family than they ever would be without it, and so are our bellies. Their spirit and passion for life is contagious. Lucky for you all, the grill just opened back up after being closed for three weeks, for limited hours. You can get your Fat Cat Felix fix from 10:00-3:00. But don't be surprised if they're sold out. They had a great response from the community upon reopening.
J: "First we tried phone in orders, but the phone was ringing so much that we gave up and opened the window; it would not stop ringing."
On if they think the demand and customer flood will stay up or fall flat:
"They could have all gotten their Fat Cat fix and are good. Our real test will be this next week, well know more then. When and if it picks back up, we'll bring our daughter back to work."
"One of us can't stay home, we work together. This is OUR income, and it's the same for so many other local businesses. We work together. You can't really stay closed for very long when you're a one income setup."
A lot of businesses who were in their first year are really taking a hit.
J: "My heart hurts for these first year businesses. It's make it or break it that first year. It's like, 'Cool, I can afford running costs and to pay my employees for a whole year.' After you get past that there is this excitement of being able to support yourself."
Luckily, the Fat Cat is 9 years in and doesn't look like it's going anywhere. And I talked a bit about not going certain places, as well.
I'm not too keen on going to eat at chains, and I'm worried about what small businesses are going to look like after this.
I chatted with Jenny a bit about the big chains and the situation on small business doors being closed for too long.
"Corporations are getting bail outs, small businesses are not. Small business is being pushed under so big business can stay up."
If they push the small businesses long enough they will be able to cripple them, which forces people to go to the big business. And that's why we could have talked all day. They get it. And I hope people will take their own look at what's going on and not just what they are being sold.
On a brighter note, (back to telling you how great they and their business are), they have had customers coming and paying it forward for friend's food; to help friend's eat that aren't able to work right now.
I also forgot to mention another crowd favorite is the "Triple Threat". A shining star of The Fat Cat's menu...but what isn't!? If you are wondering where to get a big enough burrito for two meals (Trust me I know. They sent me home with a surprise burrito. I was excited for the entire rest of the day at that gesture, and also full for the entire day.), then stop on Edison for the Cat that hangs out behind the wash.... It may be in an alley, but it definitely isn't an alley cat. And if they aren't too slammed with customers, take some time to talk with the owners. Between the food and J&F, you'll want to sit all day.
I can't wait to come back and get my fix and snag a Fat Cat sticker to take on my next world adventure. The El Fat Cat stickers are scattered across the globe. Join the 'fat cat family', and be sure to let us know where you take the Cat! We won't blame you if you literally have just a suitcase full of stickers and burritos.
Jenny, Felix, I'll talk to you soon. Thanks for being great human beings. 13391 People Reached
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