Doggie Diner Founder Dies

Tuesday, Apr 6, 2010  |  Updated 8:25 AM PDT
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Al Ross, who founded the San Francisco Bay area diner chain as famous for its giant fiberglass dachshund heads as for its food, has died. He was 93.

Ross, who opened the first Doggie Diner in Oakland in 1948 and eventually ran 30 diners spread out over the East Bay and San Francisco, died Wednesday at a care facility in Palm Springs. He had relocated to nearby Palm Desert from the Bay area 25 years ago.

A former amateur boxer in his native Bronx, Ross moved from New York to Alameda with his family when he was in his 20s. He opened his first business, an ice cream parlor called White Castle, in Alameda with his mother, Rose Rosenbluth.

Eventually he began rolling a pushcart around San Francisco's Embarcadero, selling ice cream to sailors.

The hustle and bustle of Oakland's San Pablo Avenue after World War II inspired Ross to open a restaurant featuring "wiener dogs." The Doggie Diner that opened there was a huge hit. Eventually, Ross opened Doggie Diners all over Oakland, Emeryville, Richmond and Hayward. San Francisco alone had 13 Doggie Diners, all with their iconic rotating dachshund heads.

In his heyday, Ross lived the high life, hobnobbing with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Jack LaLanne and amassing boats, airplanes and racehorses.

In 1979, Ross sold the diners and eventually retired to Palm Desert. The diners closed for good in 1986.

But the Doggie Diner heads were never forgotten. In 2000, fans of the heads led a campaign to save the last surviving rotating brown dachshunds. The 700-pound, seven-foot-tall head was the center of a rallies, protests and performances. Eventually, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared the head a city landmark.

It received a $25,000 facelift and was moved to a median strip near San Francisco's Ocean Beach.

Ross is survived by his wife, Mildred; sister Pearl Ehrlich of San Leandro; daughter Sandra; sons Robert and Ronald; two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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