The knives come out at A.C. restaurant again The Latzes, known for family strife, are bickering in court over a sale to a local rival.

Posted: December 25, 2003

ATLANTIC CITY — This would not be what you call a warm and fuzzy holiday story, but it's an Atlantic City perennial.

The Latz family, whose squabbles are almost as legendary as their restaurant, the Knife & Fork Inn, are at each other's throats again.

"It's awful," admits the son, Andrew Latz.

"All I wanted was 6 percent of the gross," grumbles the father, the blunt-spoken Mack Latz, 86, who back in the day was so incapable of getting along with his brother Jim that they agreed to work in the restaurant alternate weeks.

This time, the cantankerous dad is trying to sell the famed restaurant out from under his mild-mannered son, who may not yell much but who, being a Latz after all, authorized a news release detailing the "treachery, duplicity and betrayal" allegedly carried out by dear old Dad.

A knife and fork in the back, you might say.

Complicating this tale is that Mack Latz wants to sell the restaurant to the Doughertys - the other venerable Atlantic City restaurant family and owners of Dock's Oyster House since 1897. (They are the functional version of the Latzes.)

But rather than being a celebrated marriage of Boardwalk-town pre-casino restaurant royalty, the proposed sale has further fractured the Latz family.

"My family's motto has always been: 'If you have something bad to say, say it loud,' " says Andrew, 52, his father's only son.

"It wasn't a love affair," says Mack.

Perhaps that explains why Mack Latz left his grandson's recent bris shouting, "I just want my money!" according to Andrew, the new father.

Talk to Mack Latz, and it's not hard to believe the bris story, because halfway into the conversation he starts a similar rant: "I want money, baby. I have a car and a boat. I race sailboats. . . . All I've wanted is money. Boats and women - it's expensive. Nothing's enough for me. I gotta live. I'm a big liver."

This being Atlantic City, the whole mess is in court, where a lawsuit filed by Andrew Latz prevented Mack Latz from closing on a $950,000 agreement of sale to the Dougherty family. Andrew says he owns 14 percent of the restaurant, which remains open, and contends that Mack Latz may not sell without his permission. A hearing date has not yet been set.

Besides, Andrew says, he was born and bred to take over the Knife & Fork, despite being fired by his father in 1995 after taking an unapproved vacation to Mexico. He says he feels a special bond with his late grandmother Evelyn Latz, who assured him that the restaurant was his birthright.

"The center of the family's energy, emotionally and psychologically, has always been centered in this building," says Andrew, not adding whether this is a positive thing for diners.

For Mack Latz, it's simple. He does not care about keeping the restaurant in the family - even though the Latzes have owned the place since 1927, when a series of raids during Prohibition put the kibosh on the Knife & Fork as a private gentlemen's dining club.

"No, it doesn't matter," he says. "I'm a very selfish person."

Andrew Latz says when his dad started talking about wanting to get his money out of the property last winter, he offered the elder Latz a good deal at $650,000 with tax advantages. He thought he had a deal but found out Sept. 5, the day his long-awaited first child was born, that his dad secretly was in cahoots with the Doughertys, who want to turn the upscale seafood and meat place into a midrange steakhouse.

The Doughertys are watching from the sidelines. Frank Dougherty, one of the sons, says members of his family get along fine. No Latz-like theatrics. "We went to Mack. We're willing buyers. . . . They need to settle their issues."

As if.

Mack Latz - whose Margate Tudor home bears touches similar to the landmark Flemish facade of the restaurant, where Atlantic meets Pacific - says Andrew took down a bunch of pictures of Mack, then promoted the restaurant as "Andrew & Adrienne Latz' Knife & Fork Inn" after he and his wife returned in 1999 to run the restaurant, which had been closed for two years.

Nevertheless, Mack Latz says Andrew has done a "fair job" in reviving the restaurant, though nothing like the job the old man did. "He had some things to live up to," Mack says.

And he insists Andrew reneged on an agreement to pay his father 6 percent of gross receipts, a figure Andrew Latz says is preposterous.

But this story is less about who owes what to whom than about a father and a son who don't seem to be able to access their inner father-son-ness.

Mack Latz: "He hasn't been very nice to me. I think I've been a fairly good father, not a loving father, but a good father. Yeah, he's disappointed me. All I want is my 6 percent."

Andrew Latz: "My father was very abusive mentally. A customer said, 'How come you don't stutter or have a nervous twitch?' "

They do agree the whole thing is like something from the Old Testament or Shakespeare. Or Jerry Springer.

Andrew says he knows this latest controversy will seem to many as more of the same from that lovable bunch of loonies, the Latzes, who somehow have managed not to sully the mystique of a restaurant where Susan Sarandon famously dined with Burt Lancaster after even more famously rubbing lemons on herself in the 1980 movie Atlantic City.

"It's part of the legend, I guess," Latz says. "Someone once said they got heartburn here and it wasn't from the food, it was from all the animosity."

Contact staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at arosenberg@phillynews.com or 609-823-0453.

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