Brian Stout, Hillcrest restaurateur, philanthropist has diedAround the City, Latest Issue Thursday, March 16th, 2017
Thom Senzee, author of this article, is a West Coast-based freelance journalist, and a regular contributor to San Diego LGBT Weekly.
Longtime San Diego restaurateur, Brian Stout, former owner of Brians’ American Eatery (the plural apostrophe noting the shared first name of the owners of the eatery, which once occupied the site on Washington Street in Hillcrest where Great Maple now does a brisk fine-dining business) has died at the age of 52.
Stout, who is survived by his partner of 20 years, Tino Rodrigues, 43, was known for giving generously of his time, labor and treasure during decades as an employer, a volunteer and a benefactor in San Diego’s LGBT community and beyond.
“His philosophy was simple, big portions and quality food at fair prices,” Rodrigues told San Diego LGBT Weekly during an interview a few days after Stout’s memorial service. “He carried that way of thinking into everything he did.”
According to Rodrigues, Stout never sought to “get rich” as a restaurateur.
“He was happy to just make a decent salary, give people a good job and place to work where they felt like they were part of a family, and make customers leave feeling well-fed and satisfied,” Rodrigues, who was visibly aching at the loss of his longtime love and who paused at various points during our interview, said.
Brians’ American Eatery was seen as the last genuine-article, non-kitsch, authentic diner in Hillcrest. It was real, all-American food – what we now call comfort food, but what we used to just call “food.”
Even today, more than half a decade after the diner shuttered, one can find online longings for Brian’s omelette, burgers and fries, a testament to Stout’s and to be fair, the other Brian’s (former co-owner, Brian Savage’s) restaurant-operating ethos.
“Re-open; you were my favorite restaurant,” wrote a Facebook user named Stephanie Marie Stubbs Jan. 2, 2017. “Please come back, Brian!”
Presumably the inspiration behind the “B” in Li’l B’s, a popular eatery in North Park, Brian Stout was not formally affiliated with the fusion-comfort food restaurant that closed its doors amid some controversy last year.
“Anything and everything that happened at Li’l B’s was my responsibility,” said Rodrigues, who was Li’l B’s owner. “Brian was not the general manager. He may have come in to lend a hand every once in a while, but that was it.”
Rodrigues recalled the moment he first met Stout. Apparently, Stout had had Rodrigues in his sights even before the two were formally acquainted. The encounter happened at an unlikely setting, and the chemistry was instantaneous:
“We met at a gas station,” he said. “I was pumping gas; and he was pumping gas. He asked me, ‘are you Tino,’ and I was like, ‘yes.’ And, then he asked me if I wanted to go to dinner; and he actually made me dinner. And, the rest is, as they say, history.”
Again, LGBT Weekly’s interview with Stout’s partner paused as Rodrigues worked to hold back tears. Then, he went on sharing memories of his early 20s, when Stout, the dashing older man (then, in his early 30s) swept Rodrigues off his feet in the heady-Hillcrest days of the mid-1990s.
Rodrigues, says he knew Stout was special when he shared something personal he decided to keep secret even now, but which was crucial for him to know if the two men were to become a couple.
“There was something he had to tell me that some other people might not have let a new boyfriend know right away,” he said. “A lot of people in the gay community are too self-centered to have done that. Brian just wasn’t built that way.”
Stout’s generosity extended outside of his romantic relationship, according to Rodrigues.
“Brian naturally took to the community giving the way a successful business owner should do,” Rodrigues said. “He gave a lot to organizations that helped disadvantaged kids. He supported local softball teams, Dining out For Life, anyone who came to him for help or sponsorship he pretty much always said, ‘yes’ if he could.”
Two weeks ago, Rodrigues got terrible news.
“I had to tell him that the doctors had found tumors on his brain,” he told LGBT Weekly. “I basically had to tell him that he was dying. He was with family. He was with me and with people he loved and who loved him. He went peacefully. He will be missed.”
A former employee of Stout’s who asked not to be identified said they will miss Stout.
“Working for Brian was like working for a caring uncle,” the former employee said. “There were challenges in the last years, but he never did anything to hurt anyone. He always acted out of love and kindness. This is a tragic loss to the community and to food lovers everywhere.”
A second memorial will be held for family in Phoenix in two weeks. Condolences and cards may be sent to 2701 Baily Ave., San Diego CA 92105 from where they will be delivered to the second memorial.
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