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Subject: Charles Mount, Designed 300 Restaurants

Died Friday - his mother died 2 days later
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Date Posted: November 12, 2002 4:00:29 EDT

Charles Morris Mount, who brought bold theatricality and hard-headed practicality to the nearly 300 restaurants he designed, from very expensive eateries to fast-food outlets, died on Friday at his weekend home in Mattituck, N.Y. He was 60 and lived in Manhattan.

He had a heart attack while eating breakfast, Harold Gordon, his partner, said.

Mr. Mount brought individual televisions to an upscale luncheonette, centuries-old Greek jugs to a fancy Greek restaurant and a space-age glossiness to several McDonald's restaurants, the latest one the new 17,500-square-foot triplex on 42nd Street near Times Square in Manhattan.

This McDonald's blazes like nearby movie palaces, with 7,500 light bulbs so bright that Mr. Mount joked they could cause sunburn. He created what he called a backstage ambience by exposing the building's original brickwork and using authentic theatrical lighting fixtures. The restaurant also features plasma televisions and Broadway memorabilia.

"He liked using colors; he liked neon; he liked metal finishes, stainless steel, raw steel," said Jimmy Sneed, a Richmond, Va., restaurateur for whom Mr. Mount designed a restaurant called The Frog and the Redneck.

Mr. Mount was born in Andalusia, Ala., on March 6, 1942. He learned all about the local cuisine, later applying his knowledge to designing barbecue restaurants.

He majored in interior design at Auburn University. After he graduated, his mother gave him a one-way ticket to France on the Queen Mary, telling him to "have a good time and find your way back."

He went to Atlanta, where he worked in design until a friend convinced him that his opportunities would be greater in Manhattan. One of his early jobs was with the well-known furniture designer George Nelson. Mr. Mount opened his own firm in the early 1970's.

He became known as a rule breaker with a distinctive style. Ruth Reichl, restaurant critic of The New York Times, said his 1995 redesign made the Gloucester House restaurant in Manhattan "a multimillion-dollar fun house of a restaurant."

Another early job was designing restaurants for The American Caf chain, which began in Washington, D.C. He combined his design sensibilities with his passion for the possibilities of the new American cuisine, an interest he shared with his friend the chef and food writer James Beard.

Mark Caraluzzi, who owned The American Caf and also employed Mr. Mount to design restaurants for his Bistro Bistro chain, said Mr. Mount contributed more than memorable appearances.

"He put as much time into thinking about how it would function and flow, where people will walk, where they will fit," Mr. Caraluzzi said in an interview yesterday.

Mr. Mount also considered how long people would stay. For example, he said a chair in a fast-food restaurant must meet two requirements. First, it must pass the truck-driver test: drop it out of a second-story window and if it survived, it might last two years. Second, it must be uncomfortable enough so customers would get up and move on.

"It's not easy," he said in an accent that became more New York than Alabama. "You want a chair that looks good, is sturdy and reasonably comfortable. But you don't want customers to spend the night."

Mr. Mount's mother, Fannie Ruth Mount, who survived his death, died on Sunday in Andalusia. In addition to Mr. Gordon, he is survived by his brother Kennith, also of Andalusia.

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