Early chains: John R. Thompson

Although it is largely forgotten today, the Chicago-based John R. Thompson company was one of the largest “one arm” lunchroom chains of the early 20th century. We so strongly associate fast food chains with hamburgers that it may be surprising to learn that Thompson’s popular sandwiches included Cervelat, smoked boiled tongue, cold boiled ham, hot frankfurter, cold corned beef, cold salmon, and Herkimer County cheese, served on “Milwaukee Rye Bread” baked by the chain’s bakery. Thompson was proud that his meals were suited for sedentary office workers of the 1900s and 1910s. A 1911 advertisement claimed that lunch at Thompson’s “won’t leave you logy and lazy and dull this afternoon.”

Thompson, an Illinois farm boy, ran a rural general store as his first business. He sold it in 1891, moved to Chicago, and opened a restaurant on State Street. He proved to be a modernizer in the restaurant business as well as in politics.

He operated his restaurants on a “scientific” basis, stressing cleanliness, nutrition, and quality while keeping prices low. In 1912 he moved the chain’s commissary into a premier new building on North Clark Street (pictured, today). Thompson’s, then with 68 self-service lunchrooms plus a chain of grocery stores, became a public corporation in 1914, after which it expanded outside Chicago and into Canada. By 1921 there were 109 restaurants, 49 of which were in Chicago and 11 in New York (with a commissary in NYC). By the mid-1920s Thompson’s, Childs, and Waldorf Lunch were the big three U.S. chains, small by comparison to McDonald’s but significant nevertheless.

In politics Thompson served as a Republican committeeman and managed the campaign of a “good government” gubernatorial candidate in 1904. A few years later he failed in his own bid to run for mayor, promising he would bring efficiency to government while improving schools and roads. In the 1920s he financed a personal crusade against handguns.

Despite John R. Thompson’s progressive politics, his business would go down in history as one that refused to serve Afro-Americans. Or, as civil rights leader Marvin Caplan put it in 1985, “If the chain is remembered today, it is not for its food, but for its refusal to serve it.” J. R. died in 1927. Where he stood on the question of public accommodations is unclear but the chain faced numerous lawsuits by blacks in the 1930s. However the best known case occurred in 1950 when a group of integrationists led by Mary Church Terrell was refused service in a Washington D.C. Thompson’s. The group was looking for a case that would test the validity of the district’s 19th-century public accommodations laws. After three years in the courts the Thompson case (for which the Washington Restaurant Association raised defense funds) made its way to the Supreme Court which affirmed the so-called “lost” anti-discrimination laws of 1872 and 1873 as valid.

Over the years the Thompson chain absorbed others, including Henrici’s and Raklios. At some point, possibly in the 1950s, the original Thompson’s concept was dropped. By 1956 Thompson’s operated Holloway House and Ontra cafeterias. In 1971, as Green Giant prepared to buy Thompson’s, it had about 100 restaurants, including Red Balloon family restaurants, Henrici’s restaurants, and Little Red Hen Chicken outlets.

© Jan Whitaker, 2010


Filed under chain restaurants, lunch rooms, proprietors & careers

127 responses to “Early chains: John R. Thompson

  1. Anonymous

    I have someone looking for the coffee cup with the brown lettering. Her late grandmother had one and she’s been searching. Any leads would be appreciated.


  2. Ben

    If anyone is still following this thread, I’m looking for more info regarding an antique fork I purchased about a year ago. On the top of the handle is engraved in plain lettering ‘John R. Thompson.’ Judging from the length and gapping of the tines, it appears to be an early 20th, maybe late 19th century design from Rogers & Hamilton. Would anyone know if the earlier dinnerware or silverware (in this case it’s plated) had Thompson’s full name engraved on all of them prior to the simple, cursive ‘Thompson’s ‘ we are familiar of? I can’t help but wonder if this was part of John R. Thompson’s personal silverware or not. Any info greatly appreciated.

    • Margaret Pook

      Ben, I am the great grand daughter of John R. Thompson. The cutlery used in most of the restaurants was just engraved with “Thompson’s”. You may have a piece from his higher end restaurants — can you provide a photo? — Margaret

      • B. Thompson

        Hi Margaret,

        Thanks for your reply! Hopefully the attached photo shows up in this response. I’m unsure if we’re related, but my grandfather was one of many siblings from South Dakota, while my great grandfather was from Pennsylvania, and if you go way back, Austin and San Antonio Texas, where my namesake was a troublemaker.

        Thank you for the insight regarding the fork and again, I hope the image shows up for you.


      • Margaret

        Unfortunately there is no image attached. I am unsure of how to attach images on this site.

      • WordPress doesn’t provide any way to do that.

      • Margaret,

        Any chance you may know when the coffee cups with the brown, not the blue lettering was in use? There is someone looking for this cup that her grandmother used for years before her passing.

        Thank you for your time and consideration.


      • Anonymous


        Any chance you’d know when the Thomason’s coffee cup with the brown lettering was in use. Someone’s late grandmother is looking for one and it may help with the search.

        Kind regards-

      • Lisa Morrison

        I have a photo of family members in front of Thompson’s Lunch Room around 1912. Was this the same chain? If so, was it in Spencerville, OH? I’m trying to identify the location of this photo.

      • The J. R. Thompson chain began in Chicago and though it had some outlets in Ohio, they were in big cities rather than small towns. There were many, many local lunch rooms in business around in the 1910s and it’s most likely that it was someone named Thompson who lived in Spencerville who ran that one.

  3. Dennis Pugh

    Anyone have any information on the Thompson’s Diner that was in Cincinnati, Oh?
    My grandparents met there in the late 40’s – early 50’s.
    My grandma was working there when they met.
    I have a picture of her working behind the counter and a plate with the blue Thompson’s name / logo.
    Thank you.

    • I think that there were only two J. R. Thompson restaurants in Cincinnati, one at 522 Vine in the 1950s (it had previously been at 531 Vine) and one at 30 E. 4th. But that’s all I know about the chain’s activities in Cincinnati.

  4. Donald D Hanley

    My Great Grandfather was a supervisor of the Thompson restaurants. He would travel to Canada and their other locations frequently. I have pictures of Emerson working in the restaurants.

  5. william paul littell jr


  6. Patty

    I have a 4.5″ small Thompson’s saucer/bowl that I would like to sell. Do you have a clearing house for Thompsons dishes etc?

    • Peggy Pook Oehler

      I am JRThompson’s great granddaughter. I pick pieces of his China up here and there on eBay. How much would you like for it? -Peggy Oehler

      • B. Thompson

        I’m uncertain if we are related, but I too am searching for his China (the blue British made) here and there, in order to make a complete set for one person from the early years, and then also a set of the red logo’d from I think the 40s/50s. That would include silverware as well. So far it seems to me that the lesser common China is the variety with the red trim and logo for some reason.

      • william paul littell jr


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  8. The State Street location can be seen in a 1907 photo here:
    Click the photo for a nice enlargment. It’s in the lower right hand corner.

  9. Ken F Kozak

    I worked at the Red Balloon at rand road and central road in DesPlaines between 1967 and 1972. Manager Pete Covel was a wonderful boss to work for. With the cocktail lounge and the element that it drew, I learned so much about life and people. I will never forget those memories

    • Jan

      I worked at the Red Balloon in Downer’s Grove 70-72 before it closed and a manager that came from another restaurant came to close our restaurant. His name was Pete…extremely tall. Then I worked at Lombard one until it closed…

    • snippymom

      Growing up we use to go to the Ontra on Van Nuys Blvd. in Van Nuys, CA.

    • Marvin S.

      I also worked at that restaurant from 67 to 69. the first year I bussed tables and the second year I was a cook. Remember well managers Mr. Cronkite and Mr. Price.

  10. Niki Strain Ceo

    Oops. reread the article which says JR died in 1927, so that must have been John Riley Jr. and JR Sr and Elizabeth Wright were parents.

  11. Niki Strain Ceo

    Just went to the Illiana Genealogy and History Center in Danville IL yesterday to research my Thompson line. My mother was a Thompson and she mentioned in her later years having gone to the Thompson restaurant in Chicago once or twice as a child. She wasn’t sure of the connection with her father. My great X2 grandfather was Andrew Jackson Thompson, John Riley’s eldest brother. They came from PA to IL in 1859 where they both settled near Fithian. There is a fat file on the Thompson’s here and many helpful DAR ladies. Saw an illustration of the Chicago restaurant but nothing from New York.

  12. Dan T

    Were there ever any Thompsons in the south?

    • Yes. In 1925 Thompsons was in Louisville, New Orleans, Norfolk, Memphis, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Birmingham, Dallas, Houston, Nashville, and Mobile.

      • Christine

        My Grandfather Benjamin Rice Morgan was the manager of the Atlanta and Birmingham restaurants in the 1920s and 30s.

      • Ralph

        Were there any in Canada? I assume so because I bought a Thompsons plate in an antique store west of Toronto. I eat lunch off it every day.

      • Could be, but I have not seen mention of them.

      • Ralph

        I just read the website write up on Thompsons again, and it does say the chain expanded into Canada. I’ll have to do a little digging to see where the restaurants were, but I’m assuming in Ontario.

      • Oops! Back to my computer today and I found in my notes a story that says that when the company became public in 1914 it planned to open 30 restaurants in Canada, in all the principal cities.

    • BILL


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  14. Mark Brady

    I worked at the Horn of Plenty in Evergreen Park Ill in the late 60s. I wonder if you might have any info about it? Thanks mb719@twc.com

    • All I can tell you is that it opened on West 9th street in Evergreen Park in 1969, and was a family smorgasbord type restaurant. It was owned by the John R. Thompson Co. which also owned Red Balloon and Holloway House restaurants also.

    • Ralph

      I just bought an old Thompson’s 8″ plate at an antique store in Ontario Canada. It’s dated 1925 on the back. Googled the restaurant and here I am. Thanks for the great history.


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  17. Penny

    Some years ago, I purchased a coffee cup, white with lovely blue patterning and “Thompson’s” in script across the front. As I unloaded the dw this evening, my curiosity prompted me to Google “J.R. Thompson China” as stamped on the bottom. I found it amusing to drink coffee at my office from this mug, as my married name is Thompson. My husband’s family hailed from Indianola in southern Illinois. Now another curiosity presents itself. Wonder if the families were related? Will continue my research. I live in Kalamazoo, MI, and I see there was a Thompson’s in Grand Rapids, MI where my family lived and where I was born. Indeed interesting coincidences discovered from just reading the bottom of my coffee mug.

  18. I have an advertisement printed on an 2.5″ x 4.5″ (old) card that reads: “The Thompson Restaurant 397 S. State Street, Chicago. Regular Meals Elegantly Served for 25 cents. Newly Fitted, Larger and Better Than Ever. The Only Open New England Kitchen in Chicago. Especial Attention Paid to Ladies and Children. John R. Thompson, Jr. Prop. Open Day and Night…”

    • I find the reference to “New England Kitchen” fascinating. I wonder if it refers to the experimental “food station” of that name started by Ellen Richards (“mother of home economics”, chemist, first woman to be admitted to MIT) in Boston in 1890, designed to provide affordable nutritious meals to the working poor? I know John Thompson was a reformer in the area of gun control who wanted to do away with all handguns. It’s possible he had ambitions to improve the American restaurant-goer’s diet also.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Regina

      Hello Laurie — That is awesome. Could you e-mail me at regina_fostino@yahoo.com … I’d love to see what it looks like — my great grandfather George Fostino (Giorgio Faustini) worked for that restaurant in 1919 before he was drafted to WWI. Could you send me a picture of the card? How amazing. I gave a matchbook cover from that restaurant to my father (his grandfather) for his recent 60th birthday — it was the best gift ever. Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you!


  19. Kalligeros Andreas

    Hello. My name is Andreas Kalligeros and I live in Greece, Athens. I have an anniversary coin from restaurants Thompson in California , USA (1856-1906) with listed value of 300$. I would like you to inform me if it is about your restaurant and if there is any historic or economic value. If you want I can post some pictures of the coin. Thank you very much.

    • I would doubt it is worth nearly that much, though maybe $20 or $30. This is just a guess based on what most restaurant coins bring on eBay. There is currently one listed for $199 but I believe that is a fantasy price.

  20. Does anyone have a story or hopefully pictures of Thomson’s lunch Room in Grand Central Terminal…Thanks

    • Anonymous

      My Father cooked there serving troops, until he was of age and joined Army Airforce and off to the Pacific. Henry (Hank) P Miklich

  21. Sharon

    Found this site when I found a mug that was my mother’s from Thompson’s (1923) in Titusville, Pa. I used to sit at the counter and have cherry cokes as a kid almost 60 years ago. Our Thompson’s just closed down last year. How sad. Sharon

  22. I would like to find photos of the Thompson restaurant on Randolf St. in Chicago around 1903.

    • I worked as the inplant printer at JR Thompson I think in the 70’s. When cleaning up some print storage areas I found a lot of pictures dating back to their early opening. If it was not for me they might have been lost forever in a move when bought out by Green Giant Foods. Green Giant bought them to help run some restaurants they had that were not as successful as Thompsons. You might try contacting Green Giant and requesting copies. Originally I turned them over to the advertising department. But you may want to do more research. These are fantastic historical pictures. By the way by then they were hiring blacks so I guess when the old boy died they had a change of policy.

  23. R Black

    My dad worked at a Thompson’s restaurant in1930 – 1938 in Chicago as night manager. I don’t know which one. But he remembers some of the gangsters in the area coming in to have a meal. They were friendly to him. Called him “Slim” and probably enjoyed his Southern accent.

    • At the time of his death in 1947, my Grandfather, William W. Walker, was Vice President and General Manager of Thompson’s. If anyone has information about his tenure or knew him, responses would be greatly appreciated. I found his obit in a July issue of “What’s Cookin.” My Grandfather passed away before my birth, so again, any information would be appreciated.

      Thanks – Dave Walker

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  25. jayne

    Our paternal grandfather was the head chemist for Thompson’s headquarters in Chicago. He worked for Thompson’s after he graduated from college, before WWI, then came back to Thompson’s after the war. He retired from Thompson’s around 1958 or so. There were a couple articles where he is featured in the Thompson’s house organ. His name: Edward A Castle

  26. Tracy Castle Hughes

    My sister and I am always looking for dishes from Thompson’s restaurant for sale. Anyone that has a good source as to where we can find dishes is greatly appreciated! Our grandfather worked there for years and we’d love to collect a few pieces!

    • Kyler

      Hello I have a silver spoon from John R Thompson. I am searching what it maybe worth. If interested call me if ya want. 317 363-4734 — my name is Kyler Tks

      • Delfina

        I am also trying to find the value of a John R Thompson silver spoon. Have you had any luck?

      • Dan T

        I doubt seriously they were silver. A chain like this would not buy flatware made from silver. They are either stainless (in their later years) or plated brass in the earlier years.

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  28. Kay Lewis

    Is there a picture and an address for the Washington DC restaurant?

  29. Louisa Wise

    A relative of mine was Curtis Royal Blanchard of Worcester Mass–he had a chain of lunch rooms on the east coast from 1905-after 1917. with a partner
    John Porter. Do you know anything about this chain–what the name was or anything at all? Thanks
    Louisa Wise

    • The chain was known as the Capitol Lunch System. Porter and Blanchard were partners as early as 1909 according to a Norwich CT directory. The chain seems to have still been in business into the 1920s, at least in Connecticut. In Worcester it had been taken over by the Waldorf Lunch System (a larger chain based in Boston) by 1923.

    • Bob

      I have a caricature of Curtis Royal Blanchard from a 1917 book of Worcester business men. Any interest?

  30. I also have one of the Octagon 50 Dollar Gold Pieces. Had a coin dealer look at it yesterday and he said it was an advertizing piece from the early 1900’s with little or no monetary value. Mine is in good condition and would be willing to give it to descendent or museum.

    • Harry Thomas

      I was reading this blog about my great-grand father John R. Thompson the restaurateur when I came across your comments. One of John R Thompson’s daughters, Florence, was my grandmother her son, John R Thomas, was my father passed away in February 2015. I’m creating an eBook about the early Thompson Family for my posterity and would be very much interested in the coin referenced above. Would you consider send me some closeup digital pics of both sides of the coin so I can include it in my eBook?
      Thank you
      Harry Thomas

  31. Nicole from CT

    Great blog! I just found a Thompson’s Restaurants “Pure Food” matchbook in my grandfather’s collection and was doing a bit of research when I came upon your blog…what a great find. If you’d like a photo of the matchbook to add to your blog, I’d be more than happy to send it to you!

  32. Christopher

    Just acquired a few peices of silver from this chain. Seems he had a silver company as well? Says John R. Thompson for the maker and the restaurant name on the top of the handle of each. Love old hotel silver. Have loads of it. Great to learn more about this wonderful establishment and its history :).

  33. deirdre

    Great article! John R. Thompson was my great-great-grandfather. My great-grandmother wrote a small booklet detailing his life. It is available at the Vermillion County Historical Society/Museum in Illinois if anyone is interested (I think it costs about $5). They also have a room in the museum that includes items from the family.

    • Tracy Castle Hughes

      Hello Deirdre, my grandfather Edward Castle worked for Thompson’s restaurant for 40 years in Chicago. He was a chemist, started working for Thompson’s in 1916. We have a few magazines that have articles about my grandfather’s lab, and great pictures as well. Do you know by chance how I could buy old Thompson dishes from their restaurants? I have been combing ebay and buying up everything that I’ve found, but not much is available. I will make sure to follow up on the booklet you recommended. My grandfather actually was stationed as a chemist during WW1, and mentioned in letters to my grandmother that Thompson’s was suffering because lack of men to work, due to the war. They took him back as soon as he was sent home from duty, and worked his entire career there.

      • Hi Deirdre and Tracy! My great grandfather, George Fostino worked for Thompson’s Restaurant in Chicago back in 1918. It says so on his World War I Registration Card. Any chance you know any history or stories about one of your old cooks, George Fostino before/after he served our country? I also, would love an item from that restaurant if even a spoon or tile is available. You can e-mail me at regina_fostino@yahoo.com . Thanks!

    • Janet

      Deirdre: John R Thompson was my great grandfather. I learned to play bridge with your great-grandmother, Ruth, (who wrote the booklet) when she lived in Madison, Wisconsin with her daughter. How cool to find you here!!!



      • Harry Thomas

        In reviewing your post I see that you might have some source information on Francis P Thompson who was a sibling of John R. Thompson the restaurateur. Their father was John Riley Thompson and Elizabeth Wright; they had a very large family in the Fithian, Vermillion, Illinois area. John R Thompson the restaurateur was my great grandfather. His daughter Florence is my grandmother. I have been trying to resolve the gender of Frances which shows up in the 1880 US Census as a son to John Riley Thompson and Elizabeth Wright. However it is noted that the gender box of the census has been smudged so the male or female is not legible. I noticed that there is a My Heritage Family Tree that has Francis as a female and married to a George E. Harrison in 1894 but provides no sources. The My Heritage Family tree manager has no information to confirm the info posted in their tree. Do you have any source info to confirm the gender of Francis such as marriage or death certificate or cemetery info, etc.
        I would really appreciate any source info that could lead me to the gender question. My direct email is hthomas618@gmail.com
        Thanks; Harry Thomas



      • Michael Vitiello

        Good evening, My name is Mike Vitiello, I am a Curator for The Williamson Library in Grand Central Terminal in New York. It is a Railroad Library established since 1937. I am hoping some how, some way, someone has pics, or info on the Thomson Cafeteria / Restaurant located in Grand Central, we have very little info, It is really a part of us for many years…Hoping for the best…Thanks…Mike V.

      • Anonymous

        Margaret here; I am one of JR Thompson’s great grand daughters. I will look for a picture of the Grand Central Restaurant. I know we have one of the exterior of the downtown Wall Street restaurant, so we may have one of GC. I will be in touch.

    • Hi Cousin….Deirdre!
      My Grandmother, Ruth T. was the one that wrote the booklet about the family. Would love to hear from you. I can be reached at valth2011@hotmail.com.

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  35. leontiev

    Love your blog Jan…so much wonderful history about the venues of yesteryear! Is there a published list or directory of all of the Thompson’s venues from the mid-1920s? If not, do you have suggestions about how to compile such a list? …much obliged!

    • According to a booklet published in 1925, “Eat Thompson’s Way for a Better Day,” the company had units in 43 cities at that time, many in the industrial Midwest: IL: Chicago, Springfield, E. St. Louis, Aurora, Danville, Bloomington, Peoria, Quincy; IN: Terre Haute, Indianapolis: MO: St. Louis, Kansas City; WI: Milwaukee; IA: Des Moines; MI: Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Saginaw; NE: Omaha; OH: Cincinnati, Cleveland; NY: NYC, Albany, Buffalo; PA: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie; RI: Providence; NJ: Newark; Washington DC; MA: Boston; MD: Baltimore; VA: Norfolk; TX: Houston, Dallas; LA: New Orleans; TN: Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga; KY: Louisville; GA: Atlanta; AL: Birmingham, Mobile

  36. Mary

    From my grandmother’s account of an auto trip from Iowa to D.C. in 1922: “We left Hoopeston early the following morning and went to Danville for breakfast and there O Joy, we found a Thompson restaurant with more kinds of breakfast cakes than we had ever heard of and coffee as good as we get at home. … when tourists are wanting to find a place with good eats they are quite sure to be satisfied at a Thompson or a Y.M.C.A.”

  37. Hey – I have a coin (?). It states it’s the fiftieth anniversary of Thompson Restaurants (1856 – 1906). It further states “exact size and weight of $50. dollar gold piece issued 1851”. The back is worn — I can make out – “THESE COINS ISSUED 18 ———- 1851 ———VALUED AT $300.00 EACH “- DOES IT HAVE VALUE, AND IF SO, HOW MUCH? THANKS

  38. I’m the great grandaughter of J. R. Thompson, and much of our family history wasn’t passed down. I’m so glad to have this info. Thanks very much for posting it!

    • I’ve heard this from quite a few people who had ancestors in the restaurant business. I think it was a business that people did not have much respect for in the past, but by today’s point of view your grandfather was a very successful business man.

      • Chris

        Interesting point about respect for restaurants at the turn of the century. Restaurants were not under the more stringent health inspections they are today and people were naturally cautious about eating in them. Thompson’s was one of the first chains to adapt a white tile interior to show patrons they were clean. Food preparation was standardized. I have several posters I found on the walls of the old commissary in Chicago that admonished the food prep staff to always wash their hands.

      • Cris

        My Grandfather always talked about the keeping the kitchen clean…He would go into EVERY restaurant kitchen, before we sat down in the restaurant to eat… and inspect them….He passed down all his rules to my parents in our home kitchen….I work for a gentleman now who owns a few restaurants and wanted all the office help to take a kitchen health test and with no studying I was the only one who passed with a 100 %….I laughed and said my Grandfather would be proud….

    • Cris


      I’m the granddaughter of BR Morgan who managed a few of your grandfather’s restaurants. BR Morgan started in Ill where JR got him into the Masons and a 32nd degree while he was a young man. He met my grandmother when she was working at the Atlanta Ga restaurant and my mother was born in Birmingham Al while he was managing that one……He eventually moved on and had his own restaurant called Morgans on Press Plaza in Asbury Park NJ. I have met people who remember my Grandfather while he was managing in Ill…..and they all seem to remember Thompson’s pies. Somewhere my family has a picture of the interior of the Thompson’s in Birmingham Al in the 1930’s with my Grandfather standing up front in a 3 piece suit. I was very pleased to find this site….I have had so many people talk to me about Thompson’s.

      • Ruth

        Hello to a fellow Thompson-kin. And thank you for sharing your family history with me. I didn’t know that JR was a mason. He died a few years after my father was born, and my grandmother never mentioned the restaurant. It’s great to hear about it from other sources.

        I am also grateful for Jan’s website. Thompson’s was a big part of American history, and a true ‘rags to riches’ story. Your memories are much appreciated, Ruth

      • Chris

        If you contact my niece Deidre in this thread she has access to several bound volumes of the monthly Thompson magazine for all Thompson employees. If you give her dates she can see if there are any articles mentioning BR Morgan or the restaurants he managed.


        Peter Pook

    • Ruth

      This is Peter Pook. Are you David & Jean Owen’s daughter? If so it’s been about 30 years since Polly & I last saw you in your Milwaukee home.

      Best Peter

      • Hi PD,
        Yes, I’m Ruth Owen, Dave and Jean’s daughter. We moved to Florida in the seventies. My brother Dave and sister Francie all live within a few miles of each other. Mom is in a nursing home close by as well. Dad passed away a few years ago, and I understand Uncle Pete did as well. I was sorry to hear of his passing. Time slips by so fast. This site is wonderful. I’ve learned so much of our family history. I hope you are well, and please give my best to your family and brothers and sisters. Good to get back in touch, Ruth

      • Ruth

        Please fill me in on the family and I’ll do the same. My direct email address is peterpook@bell.net. Look forward to hearing from you. I believe I have many early photos of your father I’d be happy to share.

        Best PD

    • Harry Thomas

      I was reading this blog and came across your comments. I’m a great-grandson of John R Thompson. His daughter, Florence, was my grandmother and her son, John R Thomas, was my father passed away in February of 2015. I’m amazed that there was not much history passed down of the Thompson Family. I’m trying to create an ebook of the Thompson Family Ancestry History for my posterity I have 3 children and 6 grandchildren. I was starting with John R Thompson and his siblings and working back through the ancestors as far as I can go. I would appreciate any info you can provide. I retired last year at 65 yrs old and suspect that this will keep me busy for a few years.
      Harry Thomas

      • It’s nice to meet you, Harry. I think it’s a wonderful idea to collect Thompson Family History. I’m not sure that I can point you to one source–most of our information has been gleaned from internet searches and of course there is the Thompson Building in downtown Chicago. Unfortunately, we don’t have much information on John R.’s ancestors, though I’d suggest searching on Fithian, IL where he was born. I’m afraid not too knowledgable about them.

        Good luck and if I find anything of interest, I’ll let you know.

        Sincerely, Ruth Owen (daughter of David J. Owen, grand-daughter of Ruth Thompson Owen McGibney)

    • snippymom

      Hi Ruth!!!! I’m the great granddaughter of J. R. Thompson. Good to see you cousin!!!! I can be reached at valth2011@hotmail.com, email me please!!!!!

  39. T Collins

    A photo of the Thompson restaurant at 33 Park Row in NYC may be viewed at http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1558050

    • That’s great — thanks!

    • deirdre

      🙂 I think I have photographs of every restaurant and grocery store – amazing the empire he built.

      • Deidre

        Do you have the small accordion folded color brochure showing illustrations of all the various meals? Last I saw it it was in the bookshelves in the old livingroom at Montegue. If you do have it would you scan & send me each image ( about 8 of them) One was shown in Jan’s blog.

      • deirdre


        I believe all those books are still at Montague, including the employee books.


      • Regina Fostino

        Hi Deirdre,

        Do you have a photograph of the Thompson’s Restaurant located at 104 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL ?

        I gave my father a matchbook cover from Thompson’s Restaurant for his 60th birthday yesterday, and was wondering if there was a picture of the building to go with it!


        Regina — you can email me at regina_fostino@yahoo.com

      • Vitiello, Michael

        Good Morning Good Folks, Concerning Thompson’s Lunch Room in Grand Central Terminal, may I ask some knowledgeable good person if they have any history, stories, photos if possible about that particular location. I am a Custodian for a Railroad Library in Grand Central Terminal. The Williamson Library is run by a non-profit group called The Railroad Enthusiasts of New York. There is very little info about that particular Lunchroom — we know of a poem written about it & that’s about it. Any insights would be appreciated greatly. Thanks.

      • Hi Deirdre, John R. was my great, great grandfather — Do you have all these pics compiled somewhere? Would be fascinating to see!! Thank you. — Christopher R. Thompson

      • Vitiello, Michael


      • Hi Michael, unfortunately I do not. I will let you know if I come across any in my search and please do the same!

      • Vitiello, Michael

        Thank you so very much…We preserve the history of Grand Central Terminal…

      • snippymom

        I would love to see those pictures!!!!!
        Hi Peter Pook, Long time, no see!!!!!!
        Valerie, valth2011hotmail.com

  40. Pingback: Food Early chains: John R. Thompson | India Restaurants

  41. Another story I’d never heard before. Thank you!

  42. It’s interesting that people in different countries have the same idea at the same time. Thompson’s reminds me of Aschinger in Berlin, a very popular local chain at the end of the 19th century, also with self-service. I wrote about it some months ago.

  43. murphy

    The Green Giant had restaurants?!? Tell me more!

    • Well, Mr. Murphy, this was a time when food congloms were swallowing up restaurant congloms so as to mutually invigorate both. I think we all know how that went down.

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