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Tommy Toy, San Francisco’s fine-dining legend, dies

Tommy Toy, San Francisco’s fine-dining legend, dies

SAN FRANCISCO Longtime fine-dining operator Tommy Toy died Monday after an extended illness, according to the publicist for his restaurant here, Tommy Toy’s Cuisine Chinoise.

His age was not disclosed, but past profiles indicate that he was in his mid-60s.

The restaurant, which was inducted into the Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame in 1990, featured classic Chinese dishes prepared with a French twist, usually incorporating what Toy called “California’s inimitable produce.”

With its doorman, formal greeters, and a design patterned after the reading room of China’s 19th century Empress Dowager, Tommy Toy’s harkened back to a day of more formal fine dining. Captains, maitre d’s and Toy himself would stop by patrons’ tables, often addressing the guests by name. The regulars ranged from one-time San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to legendary columnist Herb Caen to filmmaker and vintner Francis Ford Coppola.

Toy’s wife of 36 years, Veronica Toy, will operate the 33-year-old restaurant in collaboration with her late husband’s longtime partner, Alon Yu.

Although Toy was best known for his namesake restaurant, he was also a partner in two other San Francisco establishments, the upscale Imperial Palace and the family-style Lychee Garden.

Toy came to San Francisco from China in 1957 at age 15, finding work as a dishwasher in the city's Chinatown area. He moved up to busboy at Imperial Palace, where he eventually rose to general manager before buying a stake in the operation.

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