Restaurateur John Franco helped ease liquor laws

Many Seattleites will remember John Franco as the legendary restaurateur who operated Franco's Hidden Harbor restaurant and helped legalize the sale of liquor by the drink.

But his brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces and grandchildren will remember him as the generous man who never forgot a birthday.

Every year, Mr. Franco sent a birthday card to every child in the family — all 150 of them — and enclosed enough money to correspond to their ages.

"He never forgot a birthday," said Kenneth Muscatel, Mr. Franco's nephew. "He wasn't a fawning uncle; he treated the kids like adults. He was really a sweet guy, one in a million."

Mr. Franco died of congestive heart failure last Friday (Dec. 13) at his home in West Seattle. He was 93.

He was born May 20, 1909, on the Greek island of Rhodes. When he was less than a year old, he and his mother immigrated to the United States and joined his father, Marco, in Seattle.

The oldest of five children, Mr. Franco was known for taking care of his brothers and sisters whenever they needed help.

"He was my mother's and father's right hand," said Dorothy Muscatel, a sister. "He took care of us all. Every catastrophe, he was right there."

Mr. Franco graduated from Garfield High School and the University of Washington, majoring in English and literature. After finishing school, he helped his father, who was the first tenant at Pike Place Market and, later, operator of 15 produce and food stores in the Puget Sound area.

Mr. Franco decided the produce business wasn't for him, went back to the University of Washington and graduated with a law degree in 1933.

He practiced law for two years, then left the profession to start a restaurant, Franco's Cafe, at Western Avenue and Spring Street, with his father. When World War II began, his father ran the business while Mr. Franco served as an officer in the Merchant Marine.

When he returned from the war, he and his father took over the Marina Grill restaurant on Lake Union at 1500 Westlake Ave. N. and renamed it Franco's Hidden Harbor. The seafood restaurant, which opened Nov. 16, 1946, quickly became a big hit, attracting luminaries such as Ginger Rogers and Al Rosellini, the former governor.

Customers came by boat and car to Hidden Harbor, eating outside during warm weather.

In 1956 the veteran restaurateur started the local tradition of "sailgating," or taking customers by boat to Husky Stadium for football games. Brunch would be served on the way to the game, and appetizers and drinks on the way back to the restaurant.

Mr. Franco was a key leader in passing Initiative 171 in 1949, which allowed restaurants to serve alcohol with meals. He also led the fight against the state's strict liquor laws and fought for women to be allowed to sit at a bar.

"He was really the standard that elevated the whole restaurant industry in Seattle," said Albert Franco, his brother.

Mr. Franco sold Hidden Harbor in 1985 but continued coordinating the football-game cruises for more than 10 years. He also played golf, traveled and stayed active with local charities and industry organizations during his retirement.

Surviving are two sisters, Dorothy Muscatel of Bellevue and Toddy Horowitz of Palm Desert, Calif.; two brothers, Albert Franco of Mercer Island and Robert Franco of Richland; a daughter, Toni Klein of Ukiah, Calif.; a son, John "Pete" Franco of Newport Beach, Calif.; a stepson, James Hunter Chandler; 10 grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren.

A funeral service was held Sunday. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Jewish Family Service and the Caroline Kline Galland Home, a retirement home.

Kristina Shevory: 206-464-2039 or