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Monday, November 29, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Chain's Founder, 3 Children Killed

Seattle Times Staff: The Associated Press

PORTLAND - William "Tiger" Warren, 48, founder and chairman of the Macheezmo Mouse restaurant chain, was killed when the floatplane he was piloting plunged into the Columbia River just after takeoff Saturday.

His three sons also died in the crash, which killed all aboard. Two bodies were recovered Saturday and the other two yesterday.

The plane crashed about 3 p.m., shortly after it left the water and began climbing into the sky about 45 miles east of Portland near the Washington side of the river.

Witnesses said the plane, a De Havilland Beaver, was taking off, banking sharply to the left, and then went down, said Dave Cox, a spokesman for Skamania County Sheriff's Office.

Mr. Warren's sons - Jack, 14, Will, 13, and Rob, 9 - were spending the Thanksgiving weekend with their father at the family's summer home in Washington state. Mr. Warren's 8-year-old daughter, Lucy, had stayed behind in Oregon with her mother, Geraldine, who was divorced from Mr. Warren.

Mr. Warren founded Macheezmo Mouse in 1981. His restaurants featured low-fat dishes to attract what he saw as a growing market of health-conscious customers, including aging baby boomers.

In an interview with The Associated Press in 1994, Mr. Warren had expressed great optimism that a trend toward health foods would keep his company expanding well into the next century. He was proud about offering a fast-food menu he considered healthy and nutritious, and he was critical of other fast-food chains for offering high-fat food.

When the restaurant chain took off in the early 1990s, it was advertising a "new breed of fast food for people who like to feel fit." Most of the menu items were wraps, fancy burritos with fillings such as herbed brown rice, black beans, cheese and salsa that met the Heart Association's guidelines.

Mr. Warren parlayed his initial $5,000 investment in the restaurants into a multimillion-dollar business with outlets from Seattle to Palo Alto, Calif. There were four restaurants in Seattle.

In 1994, Mr. Warren took Macheezmo Mouse public, turning his shares into a $9.2 million investment in one day. But the business growth he had envisioned never arrived. The Seattle restaurants were closed in 1997.

Last year, Mr. Warren had started selling Macheezmo Mouse burritos through Costco stores in Oregon and Washington in hopes of spurring nonrestaurant sales of the Macheezmo label. The company, which hit a high of about $11 a share when it went public, was trading for just pennies recently.

Mr. Warren was the son of Robert Warren, a Portland entrepreneur who in 1943 helped found Cascade Corp., a major manufacturer of hydraulic attachments and accessories for lift trucks. It went public in 1965, and reported sales of $234 million worldwide by the time he died in 1997.

Mr. Warren's elder brother, Robert Warren Jr., is president and chief officer of Cascade Corp.

In his early years, Mr. Warren had a short career as a filmmaker. His movie "Skateboard," one of the first features on the sport, was produced in the 1970s in Los Angeles. A later movie, "Rockaday Richie and the Queen of the Hop," was produced in Portland, said Bill Foster, director of the Northwest Film Center.

Mr. Warren also was a friend of Portland filmmaker Gus Van Sant, who said the name for the restaurant chain was actually a nickname for Mr. Warren.

"He was very macho but wasn't very big," Van Sant said. "He had a great ability to talk to anybody. He was a great guy."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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