Denise Dalton, who co-founded midtown Sacramento pub Fox & Goose Public House and ran the kitchen for its first 20 years, died in her East Sacramento home Monday at the age of 78.
Dalton lived nearly her entire life in Sacramento from her birth on Feb. 15, 1941, until death. She graduated from Sacramento High School and Sacramento State, and taught art at Will C. Wood Middle School before leaving to open Fox & Goose with her then-husband, Bill, her daughter Allyson Dalton said.
An artist like Denise, Bill had a studio in the W.P. Fuller Building and reached a handshake agreement with building owner Fred David (who also owned neighboring David Candy Co. and the Sacramento Solons) to rent a section on the ground floor. He built the restaurant out and she taught classes until January 1975, when Fox & Goose’s doors opened at 1001 R St.
Bill was the bombastic front-of-house personality that built relationships with customers; Denise ground away in the kitchen, developing Fox & Goose’s menu with the assistance of American River College cooking instructors Trudy and Roxanne O’Brien.
“My mom was more back-of-the-house, the unsung hero who kept the engine running,” Allyson Dalton said. “They made a really good team, but I think she was often overlooked because my dad was the front-of-house person.”
Original recipes for fish and chips, Cornish pasties and burnt cream are still made at Fox & Goose today, since joined by hummus plates and spinach salads. But even in the 1970s, the vegetarian Denise made sure to include a range of meat-free items, said longtime friend and former Fox & Goose bartender Antoinette Zachem.
Long before the R Street Corridor became a midtown hot spot, Fox & Goose’s homey atmosphere drew in people from the state Capitol and downtown Sacramento. It was one of the few restaurants and bars in town to offer live music at the time, with acts like Country Joe McDonald taking the stage four to five times a week.
“Denise more than anyone else really set the foundation for making sure (Fox & Goose) was successful,” said Roxanne O’Brien, who spent two years in the then lunch-only kitchen. “You’d meet her and she’d seem soft and easy, but she ran the business very well and made sure it made a profit. And it was a struggle in beginning.”
Bill and Denise separated while running Fox & Goose but remained friends and business partners, Allyson Dalton said. Denise retired after she and Bill sold their daughter the pub in 1995, then threw herself deeper into charity work.
Longtime managers Jessa Berkey and Peter Monson bought the establishment in 2015.
The original Fox & Goose has been in operation for more than 200 years in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, in northern England, the hometown of Bill, according to previous Bee reporting. The Sacramento edition is in a former Fuller Paint and Glass Co. brick building, constructed in 1913.
She was an animal lover whose house became a menagerie of strays taken in, Allyson said. That was on top of volunteering at the Sacramento SPCA, and Loaves & Fishes, and the Francis House Center, and Mustard Seed School.
“Her love for animals ran deep, and she did so much dog and cat rescue work in her lifetime,” Zachem wrote in an email.. “The woman truly had a heart of gold. She would never forgive me if I did not mention her rescues, many of which she kept.”
“She was one of those people that hated to see anything or anyone suffer,” said Allyson, who sold Fox & Goose in 2015 but still owns the building.
Art remained a significant part of Dalton’s life after she quit teaching. A breast cancer survivor who underwent a full mastectomy at age 40, Denise organized the “Breast Art Show” where artists created works around that theme, then fundraised thousands by traveling throughout the state with the exhibit, Roxanne O’Brien said.
Dementia eventually diminished Denise’ physical and capabilities, though she remained as active as possible into her later years, Allyson said. Dalton is survived by partner Kent Telfer; sister Dee Stangarone; daughter Allyson and her husband, Rich Neely; son Stephen and his wife, Shannon; and two grandchildren.