Her ideas helped put Port on the Map

Evelyn C. Smith Obituary
January, 1986
Ozaukee Press, Wisconsin

Photo from Evelyn C. Smith Obituary, January 1986.  Ms. Smith invented the fish sandwich.

Evelyn Smith’s most visible legacies are the popular restaurant she founded an the famous fish sandwich she invented both of which helped put Port Washington on the map, but they only begin to tell the story of a life full of experiences ranging from the battlefields of France to the fishing fleets of Lake Michigan.

That life ended last week when Smith died of a stroke at the age of 92.

Preparing food for large groups was fundamental part of Smith’s life, starting from childhood. In an autobiography she told of how she helped to feed the fishing crew which boarded with the Smiths while working for the family owned fishery. She started helping with those meals as a child of nine in 1902.

Even while she was undertaking her nursing training at Columbia Hospital she was involved in food preparation. Student nurses were required to spend four months working in the kitchen preparing food for the sick. Because of a student shortage her stint in the kitchen lasted for six months.

Smith started her nursing career in 1914 as night superintendent at Milwaukee Children’s Hospital. Four months later she became the first industrial nurse in Milwaukee when she joined Northwestern Malleable Iron Co. When she took the post, the idea of an industrial nurse was looked upon with skepticism. Her duties not only included treating third degree burns and doing social work among the employees, but organizing a food service for the laborers

Her career as an industrial nurse came to an end when she left for France to serve as a nurse in 1918. Once again, she found herself in charge of food service, organizing three meals a day for up to 500 ambulatory patients. Her first equipement was a charcoal stove and a cauldron on a platform.

She returned home in June of 1919 and took a public health nurse course before accepting a position as Sheboygan County nurse.

Her work with tuberculosis patients led her to experiment with using fish oil as a means of providing part of the patients’ diets to help rebuild their health.

In the 1920s, she left the Sheboygan County position to assist her mother with the family’s domestic caviar packing business. Delia Wassink Smith had devised the caviar formula on her kitchen range. Today, Smith Bros. is still producing domestic caviar and shipping it in large quantities.

The fish sandwich became a standard item of the fish market which the family established on Franklin St. in 1924. Skat tournament players wanted food and asked for fried fish. Evelyn Smith suggested fish sandwiches. Using rolls from a local bakery and adding tartar sauce she produced the sandwiches.

“It was this stroke of fate that catapulted me and my family into the restaurant business,” she wrote.

On June 14, 1934, the Smith Bros. Fish Shanty, was opened. The restaurant had 10 counter stools and three tables and served only fish, using the catches brought in by the Smith Bros. fleet. Cabbage salad and lemon pie completed the menu in those early days.

In seven years, the operation had grown to the point that nine enlargements of the original building and facilities had been made. That restaurant was capable of serving 350 people at a time.

The California restaurant operations started in 1946 with Evelyn supervising the three operations as general manager.

When Smith Bros. restaurant in Port Washington was destroyed by fire on Nov. 17, 1953, Evelyn was among the family members who immediately started the rebuilding process at the same location on Franklin St. at Grand Ave. The new restaurant opened about a year later.

Until a fall in her home at 214 S. Webster St. forced her to retire, she maintained an interest in the restaurant operations. She was a director emeritus of Smith Bros. operations at the time of her death. Until the fall, she had served as treasurer of the family owned corporation founded with her brothers, Oliver and Lester.

Her death will not change any operations of the corporation, according to its current president, Lincoln Smith because she was no longer active in corporate affairs. At the time of her death, she was living at Lasata, Cedarburg.

During her lifetime she served two terms as treasurer of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association and was a member of its board of directors for three years. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Eastern Star, Port Washington Woman’s Club, Van Ells-Schanen American Legion Post and Jane Delano American Legion Post.

Funeral services for the daughter of Delos and Delia Smith, who was born Feb. 26, 1893, were held Jan. 26 at Poole Funeral Home, Port Washington, with the Rev. James Liebnow, pastor of First Congregational Church, Port Washington officiating. Burial was in Union Cemetery, Port Washington.

Miss Smith is survived by a sister, Hope Huwatschek, Port Washington.

The family has suggested memorials to First Congregational Church, Order of Eastern Star 147 or the Evelyn C. Smith nursing scholarship program at Port Washington High School.