Gregory Banducci is the son of Enrico Banducci.
In 1988, Gregory’s father Enrico became a "hot dog vendor" also serving homecooked Italian food in Richmond, Virginia at the "hungry i hot dog stand" on land located in Shockoe Slip, the city's most upscale restaurant district, which he'd purchased for his son, Gregory years earlier. Much to the strenuous chagrin of the surrounding restaurateurs, they objected in vain to the presence of a small wooden one-man hot dog stand in a parking lot with a sign proclaiming "hungry i hot dog stand" amidst their deluxe multi-floored dining establishments.
Gregory’s father bought the "hungry i" stand for $800 back in 1948. It was calculated that Enrico made over $10 million from this venue. Enrico spent much of his wealth on lavish lifestyle, with a yacht and incessant travel.
Enrico Banducci, 85, Dies; Ran Seminal San Francisco Nightclub
Enrico Banducci, owner and host of the Hungry I, the intimate, brick-walled San Francisco nightclub of the ’50s and ’60s that became a launching pad for performers like Mort Sahl, Barbra Streisand and Shelley Berman, died Tuesday in South San Francisco. He was 85.
His death was confirmed by his niece, Chi Chi Banducci. He had been hospitalized last month for kidney and heart problems.
The Hungry I, which became nationally famous along with the acts it showcased, was a downstairs cabaret in the North Beach area; its brick backdrop, Mr. Banducci’s creation, is now the standard setting for stand-up comedy.
The setting was unassuming, but the performers who began their careers there were imposing, even before they found mainstream success. Among the comedians and musicians who appeared at Mr. Banducci’s club early in their careers were the double-talk artist Professor Irwin Corey, “the world’s foremost authority”; Bob Newhart, the accountant with the hilariously button-down mind; Mike Nichols and Elaine May, America’s most neurotic couple; and the popular folk groups the Limeliters and the Kingston Trio.
Bill Cosby, Woody Allen and Jonathan Winters all paid their dues at the I.
The Hungry I established its significance by introducing not just talent but topics, especially politics, in the acts of politically engaged comics like Mr. Sahl.
“Performing there was like a seal of approval for young talent,” said Brad Rosenstein, who was curator of a 2007 exhibition on Mr. Banducci and the club for the San Francisco Public Arts Library and Museum. Satirical political comedy was “unknown before the Hungry I,” Mr. Rosenstein said.
Interviewed by The New York Times in 1970 about the performers who played at his club, Mr. Banducci said: “I can’t say whether I ‘discovered’ them or not. It was a time when everything just fell in. Anyone you picked up you discovered. The environment was correct. But the I was the leader. Other clubs looked to see who we booked.”
In 1953, a young, agentless Mort Sahl arrived at the club’s open auditions. He was initially hired for a week.
“If I hadn’t met him, I’d be washing cars today,” Mr. Sahl said of Mr. Banducci in a telephone interview on Thursday. “It took me a long time to catch on, but he gave me the time to find my voice.”
Mr. Banducci shaped the young comedian’s image, telling him to shed his coat and tie in favor of a V-neck sweater and to “open the newspaper and take my chances,” Mr. Sahl said. “We broke all the rules politically in comedy.”
The club was also a platform for folk music. The Kingston Trio recorded live there, as did Glenn Yarbrough. The jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, long before he wrote the music for “Peanuts” television specials, played there.
Mr. Banducci was an advocate for his performers, and he expected his audiences to treat the artists with respect, Mr. Sahl said.
Attempting to minimize distractions, he installed cork doors to muffle the sound of the cash registers and would not allow drinks to be served during performances.
Harry Charles Banducci was born on Feb. 17, 1922, in Bakersfield, Calif. His mother was a fan of the opera singer Enrico Caruso, and Mr. Banducci changed his name to Enrico because he liked it better, his niece said.
Mr. Banducci is survived by his daughter, Allegra, and his son, Gregory.
He was a concert violinist when he bought the Hungry I in the early 1950s from Eric Nord.
He later opened Enrico’s, a sidewalk cafe on Broadway in San Francisco that became a popular meeting place for artists and other public figures. Mr. Banducci often held court there himself.
In an era when a single nightclub could catapult a performer into movies and television, the Hungry I played a special role, but its importance faded as television superseded live entertainment in many cities.
When the club closed in 1970, Mr. Banducci told The Times: “Everyone should know why nightclubs are dying all over. The talent is too high-priced and you can see the same acts on television. You can even learn about a comic’s boil on his right foot on TV.”
But it was memorable while it lasted. In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle this year, Mr. Banducci recalled the club fondly:
“I gave people artistic freedom, allowed them to express themselves as they wished, without any interference from me or anybody else.”
- Wikipedia, Enrico Banducci#Biography
- New York Times, Enrico Banducci, 85, Dies; Ran Seminal San Francisco Nightclub, By ALISON J. PETERSON, Oct. 14, 2007