In the summer of 1953 James Beard was cook and manager at a casual hamburger and hotdog eatery on the island of Nantucket. It wasn’t your everyday hamburger joint. The hamburger rolls were made on the premises. And some highfalutin snacks, such as lobster soufflé, local sausage in puff pastry, and handmade chocolate rolls by Rudolph “the omelet king” Stanish, came out of the kitchen. Beard contributed Swiss onion tarts and salads with fresh picked corn.
Also unusual was the place’s name – the meaning of which will not be explained here. It was certain to raise a few eyebrows and may suggest why, according to a strangely puzzled Beard, “The natives resent the off-Islanders. We have had reports that we take dope and have sex orgies in the middle of Lucky Pierre’s all the time.” Evidently they got over their misgivings, though, because later he writes, “They are all finding out that they can bring the children … that we are specializing in respectability and good food.”
Beard viewed his summer at Lucky Pierre as an experiment. He believed the East Coast was ripe for a new type of specialty, gourmet hamburgers of the sort found in California. He considered opening his own restaurant specializing in such fare. “If it goes the way I think it will, we shall take our lives in our hands and start the same thing here in New York,” he wrote to his good friend and cookbook co-author Helen Brown. (Beard’s letters to Brown have been published in the book Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles.)
His dream of running a restaurant where “there is money to be made by the wheelbarrow load” did not materialize. Lucky Pierre was popular but it had a gravel floor which the Nantucket board of health declared unsanitary and this somehow led to its downfall.
The advertisement shown here appeared at just about the exact time JB was stepping off the ferry, in the June 22, 1953, edition of “This Week in Nantucket.”
© Jan Whitaker, 2009
5 responses to “Between courses: Beard at Lucky Pierre’s”
Hello folks I’m writing this from my home in California. In the summer of 1954 I went to Nantucket and got a job as short order cook at Lucky Pierre’s. I was 17 and I got my social security card at the restaurant 60 years ago. My specialty was the onion soup and the clam chowder. Anyway it was a great time and a summer to remember forever.
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In answer to a reader’s query about whether Beard opened a Lucky Pierre in NYC, evidently he did, at 48th Street and 7th Avenue. It must have opened in early 1955. It was reported closed in December of that year but then it was back in business through 1956 and at least as late as April 1957. It was tiny, seating only about 20 people, but it quickly became a celebrity hangout.
I was a little kid in the summer of 1953 when my family visited Nantucket and I clearly remember eating at Lucky Pierre’s. My recollection is that there were large footprints painted on the floor, which I found fascinating. And after lunch, my dad took my picture outside the restaurant where a row of high wheel bicycles were mounted–my permanent souvenir of that day.
I love that newspaper advertisement–especially the Chef Boyardee quote! It seems like such an unusual restaurant for the 1950s