Anatomy of a restaurateur: Mary Alletta Crump

Because she ran a tea room, Mary Alletta “Crumpey” Crump (pictured, age 31) actually would not have called herself a restaurateur. She made a distinction between a tea room and a restaurant: the former served light food, mainly lunch and afternoon tea, while a restaurant served heavy food and was open for dinner. Not so The Crumperie. It served sandwiches, salads, soup, and desserts only. At 6 P.M. she and her partner, her mother “Bee,” shut down for the day. (M. Alletta, as she signed herself, advised prospective tea room operators in 1922 that “a mother or older person is a great asset to a young girl who is contemplating the opening of a tea room.”)

The two opened their first Greenwich Village Crumperie in 1917 (pictured), taking over the spot formerly occupied by photographer Jessie Tarbox Beals’ tea room and art gallery. Sharing the other half of the building at 6½ Sheridan Square with The Crumperie was a gift shop known as The Treasure Chest. By the time Crumpey’s mother passed away in 1926, The Crumperie had occupied five locations in the Village, first moving to Sheridan & Grove, then to the basement of 55 Christopher Street, then to 229 West 4th Street, and finally to 104 Washington Street. She would make one more — unsuccessful — attempt at running a Crumperie after her mother’s death, teaming up with Marie Saint Gaudens (niece of sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens), at 13 West 51st Street in 1927. After this she abandoned the tea room business.

She and her mother opened the first Crumperie on a shoe string, spending only $100 for the first month’s rent plus all the furnishings and equipment. Start simple, that was their motto. Crumpey decorated with odds and ends: tables and chairs she painted herself, illustrations from magazines, a discarded old settle, family quilts, and table runners made from dime store toweling. Her mother did the cooking, specializing in crumpets of course, but also offering pea soup, “crumpled” eggs, and peanut butter sandwiches. Beverages included tea, coffee, and chocolate — nothing alcoholic!

The various Greenwich Village Crumperies were gathering places for New York City artists, musicians, literary figures, and actors with the Providence Players. The tea rooms were frequented by singer Enrico Caruso, artist Tony Sarg, and writers Theodore Dreiser, Eugene O’Neill, Sinclair Lewis, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Writer and editor Christopher Morley steered his “Three Hours for Lunch” club to the Crumperie, though how they could have stretched out a meal there for that long I don’t know.

During and after her years in the food business, M. Alletta volunteered for war work, entertaining the troops in England with her ukulele playing during WWI (she also sang spirituals and folk songs in the tea room). After 1927 she apparently had a variety of jobs. She had studied at Smith College and trained to become a nurse before opening The Crumperie and may have returned to teaching or nursing. She taught a tea room management class in Brooklyn and worked for a time at the Grenfell Mission in Labrador. In 1958 she made five appearances on the TV quiz show “The $64,000 Question,” winning $16,000 which she used to fund a European trip.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010


Filed under Offbeat places, proprietors & careers, tea shops, women

7 responses to “Anatomy of a restaurateur: Mary Alletta Crump

  1. Pingback: Food Anatomy of a restaurateur: Mary Alletta Crump | India Restaurants

  2. Amy

    Great post. I love that she was on $64,000 Question.

  3. C. Jepsen

    Cordelia Knott also used to make a major distinction between a “tea room” and a “restaurant.” She claimed for a long time that she was NOT in the restaurant business and never intended to be. But of course, the place grew like Topsy, and 76 years later, it’s STILL called Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant. (It’s at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, for those who don’t know.)

  4. All I now about her is that she was adopted by Augustus at her father’s death. Andrew Saint Gaudens (1850 or 1-1891) was a ceramist. He died of brights in Tenafly. He is buried with his parents Mary Mc Guinness and Bernard Saint Gaudens at Greenwood cemetery in Brooklyn. I think she spelled her name Marie. She was born in 1877 and died in 1947. She was 15 when she came to leave with he uncle in Cornish. He was quiet found of her. Her long time partner was Mary Helen Haynes all I found is that they were active in the artist community but that is all. Did you come across the name Helen Haynes?

  5. Great blog and lovely story. I was just curious if you had more info on Mary Saint -Gaudens? Where they lovers? I am doing research on Augustus Saint Gaudens and family and would be curious to know if you have more info.
    Thank you!

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