Diners will find that Billy Zoellin is serving up a touch of whimsy in the down-home dishes on the menu at his new Bacon and Butter restaurant, which opens at 8 a.m. Sunday inside Club 21 at 1119 21st St.
Zoellin revealed that he's worked up recipes for blue corn dogs, chorizo and egg pancakes, and a fried green tomato salad made in the Caprese style. As for that blue corn dog, it gets its color from blue corn meal, and those tiny dark flecks are roasted pasilla peppers. Not all these items will be on the debut menu, he said. To get them, you'll have to keep coming back.
One perception Zoellin is trying to nix: "A lot of people think, 'Oh, Bacon and Butter, they are a greasy spoon, so you don't want to eat there too much.' We're actually quite the opposite. We'll have homemade biscuits and bacon, of course. But we'll also have things you can eat every day, like oatmeal made from scratch and muesli."
The 28-year-old Zoellin expects a crowd Sunday, and although he plans to regularly close at 2:30 p.m., he'll stay open until everyone gets a meal. Zoellin said he'll be operating with temporary registers because his checkout system won't arrive for a couple of weeks.
Don't expect to return Monday. Zoellin will close that day so that he and staff can review what succeeded and what needs improvement. He'll reopen Tuesday.
A Sacramento High School graduate, Zoellin got help from family to launch his dream: "My mom in particular has seen and heard my passion for many, many years. Finally she was like, 'Why don't you just do it then? Why don't you quit talking about it and just do it?' I did."
Winding road to success
To understand Howard Liu's rags-to-solidly-middle-class journey, let's start fairly close to the beginning. He emigrated to the United States at age 7 from Hong Kong in 1975.
His parents, neither of whom was educated past eighth grade, spoke Cantonese and Taishanese. So did Howard. Today he also speaks English, Mandarin, German and Spanish, but it wasn't until age 11 that he realized he had English nailed.
"One day, walking home from William Land Elementary School in the hot summer sun, I realized, 'Wait! I'm actually speaking. I'm actually speaking English!" It was like, 'Look, Mom, no hands!' " said Liu, whose home happened to be in the public housing project known as New Helvetia.
He credits teachers Tinos Kwong and Anita Leung for giving him a sense of belonging. And then there was Esther Amezcua, who fired him up with drills that had him and his classmates racing to the chalkboard.
And then, when he got to C.K. McClatchy High School, English teacher John Darling was there to encourage him to apply to college and, along with his German teacher Wallace McAllister, to urge him to accept a German family's offer to sponsor him for his senior year in Hanover.
"I must have read at least a hundred books," said Liu, who found a literary treasure trove in the home of Klaus and Annegret Gerlach. "They were in various languages. I learned Latin. I learned to read classical Chinese. ... I was reading Confucius in the original."
Liu would return to the States and graduate with a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of California, Los Angeles, taking the highest honors. He would receive a master's degree from UCLA as well, despite having to leave to care for his dying father, Wai Lun.
Among the twists and turns that followed were a stint as a programming consultant for a small tech company earning $100 an hour. When the dot-com bubble burst, Liu's unit was laid off in one fell swoop.
He decided to do something that would give back, enrolling in medical school at UC Davis. He will graduate today at age 44, after taking time off the previous year to nurse his dying mother, Sun Ho.
While in medical school, Liu served as a co-director of the Paul Hom Asian Clinic, where his whole family received care. His service, scholarship and triumph over adversity won a $5,000 scholarship from the Leadership Council at UC Davis Health System. In this moment, Liu talks only about the people who inspired the man he's become.