Henri Maillard came to New York City from France in the 1840s bringing with him a bit of Paris represented in the pots and pans and fancy moulds he used as a chocolatier. It wasn’t long before he added a catering department to his confectionery at Broadway and Houston. He let the public know he was ready to produce meringues, Charlotte Russes, jellies and ice creams for balls and parties, as well as provide dinners by reservation on his premises. His fame spread beyond New York, leading him to cater an inaugural ball and grand dinners at the Lincoln White House. In 1878 he took the gold medal at the Paris Universal Exposition at which he exhibited solid chocolate statues and vases weighing from 100 to 180 pounds each and a catalog of 3,000 candies.
When he died in 1900 at age 84, his estate was valued at $2 million, a vast fortune at that time. His son Henry Maillard Jr. continued the business, moving the fashionable restaurant and candy store in 1908 from the lower level of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, its home since the early 1870s, to more luxurious quarters at Fifth Avenue and 35th street (pictured). By this time Maillard’s had long enjoyed a reputation as the premier restaurant of society women. Billing itself as “An Ideal Luncheon Restaurant for Ladies,” it also offered afternoon tea from 3 to 6 p.m. In 1913 Maillard’s opened a branch in Stern’s Department Store.
In 1922 Maillard’s made another move, this time to Madison Avenue at 47th street. At this address it added something new, a dining room for men with its own entrance separate from the larger women’s dining room. It was undoubtedly this location which attracted the patronage of James Beard, who would later write, “In the ‘twenties in New York, you’d have a good cup of Maillard hot chocolate and a chicken sandwich for 75 cents and you thought you were whirling through the world.” In the 1920s there was also a Maillard’s restaurant and store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago where patrons lunched on delicate sandwiches of cream cheese and white cherries.
During the Depression Maillard’s failed. The Chicago location was taken over by the Fred Harvey corporation as its first non-railroad restaurant, while a syndicate took over the New York location and the Maillard’s name. Although Maillard’s candy was produced until the 1960s or later, the restaurant at Madison and 47th, which advertised mundane economy lunches of corned beef, veal cutlets, and chopped ham sandwiches during the 1930s, closed in 1942.
© Jan Whitaker, 2008