Originally created 04/18/99

Eatery offers food for tattoos



SAN FRANCISCO -- Some people will do anything for a free burrito.

A Mexican restaurant offered a lifetime of free lunches to anyone willing to get a tattoo of its logo, Jimmy the Corn Man, a sombrero-wearing mariachi boy riding a blazing corncob. Just show the cashier the tattoo -- any size, on any part of the body -- and get a free meal.

Since word of the promotion got out six months ago, 39 people have braved the tattoo needle for a permanent coupon at Casa Sanchez.

"Some people do it for the love of the art. I'm doing it for the beer and the taco," said starving art student Thomas Judd, 31, pacing nervously Monday before getting the tattoo -- his first -- on his right calf.

A much-tattooed Guido Brenner has a coaster-size Corn Man emblazoned under his right armpit, the only open space he had left.

"Actually everybody's dug it, even my mom," he said. "She looked at me kind of funny and then I took her there for lunch. She was like, `Wow, this restaurant is really good."'

Marty Sanchez, whose grandfather founded Casa Sanchez in 1927, came up with the idea while testing a color computer printer. She taped a sign to the window with the restaurant's logo that read, "Tattoo me on yourself and get free lunch for life."

Her sister and brothers thought the idea was strange and kept taking the sign down. She kept putting it back up. Two nightclub employees who learned the promotion was no joke took the plunge and spread the word.

Ribcages, calves, legs, arms and even buttocks have been prime sites for the logo.

"One guy said, `I want to get it on my stomach because that's where my food is going to go,"' said Barnaby Williams, the owner of Mom's Body Shop who created about 30 of the Casa Sanchez tattoos. "I think people have gotten much stupider tattoos for much stupider reasons."

An $80 tattoo pays for itself after about a dozen lunches (a $4.50 super burrito with sour cream, cheese and guacamole, and a $1.75 Mexican beer). And given the restaurant's long history and success (its chips and salsa are considered among the city's best), few are worried that they will ever lose their free lunch.

The family estimates it gives away only two meals a week, and the tattooed who do come back feel a bit guilty.

"They get embarrassed about the not paying, so they always leave big tips," Ms. Sanchez said.