My fascination with restaurants goes back to childhood. I always loved going to them, tasting new food, enjoying their “atmosphere,” and ordering kiddie cocktails. At one point a few years back I was inspired to design rugs with restaurant themes.
For years I’ve collected restaurant ephemera, postcards, photographs, leaflets, business cards, and every kind of printed material you can think of. Eventually that led to wanting to know more about the restaurants in my collection. I live in an area with good college libraries. They include UMass Amherst which, because it began as an agricultural college and has a hospitality program, has some hard-to-find restaurant trade magazines. For over 20 years I’ve researched restaurants in American history, and can say, without bragging, that there are few others in the US who know more about American restaurants of the past two centuries than I do.
When I began the blog in 2008 I imagined it would lead to a book. Now, in 2012, I have my doubts about that. I’ve published three books and I’ve seen how publishing is changing under challenging circumstances. I think the audience for my brand of social history — never huge — is shrinking. Even if I wrote exclusively about sexy celebrities, luxury dinners, and murderous chefs, I doubt I could attract the millions.
So I think I’ll stick to blogging for now, which has many satisfactions in its own right. Over the years I’ve enjoyed corresponding with readers. We restaurant history fans may be a small minority but I’ve been pleased to learn that we’re a smart bunch of folks interested in the telling details of life and times.
Restaurants are deeply revealing of our culture’s humanity (and lack thereof). How did they justify turning away people with the wrong color of skin? They are businesses, yes, but they can’t let business motives crowd out all sense of hospitality. That makes for a lot of interesting dilemmas. They must make a profit yet appear generous. What do they “give away,” what do they charge for? I love how they create a “show.” I laugh at how corny they can be. I like exploring how they are divided into front stage and back stage, the latter so unforgettably illuminated by Anthony Bourdain.
I hope you will enjoy reading my posts and will subscribe to my blog.
Note: Because of the effort I’ve put into researching restaurant history and collecting images, I would be grateful if you would contact me for permission before quoting from my blog. Thanks!