Actor Will Smith visits Lodi

Actor Will Smith, center, poses for a photo with servers Monica Rankin, left, and Brenda Garcia, second from left, along with Jillian Jobe, second from right, and Miranda Garcia, Brenda’s sister, at the Towne House restaurant at Wine & Roses on Monday.

Will Smith dropped by Lodi on Monday and had lunch at Wine & Roses.

He was reportedly in town to prepare for his upcoming movie “Game Brain,” in which he will play Dr. Bennet Omalu of Lodi. Omalu is a pioneer in researching concussions and brain damage related to football.

Smith had lunch with an unnamed regular customer at the Towne House restaurant at Wine & Roses between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Monday.

“We didn’t know he was coming. We had a reservation, but we didn’t know it was him,” said Katherine Munson, who owns the resort and spa with her husband, Russ Munson. “Everyone here just sort of fainted.”

Smith had the restaurant’s tamale pancake with a glass of Harney Lane Chardonnay. Munson said that employees didn’t bother him during his meal, but converged on him for pictures after he was about to leave.

“He was very gracious,” she said.

Server Monica Rankin was lucky enough to bring out the orders for Smith’s dining companions.

“A coworker came in and said, ‘Hey, Will Smith is at Table 51!’ I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ Then I went out and saw that he was actually there, and I ran back in screaming, ‘Oh my God, Will Smith is at Table 51!’”

According to Rankin, Smith was a perfect gentleman and didn’t mind the inevitable attention.

“Sometimes famous people come in to the restaurant, but of course we’re not supposed to bother them and ask for photos and things like that. We were trying so hard not to!” she said. “He was just really nice and amazingly polite, and he even shook people’s hands as he was leaving.”

According to Rankin, the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” star even shared his character’s trademark handshake with excited fans.

A newlywed couple from out of state got a special thrill as they happened to be dining at the restaurant at the same time as Smith.

“They were really thrilled,” Rankin said.

Word of the sighting spread fast, and within minutes of Smith’s departure Rankin had to tell nearly a dozen people who had rushed to the restaurant to catch a glimpse of the actor that they had missed him.

Smith had no plans to stay at Wine & Roses on Monday night, Munson said.

Smith is an actor, producer and rap artist. He has earned Oscar nominations as best actor for his roles in “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

Omalu is the chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County and is the president and medical director of Bennet Omalu Pathology. He also serves as a clinical professor and associate physician diplomat at the UC Davis Medical Center’s Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

His research is credited with revealing a clear relationship between football head trauma and neurological impairment. The NFL initially attempted to discredit Omalu and his work, which has since been widely accepted.

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at christinac@lodinews.com.

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