In an earlier post I wrote about Mario Vellutini who worked for John Patroni, also known as “Big Daddy”. Patroni owned the aptly named Patroni House, a prohibition roadhouse that once stood where the Half Moon Bay Brewery is located today in Princeton. Not only was the Patroni House centrally located– but Mr. Patroni was a key figure, as in “the man”.
Patroni also took pride in the food he served and cleverly outwitted the competition.
“When the Prohibition agents headed for Patroni’s,” Mario Vellutini told me, “somebody called from Redwood City to warn him.” (Redwood City was and is the county government seat.)
Thus John Patroni avoided the stinging penalty of too many raids. A raid could also mean that a roadhouse– or “resort” owner like Patroni had failed to honor the custom of the time by making certain the appropriate officials got their regular “salary”.
“Patroni gave big meals at low prices,” Vellutini divulged, “and if people stayed for the weekend he gave them discounts.” Mario recalled seeing 500 people in Princeton at one times–a tremendous crowd. Those were the days when folks traveled to the Coastside to dine on the delicious local mussels.
Louis Miguel–whose father built the beautiful Palace Miramar Hotel, now gone–once told me his family’s restaurant “served mussels 12 months a year. There was no such thing as poison mussels like there is today.”
Until it was time to serve them, the shellfish were kept fresh in the ocean, held in sacks, tied with rope. Miguel said his family “never got the mussels until low tide. People nowadays get mussels up high where they get a lot of sun and moon and that’s what poisons them. But in those days we served them all year ’round and nobody got sick.”
The Patroni House building was owned by John Patroni but it was located on real estate belonging to Coastside landowner Henry Cowell. Cowell, recalled Mario Vellutini, kept raising Patroni’s rent, ultimately igniting a feud.
The “padrone” hit upon a plan to outwit Cowell and avoid the steep overhead by buying the adjacent property. One night, under cover of darkness, Patroni moved his entire building over to the the newly purchased land. Outraged, Cowell retaliated by building his own restaurant next door to Patroni’s.
But, chuckled Vellutini, “While people lined up to eat mussels at the Patroni House, nobody went to Cowell’s new place.”