House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is fond of talking about the entrepreneurship of his younger years, when he opened a deli at the age of 19 and learned first hand the adverse impacts of regulation on small business owners.
But according to The Washington Post, much of McCarthy’s story is an exaggeration — if not outright fabrication — and both he and the media have been repeating this origin story for years.
> For McCarthy, it’s a story of how he was a small business entrepreneur at the tender age of 19, using lottery winnings to start a deli that he then sold to finance his way through college. While in college, McCarthy began working for a member of Congress whose seat he eventually won. Seven years later, he became House majority leader.
> That’s a remarkably successful run in politics, but McCarthy often refers to his days running a deli.
> For instance, in 2011, he told the Faith and Freedom Coalition Annual Conference: “It taught me about regulations; taught me about every person I hired, I paid as much Social Security as they did; taught me those challenges I never forgot.” He also mused during a House debate: “When I think back to those days of the risk I took, I wonder if in today’s environment, could I do the same? Unfortunately, the answer is no, I could not. I cringe at the thought of today, of the regulations, the challenges that small businesses face.” Or, as he put it in a newsletter to constituents: “It reminded me of when I operated Kevin O’s Deli, where I experienced one of the greatest challenges to running a small business: overregulation by government.”
The Post offers several more examples of times in recent years that McCarthy harkened back to his days at the deli.
> But a recent profile the Post ran on the lawmaker drew the attention of Fact Checker Michelle Pettigrew in California, who disputed the accuracy of McCarthy’s biography: “The truth is, Kevin McCarthy has been a federal or state government employee for his entire adult life beginning with working in Rep. Bill Thomas’s district office from 1987 to 2002.”
And so began the Post’s journey back in time to discover the real story of Kevin O’s Delicatessen — and here is where it gets interesting.
> [Pettigrew] sparked our interest by including a photocopy of a 1986 review of McCarthy’s deli in the Bakersfield Californian, which she said she obtained by going through microfiche editions of the paper. So we dug into the records and conducted interviews. McCarthy also gave a 45-minute interview to answer our questions.
> With the passage of three decades, it’s sometimes hard to separate facts from memories, so we are not offering a Pinocchio rating. Readers can draw their own conclusions.
> Here’s what the Feb. 21, 1986, review by Peter Tittl said: Kevin O’s “is located in a corner of McCarthy’s Yogurt. … The full official name is Kevin O’s Delicatessen but that’s an exaggeration. The deli is only a counter and refrigerator in McCarthy’s dining room.”
> McCarthy’s Yogurt on Stine Street, one of the first frozen yogurt shops in Bakersfield, was owned by Kevin McCarthy’s uncle and aunt and managed by his cousin Tom. Tittl, in an email, recalled that the deli “wasn’t really distinct, all part of the operation with separate ‘Kevin O’s Deli’ signage.” Indeed, we found official California business documents for the yogurt shop, but no documents for the deli.
Further, McCarthy has stated on numerous occasions that he was 19 years old when he started his deli, but based on historical facts — the California lottery started in 1985, for example — it is clear that McCarthy was 21 when he went into business.
And while he claims that he sold his business after two years to pay for college, McCarthy began classes just one year after the deli opened.
> McCarthy often says he ran the business for two years before selling it and using the money to go to college. But Michael Lukens, a spokesman for Cal State Bakersfield, says that school records show McCarthy started school on Jan. 5, 1987 — one year after the deli opened. He graduated two years later.
Further, the Post noted that there “was no tuition at Cal State universities for in-state residents at the time, just maximum fees of $338 per quarter, including the cost of books.”
As for selling the business? There is no record of that, either.
> “I had enough money from the business to pay my way as long as I went to Cal State Bakersfield,” he said. “But I also got paid for another year so I didn’t have to work.”
> Does he remember what he got from his cousin from selling the business?
> “No, I’ve got to call him and ask,” McCarthy said. “I know I got a payment, and then I got payments for a year.”