A recurring series in which we take a look back at the city’s most familiar advertising icons.
Remember Charlie the Tuna, the seemingly suicidal spokes-fish for canned fish titan Starkist? Of course you do, who could forget his apparently misguided yet earnest attempts to qualify for a life (or the end thereof) inside a small, tin can?
Remember Monsieur LeSteak, the similarly suicidal cut of ribeye who was spokes-mascot for the Sagebrush Saddle chain of buffet-style steakhouses for brief period between 1970 and 1971? Probably not. This might be because – despite sharing the similar motivations of seeking a fatal end inside the consumer’s digestive tract – Monsieur LeSteak didn’t know where to stop.
The brainchild (or is that brain-steak?) of now-defunct local advertising juggernauts Brooks-DeAnza, the nearly forgotten mascot and spokes-steak for the Sagebrush Saddle chain of buffet-style steakhouses, Monsieur LeSteak held a brief stint in office, running a mere eight months between 1970 and 1971. At first, the amusingly animated ribeye – bedecked with a chef’s hat and a French accent so thick it could be served as a side with butter and bacon bits – contented itself with singing the praises of the Sagebrush Saddle’s enormous all-you-can-eat buffet bars, as well as its mouth-watering selection of all-American beefsteaks.
Potential patrons responded enthusiastically, and the fledgling family restaurant – under the auspices of founder and former firehouse chef Fred Crandall, Jr. – saw an increase in business as big as their trademark 21 oz Porterhouse was thick.
Then, something apparently snapped inside Monsieur LeSteak.
Monsieur LeSteak’s fifth commercial appearance in January, 1971, began with a cartoon cow bloodily sliced in two by a pleasantly grinning Sagebrush Saddle chef (decked out in the chain’s trademark cowboy costume and paper hat), from whose insides leapt an overly-enthusiastic and unfortunately graphic Monsieur LeSteak – dripping red gore and leaving small, bloody footprints behind him as he walked.
In subsequent months, Monsieur LeSteak appeared in a series of commercials wherein he begged a chef to slice him into cutlets, grilled himself, forced himself into a customer’s mouth, and generally offended every sensibility of a public consumer base who – while they may enjoy a delicious steak now and again – weren’t particularly keen on vibrantly gory recreations of the process involved in turning cows to food.
Crandall retired Monsieur LeSteak by March 1971, visibly disappointed by the public’s lack of affection for a character he called “So over-the-top, you got to love him.” During an interview with local papers later in 1971, Crandall explained “I’ve always had a dark sense of humor, I guess, sort of a gallows humor. I guess it has a lot to do with being a firefighter, the sort of things you see, the sort of things you have to put yourself through to save people’s lives and to deal with the death you’re forced to encounter. You develop what some people might call a sick sense of humor. It doesn’t make us bad people, it just makes us surviviors.”
Crandall’s emotional honesty affected some local consumers, who began a heartfelt and apologetic call for the return of Monsieur LeSteak to its former position as official spokes-food for the chain. Unfortunately, responding to the public wave of sudden warmth with his self-admitted uncouth sense of gallows humor, Crandall himself put a premature end to LeSteak’s revival by making an off-the-cuff statement to reporters at the end of 1971.
“Besides,” Crandall reportedly told television commentator Roy FitzKent, “When you’ve put in as many years as a firefighter as I have, you have to laugh when you realize – there’s not all that much difference between a burn victim and a steak done well.”
The Sagebrush Saddle persevered as far as the first day of Spring in 1972, when the irrevocable damage done by its public face put an end both to Monsieur LeSteak’s proposed revival and the chain’s existence. However, the visage of the self-destructive entrée appears to have persisted beyond unpleasant memories shared by the many local gourmands who recall the shock -intensive marketing campaign.
While the Sagebrush Saddle and its suicidal spokes-mascot gave up the ghost in the wake of public disgust and outcry in February 1972, Monsieur LeSteak has proven to have some legs – rising area alternative rock band MeatCamp has adopted the almost-forgotten character art of Monsieur LeSteak for tee-shirts and album artwork promoting their latest tour.
Perhaps Monsieur LeSteak never accomplished his life-long goal of being cooked and consumed by hungry families at the Sagebrush Saddle, but at least he’s proven his longevity. It just goes to show, you can’t keep a good mascot down.
– J. Morris