As early as the 1830s in the U.S., the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity espoused a regimen called “Nature’s Bill of Fare.” It advocated meatless meals that contained no more than three different articles of food, and no desserts, condiments, or beverages except water. Diners were to eat at precisely the same time each day and chew very thoroughly. Needless to say, the “Grahamites” were very much at odds with the majority of Americans who expected to eat meat three times a day.
Some of the followers of Sylvester Graham lived in special boarding houses where no meat was served, but it wasn’t until the 1890s that the first public vegetarian restaurants appeared in this country.
The first was the well-named “Vegetarian Restaurant No. 1” opened on West 23rd Street in New York City in 1895. It was sponsored by the New-York Vegetarian Society, which did not tolerate either taking life for food or drinking alcohol.
One of the co-founders of No. 1 was its manager Louise Volkmann, a remarkable 50-year old German-born woman who was active in the women’s suffrage movement, the labor movement, and the peace movement, as well as being a music teacher and a volunteer in prisons and hospitals. However, not even such a force of nature as Louise could make the restaurant succeed. It closed due to insufficient patronage in less than a year.
By 1899 a few more vegetarian restaurants had opened around the country. In Minneapolis a restaurant operated by two partners, Peterson and Mataumura, made the concession of supplementing the menu of Vegetable Turkey and a roast made of crushed nuts with a few meat dishes for non-vegetarians. Detroit and Boston also had restaurants catering to vegetarians, while San Jose actually had two, one of which also accommodated meat eaters. Detroit’s vegetarian café evidently was vegan; its macaroni was served with nut paste rather than cheese and its eggs were made of cereal or nuts and served boiled, curdled, or scrambled with lemon or, presumably fictitious, “cream.” [illustration of Los Angeles’ Vegetarian Cafeteria, ca. 1910]
Many of the early vegetarian restaurants served nut and grain-based food products – Granose, Nuttose, Wheatose, and others made by the Battle Creek Sanitarium Health Food Company in Michigan. Well-off people, not necessarily all vegetarians, would sign up for a stint at the Sanitarium to improve their health. A vegetarian dinner there in 1900 featured items with remarkably unattractive names such as Gruel, Dry Gluten, and Protose Salad.
The vegetarian movement and its restaurants got a boost from rising meat prices and stockyard scandals shortly after the 20th century began. A 1904 directory listed 57 vegetarian restaurants nationwide, and the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 encouraged more to open. New customers mobbed vegetarian restaurants while eating places of all kinds added meatless dishes such as spaghetti and omelets to their fare, an exercise they would repeat under the austerity measures of World War I. Up to and during the war, vegetarian cafes flourished and chains began to form, such as the Physical Culture Restaurants in New York, with branches in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Chicago. In addition to the Battle Creek connection, a number of pre-WWI vegetarian restaurants were connected to the Seventh-Day Adventist religion.
Often going under names such the Hygienic Restaurant or the Pure Food Restaurant, a typical vegetarian restaurant menu of 1902 or 1903 might have included selections such as these from Chicago’s Mortimer Pure Food restaurant:
Asparagus on toast, 15
Roosevelt [vegetable] cutlet, with mushroom sauce, bread and butter, 20
Poached eggs, with rice and currie sauce, bread and butter, 25
Spinach, with poached eggs on toast, 25
Broiled new potatoes on toast, 20
Spaghetti a la Mortimer, 10
Broiled fresh mushrooms on toast, 25
Baked beans, 10
How well vegetarian restaurants fared in the 1920s is unclear. The Childs restaurant chain, by then a public corporation, embraced vegetarianism briefly but changed its policy after its stock prices dropped in response. On the other hand, restaurant industry leader Myron Green, a Kansas City cafeteria proprietor, claimed in 1928, somewhat unbelievably, that meat eaters constituted less than 25% of food service patrons. In the early 1920s Los Angeles added two raw food restaurants and a Sephardic Kosher café to its list of meatless eating places. Also in this decade, a chain of vegetarian cafeterias appeared in the South, including one in Knoxville TN. In New York City Herman and Sadie Schildkraut operated a vegetarian hotel in the 1920s and by 1933 were directors of Schildkraut’s Vegetarian Food Emporiums, headquartered at 225 W. 36th.
Although meat rationing during World War II would bring back menus featuring vegetable plates, the vegetarian movement would not experience another boom until the counter-culture-inspired food revolution of the 1970s.
© Jan Whitaker, 2008, revised 2015
26 responses to “Early vegetarian restaurants”
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In the late ’70s/early ’80s, there was a vegetarian Chinese restaurant on Wilshire Blvd in West LA/Brentwood. I cannot recall the name. It was an amazing, spot. Serene environment, pale green walls. Always monks dining there.
The Fragrant Vegetable! It was amazing, I was a little girl and always remember that.
First vegan restaurant I am aware of from the 1970s was started by The Farm – Summertown, TN, a large vegan community. It was:
Farm Food Company
820 B. St., San Rafael, California 94901
Started in Aug. 1976
I have a list of 326 vegetarian restaurants in my SoyaScan database.
Unfortunately I have not yet broken out the vegan restaurants.
In about 1886 Gandhi ate at a vegetarian restaurant in London. There he found a book by Henry Salt.
Also in 1886 another veggie restaurant was opened: “A restaurant recently opened in the Strand by Messrs. Spiers and Pond, and another called the ‘Orange Tree’ near Charing-cross, on the tables of which meat is not found, are sufficient to testify that London, at all events, is inclined to give a trial to light fare.
1887 — A new vegetarian restaurant opened in Munich, Germany.
1887 — Another The Orange Grove in Manchester, England, etc.
Each has a source where it was first mentioned.
I saw most of these in The Vegetarian Messenger, published by the Vegetarian Society of the UK.
Thanks for the information.
Wind Spirit in Tucson Arizona 1980 Raw VEGAN…truly RAW
sprouted,sun baked on the roof,
I’ve been trying to remember the name of an old health food restaurant in Los Angeles (on one of the East/West streets in East Hollywood like Third or Beverly or Melrose. It had one of those names like “Healthville” or Natureville.” It looked like it was built in the 1950s but I went to it in the 1970s. If you have any ideas, I would very much appreciate it!
There was a restaurant/bakery/store called Organicville at 4179 W. 3rd Street.
Thank you so much, Jan! I’ve been scouring my brain for this name for ages! (and you’d think I’ve have come up with Organicville if I came up with Healthville and Natureville :-0! ) What a great resource!
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Very interesting article! Do you have any additional information about the vegetarian restaurant in Knoxville?
It was simply called Vegetarian Cafeteria and was sponsored by the Seventh Day Adventists. In 1922 it was at 510 Union. Around 1924 it moved to 203 W. Clinch at the rear of the Farragut Hotel. A story in the Knoxville News, Oct. 5, 1926, reported that a philanthropist named Mrs. Lida F. Scott, an officer of the Adventists’ “Laymen’s foundation,” was financing a new building. The new cafeteria was located on the second floor at 507 W. Clinch. The story also said that most of the cafeteria’s vegetables came from a farm “beyond Vestal, near Martin Mill pike.”
i always thought it would be cool if communes that have been living back to nature and off grid etc.etc. like 7th day or the mormons or mennonites etc..would have a program set up as part of their way of life (but in section where we were not living or interfering with their daily lives..to teach people what they know and have been living together for a long time. canning, farming, making cloths, barn raising , communal support etc. ?
I have an old advertisement pamphlet from 1935 during the California Pacific International Expo featuring the Vegetarian Cafeteria and Bakery at 1125 Sixth Ave. The store front says “In business for Your health”. Do you know how long it was in business?
The Vegetarian Cafeteria was at that address (in San Diego) as late as 1951. After that I have no idea.
What was the exact address of the Eutropheon Restaurant on Laurel Canyon?
I don’t know of one in that location. It must have been an entirely new enterprise. Or you might be thinking of a restaurant by another name. I have run across as restaurant in Laurel Canyon called Caioti where the salads were believed by some to cause pregnant women nearing their delivery date to go into labor soon after eating them.
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OMG..what a great find…love this article ….we had a very famous restaurant in the 70’s actually opened in 1969 by Jim Baker who later opened THE SOURCE on sunset blvd as Father Yod and the Source Brotherhood..it was the first full scale organic vegetarian restaurant around and became widely famous…the source dressing that was sold and put out by jim baker and the cardini is still today being talked about …thank you for all your great articles xxoo isiss aquarian
Thank you, Isis.
An article in the December 1906 edition of The Irrigation Age on southern California mentioned that LA had a “Battle Creek Pure Food Cafe, one of the best on the Coast.”
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This bit of history was great. It reminded me of the food program “Foodography”, a show I truly miss.
Great post, there are plenty of vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Vancouver. The oldest is Naam, which was opened in 1968 (and still operates). It is wonderful to see how many new vegan and vegetarian restaurants open all around, and even the classical carnivore restaurants started to have purely herbivore options.
Great pic of Angel’s Flight