Tag Archives: women

Department store restaurants: Marshall Field’s

mfwalnutroom092271In 1890 Harry Gordon Selfridge, manager of Field’s in Chicago, took the then-unusual step of persuading a middle-class woman to help with a new project at the store. Her name was Sarah Haring (pictured) and she was the wife of a businessman and a mother. In the parlance of the day, she was needed to recruit “gentlewomen” (= middle-class WASPs) who had “experienced reverses” (= were unexpectedly poor), and knew how to cook “dainty dishes” (= middle-class food) which they were willing to prepare and deliver to the store each day.

sarahharing1894And so — despite Marshall Field’s personal dislike of restaurants in dry goods stores — the Selfridge-Haring-gentlewomen team created the first tea room at Marshall Field’s. It began with a limited menu, 15 tables, and 8 waitresses. Sarah Haring’s recruits acquitted themselves well. One, Harriet Tilden Brainard, who initially supplied gingerbread, would go on to build a successful catering business, The Home Delicacies Association. Undoubtedly it was Harriet who introduced one of the tea room’s most popular dishes, Cleveland Creamed Chicken. Meanwhile, Sarah would continue as manager of the store’s tea rooms until 1910, when she opened a restaurant of her own, patenting a restaurant dishwasher in her spare time.

The store’s first tea room met with success. When Field’s Wabash Street annex opened in 1893, an expansion timed to the World’s Columbian Exposition, the tea room moved into that space, seating 300 and taking up the entire 4th floor.mfmenu229

More tea rooms were added, including the Walnut Room which opened on the 7th floor of the new State Street building in 1907 (pictured, 1909). By this time the store’s restaurants could accommodate 2,500 people. Considering that the holiday season could attract as many as 200,000 shoppers daily, they were all needed. By the 1920s there were seven restaurants altogether: the Narcissus Fountain Room, the North Grill Room, the South Grill (aka Circassian Walnut Room), the Wabash Avenue Tea Room, the Colonial Quick Service Tea Room, the Wedgwood Room, and the Men’s “Grill” in the Store for Men.

mfmensgrill228A graduate of Chicago’s School of Domestic Arts and Sciences named Beatrice Hudson opened the all-male sanctum Men’s Grill (pictured) about 1914 and was responsible for developing a famed corned beef hash which stayed on the menu for 50+ years. Later she would own several restaurants in Los Angeles, coming out of retirement at age 76 to manage the Hollywood Brown Derby and again in her 80s to run The Old World Restaurant in Westwood.

The Depression evidently took a toll on the store’s restaurants because by 1941 only four remained. According to an advertisement customers could enjoy their North Shore Codfish Cakes, Canadian Cheese Soup, French Bread, and Chicken Pie in either the “Stately Walnut Room, picturesque Narcissus Fountain Room, rose-carpeted English Room, [or] serve-yourself Crystal Buffet.” For many years no liquor was served in Field’s restaurants – except for the Men’s Grill. Liquor or no, by 1952 the store’s restaurants sometimes fed as many as 25,000 people a day.

In later years many customers preferred to grab a quick snack and the store obliged. In the 1980s the 7th floor housed three cafeterias, a self-service pizza/pasta/salad bar, and a take-out sandwich stand. The full-service Walnut Room, however, continued, and was especially popular with Chicagoans for whom dining there was a family holiday tradition.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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The saga of Alice’s restaurants

alicesbook21A 1965 Thanksgiving dinner at the former church where Alice Brock and her husband Ray lived inspired Arlo Guthrie’s ballad of his arrest and subsequent draft board rejection for illegally disposing of trash. But “Alice’s Restaurant” also created vibrations so strong they imbued Alice’s whole career as a restaurant proprietor. Although she enjoyed a degree of success, her career was also filled with disappointments such as a nationwide chain of Alice’s Restaurants and a TV show (Cookin’ with Alice) that did not materialize.

In April 1966 she opened the first of her three restaurants, The Back Room, in an old luncheonette in Stockbridge which Alice described as “painted two-tone institutional green, and … definitely not the kind of place where I would eat, much less own.” Alice ran it for one year before she “freaked out” and closed it. In her book My Life as a Restaurant, she declares, “I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I would never have another restaurant.” Not so – she would have two more.

After a year as consultant on the Arthur Penn movie built around Guthrie’s song, Alice decided to try again. But now she was a counterculture celebrity, portrayed in the film as a “dope-taking, free-loving woman,” a depiction which she insisted was false but which would bedevil her relations with town authorities whose approval she needed to open or expand a restaurant.

alicejokingcroppedShe would tussle with the town of Stockbridge throughout the four years she operated her second restaurant, “Alice’s.” Located in a semi-ramshackle former liquor store on Route 183, it began in the summer of 1972 as a roadside stand called “Take Out Alice.” Partly because of her celebrity and partly because she provided superior roadside fare – sushi, borscht, salmon mousse, and cream cheese & walnuts on homemade bread – she attracted volumes of summer visitors.

The next year she was granted permission to add a small dining room, but further expansion requests were denied, leading her to move the restaurant to Lenox, near Tanglewood, in 1976. In 1979 she closed Alice at Avaloch, the Lenox restaurant-plus-motel, after difficulties with the property’s sewage system and other adversities, permanently ending her restaurant career.

In interviews and in her two books Alice espoused the value of fresh ingredients, garlic, meals with friends, and an experimental approach to cooking. Her words convey a free-wheeling, irreverent outlook. Some examples:
* On cooking: “Hell, you can make a soufflé in a garbage can lid if you want to.”
* On busy nights: “Oh, if only you could just cry and it would be over, but it won’t be over. Crying will come to nothing but wasted time, and you could cry forever, but this night is existing, the dining room is filling, the orders … are lining up on their clothespins.”
* On her Lenox restaurant: “We still serve everyone from schlumps to snobs.”
* On being a restaurateur: “Crazy, the restaurant has become my life, there is no life outside it, only in relation to it.”

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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Famous in its day: Maillard’s

maillard5thave206Henri 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.

maillardmarshmallows209When 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.

maillardext207In 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

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Taste of a decade: 1920s restaurants

The 1920s is an important decade because it marked the birth of the modern restaurant industry. The advent of national prohibition stripped away liquor profits, shifting emphasis to low-price, high-volume food service. More people ate out than ever before. Restaurant owners formed professional associations to raise industry standards, counter organized labor, and lobby for their interests. Famous pre-war restaurants closed, while cafeterias, luncheonettes, and tea rooms thrived. Female servers began to replace men. Restaurant chains incorporated and were listed on the stock exchange. While critics bemoaned the demise of fine dining, the newborn industry and its patrons celebrated simple, home-style, “American” fare.

Highlights

1920 After a strike of 1,100 cooks and waiters in Chicago, the Congress Hotel hires a crew of waitresses. – Milwaukee restaurateurs report that Sunday has become their biggest day because of families eating out.

1921 A character in Alexander Black’s novel The Seventh Angel observes, “Life is just one damned restaurant after another,” then asks plaintively, “Is there any home-eating any more?” – A restaurant trade magazine reports that half of all restaurant meals in Los Angeles are sold in cafeterias and other self-service eateries. – In New York City, a former “lobster palace,” Murray’s Roman Gardens, advertises sodas and candy in its Ice Cream Salon.

1922 The International Association of Hotel Stewards endorses the elimination of French terms on menus.

1924 A brochure from the B/G Sandwich Shop chain boasts of “Food selected and prepared as in your American home; served by the sort of people you find at home, – high class ambitious young Americans who do not desire to submit to the European custom of depending upon the master’s gratuities.” – Cafeteria chain manager Harry Boos, president of the National Restaurant Association, declares: “Men and women want their goods quick and clean. The restaurant business is a greater industry than ever before in history.” – “Quick and Clean” is also the slogan of the White Cafeteria in Indianapolis.

1925 After the closure of his once-celebrated NYC nightspot restaurant “Jack’s,” owner John Dunstan complains “The town’s full of cafeterias.” – Henri Mouquin’s famed French restaurant is demolished to make room for a Princeton Cafeteria.

1926 The Cordleyware Co. advertises that its champagne buckets for restaurants can be used as carriers for soiled silverware.

1927 The journal Restaurant Management reports that from 25% to 30% of all meals in cities are eaten in restaurants and that close to 60% of restaurant patrons are women. – A restaurant of the Happiness Candy Stores chain opens on the Fifth Avenue site once occupied by Delmonico’s.

1928 In recognition of the growing number of women in the restaurant business, the American Restaurant journal begins a special section called “The Restaurant Woman.” – Chicago’s corned beef sandwich mogul, John P. Harding, known for catering exclusively to men, opens a restaurant especially for women.

1929 A restaurant trade magazine editorial asserts that the industry has finally won respectability. There is, it notes, “tremendous change in popular feeling toward a business once thought precarious – as well as beneath consideration, socially.”

Read about other decades: 1800 to 1810; 1810 to 1820; 1820 to 1830; 1860 to 1870; 1890 to 1900; 1900 to 1910; 1930 to 1940; 1940 to 1950; 1950 to 1960; 1960 to 1970; 1970 to 1980

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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Mary Elizabeth’s, a New York institution

Mary Elizabeth Evans, for whom the landmark tea room was named, began her career in 1900 at age 15 as a small grocer and candymaker in Syracuse. After one year in business she cleared the then-handsome sum of $1,000 which she contributed to the support of her family while supervising a growing crew of helpers which included her two younger sisters who served as clerks and her brother who made deliveries.

Her family, though in seriously reduced circumstances, had valuable social connections. Her late grandfather had been a judge, her uncle an actor, and her departed father a music professor. That may help explain how she achieved success so rapidly – and why her story garnered so much publicity. By 1904 several elite NYC clubs and hotels sold her candy and soon thereafter it was for sale at summer resorts such as Asbury Park and Newport and in stores as far away as Chicago and Grand Rapids. In 1913 the all-women Mary Elizabeth company, which included her mother and sisters Martha and Fanny, was prosperous enough to sign a 21-year lease totaling nearly $1 million for a prestigious Fifth Avenue address close to Altman’s, Best & Co., Lord & Taylor, and Franklin-Simon’s.

By the early teens the candy store had expanded into a charming tea room with branches in Newport and two in Boston, one on Temple Street and the other in the basement of the Park Street Church near the Boston Common (pictured ca. 1916). Like other popular tea rooms of the era, Mary Elizabeth’s bucked the tide of chain stores and standardized products by emphasizing food preparation from scratch. Known for “real American food served with a deft feminine touch,” Fanny Evans said the tea rooms catered to women’s tastes in “fancy, unusual salads,” “delicious home-made cakes,” and dishes such as “creamed chicken, sweetbreads, croquettes, timbales and patties.” For many decades, the NYC Mary Elizabeth’s was known especially for its crullers (long twisted doughnuts).

Mary Elizabeth distinguished herself as a patriot during the First World War by producing a food-conservation cookbook of meatless, wheatless, and sugarless recipes, and by volunteering to help the Red Cross develop diet kitchens in France. After her marriage to a wealthy Rhode Island businessman in 1920 she apparently played a reduced management role in the business.

In its later years the NYC restaurant passed out of the family’s hands and began to decline, culminating in an ignominious Health Department citation in 1985.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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When ladies lunched: Schrafft’s

 

Schrafft’s began as a candy manufacturer in Boston but over time morphed into a well-known restaurant chain. In 1898 Frank G. Shattuck, a salesman for the Schrafft company from upstate New York, opened a candy store at Broadway and 36th in New York. His sister, Jane Shattuck, was largely responsible for the introduction of light lunches into the stores. The first to serve food was the Syracuse store in 1906 where a “Japanese Tea Room” (shown here) was boldly advertised as “the daintiest luncheon spot in all the State.” By 1909 Jane also introduced meals to the second NYC Schrafft’s, at 54 West 23rd Street in the heart of a thriving shopping district. By 1927, when there were 25 units, most located in NYC, the Wall Street Journal estimated that around 75% of Shattuck’s business was in the restaurant trade, with the rest candy-related.

Schrafft’s was known for reproducing an air of gentility typical of the upper middle-class WASP home. Cooks, supervisors, and even some executives were women. Menus of the 1920s and 1930s included many salads, more desserts than entrees, and non-restaurant-y vegetable selections such as creamed cauliflower and fried eggplant. Frank claimed Schrafft’s cuisine was inspired by his mother’s cooking. Repeated efforts to overcome connotations of a “women’s restaurant” and attract men met with disappointing results despite customers such as James Beard. Women dominated even after some units began to serve cocktails in 1934.

Rent cuts in the depression encouraged chain expansion and by 1937, when Frank died, there were 43 Schrafft’s, most in metro NYC but a few in Boston and Philadelphia. At its peak (early 1960s?) there were about 50 units in greater NYC. In the late 1960s the Schrafft’s candy company was sold to Helme Products while Pet, Inc. took over the restaurants. Pet made a renewed effort to renovate Schrafft’s image and attract men. At the Fifth Ave location (between 45th & 46th) the soda fountain was removed and a bar installed. The second floor, men-only dining room was given dark wood paneling, zebra-stripe carpeting, and named “The Male Animal.” The 1970s saw confusion as a Schrafft’s opened in Los Angeles (sporting a Chinese room and an Elizabethan room), new ownership took control, and numerous NYC locations were shut down. In 1981 the candy company ceased while the few restaurants remaining were in various hands.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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Department store restaurants: Wanamaker’s

Until very recently I thought John Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia had the first in-store restaurant in the U.S. Several scholars have insisted this is true, with the exception of a Macy’s historian who claimed R. H. Macy was first, in May 1878. Wanamaker’s, I’ve discovered, did not install eating facilities until September of 1879 when it enticed a local caterer, Alice Weldon, to run her restaurant inside The Grand Depot, as the store was known then. Weldon, a confectioner born in Ireland, operated a popular oyster-plus-ice-cream café near the store (it sounds like an odd combination but such places were once common). Every day all the shoppers would vacate the store to go eat at Alice’s, so Wanamaker reasoned he had to have her on his side. For about six years she ran the forerunner of The Dairy, an eatery the store created in 1883, one year after installing a soda fountain (another department store first claimed by Wanamaker’s).

The better known restaurant in the Philadelphia store was the Grand Crystal Tea Room which opened on the 8th floor of the new Wanamaker’s completed in 1911. Immense and filled with chandeliers, it was modeled on the tea room in the Philadelphia mansion of Robert Morris, a financier of the American Revolution. Also on the 8th floor, speedily reached by 24 direct-service elevators, were a number of private dining rooms, a men-only tea room, and the store’s ultra-modern kitchens. The Grand Crystal Tea Room survived the demise of Wanamaker’s and the tenure of its successor but finally closed in 1995 and is now a private banquet hall.

The New York City Wanamaker’s, opened in 1896 in the old A. T. Stewart store and closed in 1954, was also well supplied with esteemed eating places. A 1900 menu shows a full complement of delectable lunch choices, including blue points, cream of new asparagus soup, and lamb with mint sauce. The store’s tea room advertised ca. 1908 that its tea was “specially imported,” and prided itself on its “quaint service.” In 1940 the store operated three eating places on the 9th floor: the main restaurant, Green Shutters; a more casual Side Walk Café; and a Men’s Grill decorated with antique French tapestries.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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