UKRAINIAN VILLAGE — Phil Ashbach, the beloved owner of Fatso's Last Stand, died Wednesday night after a battle with brain cancer.
Ashbach was known for his behind-the-counter wisecracks at Fatso's, which was previously called Phil's Last Stand, 2258 W. Chicago Ave. The spot is known for its fried shrimp, chardogs and "Fatso" burgers.
"He was a true Chicagoan," said Bob Corbett, who has been running the restaurant since Ashbach got too sick to do so. "If he thought he could joke around with you, he'd have fun with you. His thing was there was no way he could offend you. He'd say 'I'm a 400-pound Jew, and I'm bald. I'm the easiest guy to make fun of.' "
While Ashbach publicly discussed his weight struggles on his now-defunct blog, it was cancer that killed him. According to the Sun-Times, he reached out to his doctor brother last summer after he began smelling things that weren't there. He soon was diagnosed with gioblaste multiforme, a fast-moving brain tumor that usually results in death within three to nine months.
Ashbach, 66, leaves behind four children and a staff that considered him both family and a mentor.
"He'd come in at 11, sit down at the register, start taking orders and start screaming at people ... 'Why don't you get a double Fatso [burger]?' " said Vianney Romero, an employee at Fatso's.
And if someone asked for ketchup to put on their hot dog, they'd hear about it.
Corbett described Ashbach as a perfectionist built for the late-night food industry and a businessman who wasn't afraid to challenge himself to help the business grow. In 2012, Ashbach partnered with the Lockdown Bar & Grill crew to open Phil's after a few of his other ventures didn't work out.
Corbett remembered his first experience with Ashbach — a brutal session behind a grill with him barking orders. He also doubted anyone's ability to finish the spot's burger monstrosity: the Fatso Burger. He began offering $50 to anyone who could.
"He never thought anyone would finish it, so every time someone attempted and didn't finish he'd roll the $50 over," said Corbett. The pot grew to $1,500 before Jamie "the Bear" McDonald visited in 2012 and completed both the burger challenge and Fatso's Po'Boy Challenge in consecutive days.
Despite Ashbach's tough talk, Romero remembered him as a gentle man. She met him on Fatso's patio and begged for a job, which he gave her the next day.
"It's sad. It's real sad he's gone. We miss him a lot, already," she said. "I was close to him. I loved him as a person, and I saw him as someone I could trust and count on."
Corbett said Fatso's Last Stand will remain open with no changes after Ashbach's death, but something will be missing.
"His personality really livened the place up," he said.
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