Christian restaurant-ing

christianrestaurant1976riversidecajpgThere are a lot of reasons why a restaurant might choose not to sell liquor that have nothing to do with religious beliefs. But restaurants that brand themselves as Christian absolutely never serve alcoholic drinks. This has always been their defining characteristic.

In the U.S. Christian invariably means Protestant. Catholics, though doctrinal Christians, don’t consider drinking alcohol sinful, nor does its avoidance confer holiness.

christianrestaurantin-n-outjpgAlthough their predecessors date back to the 1870s when white Protestant women and men fought saloons by creating inexpensive, alcohol-free lunch rooms for low-income working men, Christian restaurants made their more recent return in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Some contemporary examples do not make a big display of their orientation. The Western burger chain In-N-Out, for example, prints a small biblical reference on the bottom of its soft drink cups that many customers probably never notice. The Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A chain has a religious mission statement and is closed on Sundays; but its religiosity was not known to all until a few years back when its late founder declared support for conservative family values.

christianrestaurant1980dec19Other common characteristics of Christian restaurants have included banning smoking and, like Chic-fil-A, closing on Sundays. Most have made an effort to offer some kind of ministry, ranging from offering religious pamphlets to preaching or providing live or recorded gospel music. Some have made free meals available for the poor. Typically they have had “biblical” names such as The Fatted Calf, The Ark, or The Living Bread. In some cases, the staff has been asked to assemble for daily prayers. Proprietors tend to be deeply religious, some having been redeemed from a troubled past. And, finally and not surprisingly, many (but not all) have been located in the “bible belt” where evangelistic religion thrives.

Some Christian restaurants went a little bit further. The Praise The Lord Cafeteria in Cleveland TN was unusual for a cafeteria in that it featured gospel singing, preaching, and testifying on weekend evenings. Waitresses at Seattle’s Sternwheeler often greeted customers with “Praise the Lord.” The owner of Heralds Supper Club in 1970s Minneapolis MN grilled prospective singers until he was convinced that they were genuine Christians. The owners of the Fatted Calf Steak House in Valley View TX, whose specialty was a 24-ounce T-bone, were more trusting: they let patrons pay whatever they could and even allowed them to remove money from the payment jar if they were in need. But the honor system was strenuously abused and the restaurant closed in heavy debt after just 1½ years.

christiankozycountrykitchenI became interested in this phenomenon when I noticed that a postcard in my collection – the Kozy Country Kitchen in Kingsville OH — said on the back, “Family dining in A Christian Atmosphere.” As shown on the card, it’s a highway restaurant with a big sign and parking lot looking as though it serves truckers, and was not the kind of place that would be likely to offer beer, wine, or cocktails even if it was run by licentious pagans. So what, I wondered, made its atmosphere Christian?

christianrestauranthaybleshearth1980Now that I’ve done some research I think I know the answer. It was probably an overtly friendly place, but one that frowned on swearing or arguing. Maybe it was similar to Hayble’s Hearth Restaurant in Greensboro NC. Hayble’s was very successful compared to most Christian restaurants, staying in business for nearly 20 years. In 1975 its manager said that she found Hayble’s a nice place to work because, “There’s no fightin,’ no fussin,’ no cussin.’” This made me realize that not everyone’s experiences with restaurants are like my own in which the norm is a focus on food and socializing, with moderate drinking in a cordial atmosphere.

A special type of Christian restaurant developed out of the more-urban Christian coffeehouse movement that had been aimed at a teenaged clientele. It was the Christian supper club which served a buffet-style dinner followed by a show featuring singing groups performing gospel hymns. Some were run under church sponsorship, but many were commercial ventures. The first was the Crossroads Supper Club organized as a non-profit in Detroit in 1962 by an association of churches and businessmen. Its manager, who had formerly worked as an assistant to Billy Graham, said it was called a supper club because “night club” had unsavory connotations. Its initial success inspired a Methodist minister associated with Crossroads to suggest that one day there might be a “Pray-Boy Club” whose members held keys to individual chapels. (He was joking, wasn’t he?) However, like many Christian restaurants and supper clubs, Crossroads soon fell on dark days.

christianrestaurant1977nashvillejpgThe heyday of the Christian supper club was in the late 1970s and 1980s. By the 1990s it was fading. One of the more ambitious-sounding ventures was Gloryland in Hot Springs AR. The project rallied investors to transform a former nightclub called The Vapors — famed for being colorful in a non-Christian way — into a supper club. Slated to open in 1991, the venture never got off the ground.

Undoubtedly the most successful of the Christian supper clubs, the one that served as a model for others, was The Joyful Noise, with two locations in the Atlanta GA metropolitan area. The first was financed with contributions from 500 stockholders who, according to president Bill Flurry, wanted “clean entertainment” in a place without smoking or drinking. The Joyful Noise(s) enjoyed about 20 years in business, from 1974 to 1994.

© Jan Whitaker, 2017

10 Comments

Filed under alternative restaurants, atmosphere, chain restaurants, family restaurants, night clubs, Offbeat places, patrons

10 responses to “Christian restaurant-ing

  1. Quick note – not sure if any of the other comments mentioned this – I was at In & Out the week before Stella hit the northeast. They no longer have John 3:16 on the bottom of the cups. However, they have a verse from Revelation on the burger wrappers.

  2. Sorry – must add another thought – I do hope you are writing a book about the history of restaurants. If not, why not!!

  3. Wow! that was a VERY interesting post. I had no idea that ‘Christian’ restaurants existed or were so numerous back in the day. Thinking about it I could understand why Mormons and 7th Day Adventists might want their own restaurants because of specific dietary beliefs, but plain old Protestants? Don’t they recall the story in the New Testament of Jesus turning water into wine at the marriage in Canaan? He was obviously not averse to a wee tipple!
    Do any of these restaurants survive? what about in Salt Lake City with its long Mormon connection?
    Some years ago I became seriously unwell and was airlifted from Beijing to a hospital in Hong Kong (BTW it was medically fantastic). It was owned/managed by the 7th Day Adventists: obviously there was no smoking and no alcohol — but also no meat, no tea, coffee, cokes etc (they are against stimulants of any kind). As my health improved, I longed for a cup of tea in the morning….

    • There probably are still some such places around. The thing about specifically “Christian” restaurants is, I think, that the patrons not only didn’t drink but also didn’t want to go anyplace where other people were drinking. Nothing special about food, as might be the case with certain sects, though. Totally mainstream, mostly steak and chicken, BBQ, potatoes, etc. Certainly not vegetarian. And, yes, funny how the water-to-wine parable does not apply!

    • Cathy Cee

      Wine was the drink of favor in the past because it was the only thing safe to drink.
      Remember there was no EPA then 🙂 water sources were nearly always contaminated, there was no water treatment. Fermenting grapes on the other hand, killed most contaminants. Wine was the only safe thing to drink.
      Over the many years when other sources of safe drinks became available, wine and other alcoholic drinks, became unpopular because of the tendency of people to drink too much and turn into fools.

  4. isis aquarian

    I really enjoyed this one :)) love all you have maintained and done over the many years in archiving all things Food/restaurants.
    sometimes i feel a good ole tent revival genre in spirit and kindness and from the heart, will no religion dominate in ones face, could be a very good and fun thing right now..chanting, saitar, oming, breathing, even a good ole fashion “hands in the air” preacher laying it down..dropping to a knee is very powerful on many levels no matter what you believe…followed up by good clean natural organic loving made food.
    We had the Source Restaurant on sunset blvd. founded 1969 by Jim Baker, a HOllywood legend and food guru of the time with The Old World and Aware Inn -also on sunset blvd..He formed a spiritual commune and as Father Yod and we all lived in the Hollywood Hills in one big mansion… we ran the first organic vegetarian professional restaurant in the country..it was very famous and popular with all the mover and shakers and stars and rock stars coming and loving it..we wore robes, had long hair and did not preach but had new age mystery school teachings logo everywhere even our new Source signs reflected it. WE had as our foundation the Holy Name of YHVH THE Tetragrammaton and we used these initials in the restaurant !…there was no smoking or drinking..just juices, smoothies and coffee :)) it was featured in many movies scene…Music for ZEN meditation played through out our opening hours. Father Yod would come and sit looking all Moses like with his tribe…we were beautiful, kind, happy people and did not judge or push anything on anyone and people loved coming there, they felt refreshed from the frequency, food and good will they felt. Father Yod had done a little booklet called “Liberation” which we sold for a $1.00 or gave away. Father Yod was with Yogi Bhajan for a few years ..He founded the source on the unknown teachings of Jesus Christ. and then we morphed into our own mystery school teachings and way of life…there were several food serving concepts and out reach programs from other communal groups around the country like the Love Israel family out of Seattle area and Sunburst Farms out of Santa Barbara etc…. fast forward to NOW…there are many vegan/raw and very very good vegetarian cafe/restaurants now everywhere…as well as those you already mentioned, In and Out did not know about that one :))….and in L.A/S.F. area- probably the ones i know of that broke out big -was Cafe Gratitude where they were inspired with concepts like THE SOURCE as well as Elf Calf on sunset blvd.
    Cafe Gratitude also implemented their spiritual beliefs and teachings or quide lines with their concepts and crew trying to form more of a family inspired oneness among those there..and have outreach programs of community gardens, back to the earth and holistic beingness..coming from, we are all one hearted and kindness…the “backyard to table” is becoming more popular also especially with herbs/greens used in commercial Restaurants now… anyhow this went off the rails a bit was just inspired to write. Thanks again Jan for all you do with your most interesting articles xo isis aquarian

  5. Besimple

    Wow! A+++

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