After Knife & Fork

Andrew Latz, 59, scion to the well-known Jersey Shore restaurant family, outside his current restaurant, Latz's by the Bay, in Somers Point.
Andrew Latz, 59, scion to the well-known Jersey Shore restaurant family, outside his current restaurant, Latz's by the Bay, in Somers Point. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 08, 2014

SOMERS POINT, N.J. - When last we checked in with Andrew Latz, he was at war with his cantankerous father, Mack Latz, over the future of their family heirloom, the venerable Knife & Fork Inn in Atlantic City. Mack Latz was a formidable foe: "Nothing's enough for me. I gotta live. I'm a big liver," he said at age 86. Needless to say, Andrew Latz lost the war, despite an attack offense in which he sent out a news release detailing the "treachery, duplicity, and betrayal" allegedly carried out by Mack. The restaurant was sold to the Doughertys, another legendary, though more harmonious, Atlantic City family, and Andrew Latz slinked off to six years of working in the gourmet rooms of a casino. Now, a decade later, he says he has made peace with his late father's legacy and has emerged at the helm of Latz's by the Bay, serving tea to Hell's Angels (and others) in Somers Point.

Question: So after 75 years of your family's running the Knife & Fork, arguably Atlantic City's most iconic restaurant, the place where Burt Lancaster had lunch with Susan Sarandon in the Louis Malle film "Atlantic City," here you are in Somers Point. Are you in exile?

Latz: No, I'm not in exile! Actually, my family was from Somers Point. Before the Knife & Fork, we had 800 Bay - between 1918 and 1942. My father and his brother would slip out and walk Bay Avenue when they were like 8 and 10 years old, they would smoke Camel cigarettes so they'd look older, and they would go to the speakeasy and look in the windows.

Somers Point was very anti-Semitic and anti-black in the '20s and the '30s. When Prohibition ended, they couldn't get a liquor license. So she [his grandmother] put an ad in the Ocean City paper that said if they didn't get a liquor license, they were going to donate the building for a black orphanage. And they got one of the first liquor licenses.

Q: After buying the Knife & Fork, did the family move to Atlantic City?

Latz: My grandfather was a gambler and a partyer. He would move my grandmother and the kids over to Somers Point in the summer. He would be in Atlantic City and go back and forth.

Q: He put them in exile.

Latz: He put them over here so he could do what he wanted.

Q: Your dad passed away just before the 100th anniversary of the Knife & Fork. Do you have a new perspective on him?

Latz: He died on my birthday, the same time I was born. There's a certain karma to that. My wife took care of him the last few years, and he adored my son, his only grandson. He used to say he didn't like children because they don't drink. Everybody learns lessons in life. He had mini strokes in his 80s that impaired his thinking. Because it was such a wild family, I was too close to see the forest for the trees. You have to make your peace.

Q: Had Mack found peace?

Latz: My dad said, "If I could only buy my way to heaven, I don't have enough money." My wife, Adrien, said: "It doesn't really work that way." But there's an old Jewish superstition that if you die on Yom Kippur, the gates of heaven are open, and you get like a get-out-of-jail-free card and go in. Well, my father died on Yom Kippur. So he did figure out a way in to get around the system.

Q: Other than Lobster Newburg, the corn fritters, and a few other menu items, the restaurant is a clean break from the Knife & Fork. Have you been back?

Latz: I would never go back. I look forward. I was in Atlantic City in the daytime about a week ago. I felt like a hillbilly, I hadn't been in Atlantic City in the daylight in so long.

Q: You're an intense guy from an intense family. But here you are, presiding over a calm place with a full tea room. Are you trying to find inner peace through your clientele?

Latz: We play New Age on the weekends, and sometimes, I'm a little too high-strung for it. Adrien has English lineage. Someone suggested tea. Tea is the hardest thing we do. Everything is miniaturized. We hired a consultant, she had gone to the Savannah School of Tea. I'm a nice Jewish boy from Margate. I had been to tea twice before. Tea people are like Deadheads: They go from one tea room to another, all around, and they compare. It's a whole subculture. Last year, we had a whole group of Hell's Angels, leather jackets and tattoos, pull up to the restaurant on motorcycles. We were like, What do they want? It was a party of six for tea. They had reservations.

Q: The restaurant at 800 Bay - your family's old place - was filled with drama last summer as chef Phillippe Chen abruptly quit, and accusations flew back and forth. When you look across the street and see a place mired in conflict and it's not yours, are you amused by it?

Latz: I don't identify with it. It's not a good thing. I don't really know what goes on in there. It's not my crazy town. I'm just trying to make this work.

Q: So did your family have its own food traditions at home? Did you serve lobster at night, then do the bagels-and-lox thing like everyone else in Margate?

Latz: You know what, I never had a Jewish breakfast until I was 19. My father didn't approve of it. He said it made fat kids. At 19, Herb Lipson from Philadelphia magazine was staying at our house. He said, "There's nothing in your refrigerator." So he left and went to Casel's and brought all this food home - bagels and lox and salmon, everything that makes a Jewish breakfast. And I was out of my mind - I thought this is the greatest thing I'd ever had.

Interview has been condensed and edited.


arosenberg@phillynews.com

609-823-0453

@amysrosenberg

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