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, so I began doing research. 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. I have also found many treasures in the business library of the Library of Congress in Washington. For over 20 years I’ve taken notes and gathered material about 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.
Blogging has many satisfactions. I enjoy corresponding with readers. I can’t do extensive research for readers, but I will try to contribute whatever I can. 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, April 2023. My blog is written entirely by a human, me, and is meant for human readers, you. AI bots are not welcome. It is based on books and articles written by humans. I do not merely try to report facts accurately. I also evaluate and interpret facts, opinions, errors, lies, motives, and all the other messy aspects involved in human communication. Plus, being human, I have my own point of view shaped by my experiences, my values, and my blindspots. Welcome, humans!
Also, 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!
157 responses to “My project”
As I enjoy reading every blog you post, I can’t help but remember my time on the other side of the swinging door, so to speak, working in restaurants in Provincetown during the summers of 1962-64. Oh, what tales to tell! From the lobsters left to crawl around the floor until an order came in (having escaped their cardboard box), to the “communal wine bottle” consisting of leavings from everyone’s table, to the chef who mixed the house bean salad with ungloved hands, lit cigarette dangling from his lips. Oh, the pies we smashed because the owner said we waitstaff could eat the smashed pies! I could go on and on, restauranting through my history. Cheers!
That’s fascinating. I especially love the smashed pies.
I am trying to place a NYC/Manhattan restaurant where I ate a few times in the ’70s and ’80s. I believe it was in the East 50s, perhaps on 3rd or Lexington. I think it was called The Mayflower (not the coffee shop), but I might be wrong. I got the impression it was kind of an institution. It felt a little old-fashioned at the time. It was popular with gay males, although not exclusively. I remember it had high-backed dark wooden booths. I always had osso bucco when I went there. It must have been very reasonably priced for me to have afforded it. Does anyone recall this?
Dear Ms. Whitaker,
Wow. So impressed with all the information you’ve gathered and the way you’ve been able to help so many readers. What a gift!
My question is a little different. Your site turned up as I searched for information on what it would have been like to work, specifically bus tables, in NYC around 1913–how many hours the average workday was, how many days/week, whether they would have possibly provided discounted or free meals, etc.
I’m working on a memoir about my grandfather, John Dorizas, who was one of the founders of the Mayflower Restaurant in Jackson, MS. My dad told me that when he first came to the USA as a fourteen-year-old, he bussed tables at a restaurant in NYC, where they paid him a quarter a day. I’d just like to know more about what that would have been like, and would be so grateful if you could point me to a resource that could help.
I’m in awe of what you’ve gathered and published on this site. What a tremendous wealth of information!
Reni Dorizas Bumpas
Reni, I would guess that he would have worked at least 10 hours a day, probably six days a week. But it is really hard to say more without knowing what sort of restaurant he worked in. Do you know?
Thank you so much for your reply.
I asked my dad and he doesn’t know. Because the restaurants he later opened were cafes—one a diner that sold burgers and sandwiches and another known for its seafood, we would expect he would have bussed tables in a similar kind of restaurant. Thanks again!
It’s likely he was given food along with pay. I don’t see how else he could have survived. And if all else failed, being the person who cleared the tables he would have access to food left behind by guests. I imagine he worked in a larger restaurant than a lunch room. In 1918 most places with waiters and busboys served hot meals rather than sandwiches, and hamburgers weren’t eaten much then.
Thank you, again, Jan. Your insight is so helpful. That does make sense, especially if he was working 10 hours/day, he would have likely been there breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or at least two of those meals.
He lived in some kind of big warehouse with a bunch of other people, where he slept on the floor and covered himself with newspapers to keep warm, walking an hour each way to work to save the nickel it would have cost him to ride the bus.
Appreciate your help!
What a hard life!
Yes! But makes it all the more amazing that he managed to start a restaurant that is still going today and has even been featured in major motion pictures—like The Help.😊❤️
He was able to rise above his circumstances. What is the name of the restaurant he started?
Yes! The one that is still in business is The Mayflower in Jackson, MS.
Loving your blog. The in-depth research is both thorough and thoughtful in its presentation. I am wondering if you can help me. My great-granduncle Bernard Daly owned a restaurant in the 1910s and 20s called Daly’s (sometimes it is called Daly’s Restaurant and Grill; sometimes Daly’s Cafe,; sometimes Daly’s Cabaret). It was located at 10 W. 42nd St. There is information about the restaurant being raided before prohibition in violation of a ban on liquor sales due to WWI. Federal agents arrested eight waiters and bartenders, as well as Bernard Daly. They had their day in court and won acquittal (seemingly with some help from Tammany Hall with which Bernard was deeply entrenched). The problem is—outside of articles in the NYT archives—there seems to be no record of this restaurant on the web. It is written about having the longest bar in Manhattan, being a uniquely high-brow magnet for socialites, artists, and politicians, and hosting a 300-person cabaret on the second level, as well as a famed room in the back called the Gargoyle Room. Any records or photos that you (or any readers) might have come across would be a huge help. Like much of NYC history, it seems to be a phantom. Keep up the great work. Your work is very enjoyable to read.
Thanks very much,
Hi Keith, thanks! I looked around a bit and didn’t find anything except mainly what you referred to. But his 1933 obit (Brooklyn Eagle) said that he had two places, one that he closed at Prohibition and another he opened somewhat later and ran until 1931. Also, I have found an address of #20, but it seems I’ve seen both E 42nd and W 42nd (?) listed.
I don’t think it’s too far fetched that he would receive so little publicity given the thousands of places in NYC. I’d say that those that got a lot of publicity were usually connected to a columnist.
I found this menu card in an abandoned mid 19th Century country home in Prince Georges County, Maryland in the 1970’s before the home was a victim of arson. The card was included in a post card collection said to have belonged to an unmarried spinster owner. I have no idea but thought perhaps it may have been from a NYC? Restaurant in the early 20th century. It appears I am unable to attach the photo to this post but would be happy to send said photo via e mail if you like and if you would like the card I can also send that to you physically. Thank you.
Hi, yes, do email it to me and I’ll let you know more about it. And thanks.
Sent from my iPhone
I was delighted to find your website quite by accident yesterday! I joined a newly formed writing group about 3 years ago and found they wanted each member to write something each month to share with the group. I wondered what in the world I would write about and remembered a box of old menus that had come down to us from my husband’s late aunt. She worked for the federal government beginning in 1942. Menus from NYC, Buffalo, Philly, Atlanta, and many more cities in the 40’s and 50’s. I pull out a menu and research the city, date, and restaurant. Then, with what I know of his aunt’s life, write a one (typed) page vignette to share with my writer friends. Thinking your blog will be most helpful as I research future little stories built around vintage menus.
What an amazing site! I’m beginning a wine and food blog, and I’m interested in learning about Richard Olney’s early years in NYC. He worked at a restaurant called 17 Barrow Street in the West Village, I think in the late ’40s-early ’50s. Now it is the famous One If By Land, Two If By Sea. Do you have any info on 17 Barrow Street that you could share? Sometime I walk by the place and, I swear, Olney’s spirit can be felt! Any help would be great (and credited, of course) — thank you so much!
I didn’t know of that restaurant, but I looked at the NYT and found out that in 1948 that address was the Greenwich House Children’s Theater, so it seems it hadn’t been a restaurant for long before Richard Olney worked there as a waiter. Sorry, but that’s the extent of it!
Jan, Paul, friends: “And speaking of New York” and just as an FYI, I was GM of the fabled N Y Gaslight Club at 124 E. 56th St. from ’76 to ’78. Only reason I left was to return to Myamuh in order to, with my friend and partner, the late, great Lloyd Apple, take over the catering at Epicure Market, which we did for five years before I became G M at Playboy Club Miami, now being the only living former Playboy Club Miami General Manager. Many years in the hospitality business and our collection of menus, particularly from South Florida but also from much of the rest of the country is immense. Be well, all, and please stay safe.
Thank you Jan! Happy New Year!
Thank you Jan!
Wonderful site. I am seeking information on this establishment, but I have had no luck searching online. would you have any ideas? any help is greatly appreciated, love to pass some details on to my 90 year old Dad, Freeman M. Crosby
Crosby’s Restaurant, at 19 School Street in Boston, was opened in 1900 by Freeman Crosby, born 1858, the son of a sea captain. Freeman had previously worked for his uncle, Russell Marston, in Marston’s restaurant. Crosby’s occupied an entire 5-story building, and the dining area itself had two floors. It was run by a corporation of which Crosby was president. Crosby poisoned himself and died in 1907 at his summer home in Centerville MA, but the restaurant continued in business until 1916 (as far as I can tell).
Thank you so much. That’s a direct relative and we have much information re the sea captains, but personally i had never heard of this. I will pass it along. Take care..
Hello, and thank you for producing an exciting website.
My parents owned Paoli’s Restaurant in San Francisco that operated from December 1951 until the late 1970s. Here is a link to an article that I wrote entitled, “A Toast to Paoli’s” in the The Argonaut: Journal of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, winter 2014, Vol. 25 No. 2, pgs. 46-65. Deanna Paoli Gumina
Here is a link to the article:
I just stumbled onto your wonderful blog! Bravo. Keep up the good work. Thank you…
Dear Ms. Whitaker,
I have been collecting menus and studying restaurants for the past 43 years during my career in the wine and spirits industry. Your blog has helped me a great deal in discovering pertinent facts about restaurants and their founders, making it much easier for me to decipher the information found within the menus and providing rich historical material.
Thank you very much and best wishes
Thanks so much for your comment. You must have quite a collection!
I know this is a long shot.
I’m looking for information about the Antonopoulos family, perhaps even a way to contact or get a message to a member.
I don’t know where in Chicago their Greek restaurant was located, nor, sadly, even its name. I believe it was active (at least) in the 1970’s-90″s.
Many thanks to anyone who will help me in my quest!
Thomas: While, yes, this might be a long shot, I graduated from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University in 1969 and I have a vague recollection (vague, so not 100%) that we had a student there when I was there (not in my class, but in the Hotel School) with the last name of Antonopolous. Might I respectfully suggest that you contact the registrar, School of Hotel Administration, Statler Hall, Ithaca, NY 14850 and ask if they can check to see if anybody with that last name attended. Hopefully somebody did and even more hopefully that will help you to make contact. Good luck and please stay safe. Best wishes from Miami.
I like your blog, and was incensed into leaving a comment by your note about not saying thanks. This is an extensive and knowledgeable website. Well done and thanks.
Thanks. My comment is mainly for when I look up information to answer individual questions and don’t hear back from that person.
Hi there my name is Jeri and I just wanted to know the name of the restaurant. It started as Travel lodge (I think) now it is south of Nicks. In San Clemente CA. On El Camino Real if you can tell me that would be awesome. thank you!
When? It’s pretty much impossible to do any kind of search without a time frame.
Hi, all! Hope everybody is staying safe. I don’t know if anybody mentioned this but Travelodge was (I think they are out of business) a roadside motel chain, fairly widespread. Perhaps somebody from that area of CA can answer whether or not there was a restaurant in that particular Travelodge. Hope that helps.
Hi Jan!! I emailed you. I’m granddaughter of Chin Foin and we’ve exchanged words before and you’ve helped me re Molly O’Farrell.
After looking here i think you are Virtualling!! So maybe you know where the New Mandarin Inn menu went! I am mostly curious about whether he had 2 Mandarin Inns then… which is inferred in your article about Chin F.Foin. I’m going crazy trying to write my next piece on him. Rather than just presenting the info and possible clues about whether he was killed or it was an accident, I now need to write it like it’s a mystery play! Yikes! I’ve never done one and it is hard!! And I have to perform it in May!! Arggghhhh!!!
I also found out there was a fire in the New Mandarin Inn April 1923. Opened again Dec. 1923. Died end of March 1924… hmmm…. I can’t find anything about the fire. Nada! I just saw it in his estate papers.
Anyway, hope you can help me with my 2 questions. And would love a copy of the menu if you have ithe New Mandarin Inn menu. I can pay you for the copying. Thanks!!!
Stumbled across a menu from Carl’s that has 3 locations listed, wondered if you can narrow down the year(s) it was used. Also have menu from Frasinetti’s in Sacramento when they were on Stockton Blvd. before they moved; Fascinating to see what prices were like back then, beer for 25 cents!
I can try. What are the addresses?
Most of Stockton Blvd today in Sac town wouldn’t be suitable for most restaurants today. A notable exception, with a lunch and apres-work market due to nearby DMV HQ, UOP’s McGeorge Law School, and the UC Davis hospital (my older sis worked there for 30 years until she retired in 2019), is the soul food-themed place owned by former NBA star and Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, “Fixins”. Very good on the fried chicken and waffles, but the menu is considerably more varied than that.
Dear friends and fellow gourmets, gourmands and restaurant, club and food and bev aficionados: It is with pleasure that I advise you all that I have signed the contract with Arcadia and The History Press (America’s largest publisher of local histories) to write LOST RESTAURANTS of GREATER MIAMI, Am not sure yet of format but the book will have 120 images of exteriors, interiors, advertising, menus, brochures, matchbooks, ashtrays and more of a very small “smattering” of the restaurants and clubs of Dade County, Florida. I will keep you posted re publication date and will let you know re: ordering. I think you will enjoy it greatly especially if you have lived in or do live in or have vacationed in Greater Miami. All the best. Seth.
Thank you for that rollicking tour through restaurants in wartime. My interest was piqued by your reference to a sociologist who attributed the emergence of the “sassy waitress” to a hard-to-manage new clientele propelled to restaurants by WWII. Can you tell us who this sociologist is? Also, if you haven’t seen it, here’s a link to a current Geico commercial featuring precisely that kind of waitress and proving that restaurant history is essential to understanding American culture: https://youtu.be/6NpUs7T1FPY
Hi Marcia, That was William Foote Whyte, in Human Relations in the Restaurant Industry, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1948. The book was based on a May 1944 to July 1945 study of 18 Chicago restaurants.
I love the look on her face in the Geico ad.
I own a menu set that I’d like to know if you have any interest in procuring. It is a one page menu that was all set to be a tribute to the country of France scheduled for March of 2002, and the full menu and dessert menu from the restaurant that sat atop the World Trade Center, Tower One, the restaurant being Windows on the World.
These are, in my estimation, historical documents. The France tribute menu would have to be a one of a kind, or thereabouts, and the two restaurant menus did circulate in the actual restaurant, are not just printed menus of it. Please do let me know if you have any interest in this menu set.
Thanks for the offer, but I am not a big-time menu collector. I am most attracted to menus of ordinary places, the rarer kind that most people do not save because they are not spectacular but that reveal what people ate everyday.
Hello, I am enjoying this website! I recently came across an article in my grandmother’s things on David H. Walton written at the time of his death. Do you have any information on him? According to the article he started in 1903 in Brookline and developed a chain known as the Walton Lunch System. I would appreciate anything further you may have on him. Thanks!
I tend to focus primarily on restaurants rather than their founders and managers but I can tell you a little. By the time of his death in 1927, his chain of white-tile lunchrooms had 16 locations in Boston, and possibly a couple in Canada too. He was born in Nova Scotia around 1875 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1899. He became quite wealthy. He lived in Brookline MA on Kent Street. He was married and had five children and five servants living in his home in 1920.
Hi Jan: Kudos to you on your site. I only discovered “Restauranting” recently — the one about gas ranges in restaurants — and it corroborates my research on residential ranges, which I have studied, published, and lectured on periodically. (See Youtube: Historic Kitchens “cookstoves” . Being in publishing and architectural history for 30 years, I completely agree with you about the narrowing audience for social history in books BUT it seems to be a fertile genre for documentaries on TV (but who knows if there’s any money in it for us historians).
I also admire your site. Would you be able to share what template you used at WordPress? Looking forward to your reply and keep up the good work! — Gordon firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s Pilcrow, a theme that WP has retired. I guess I’m lucky they still let me use it! Thanks for your message! I’ll look at your video.
I read an interesting article that you wrote in 2012 for Old House magazine that said when gas began to be used in stoves, some people thought it left a strange taste in food. I wonder if any chefs and cooks thought that — and if it’s why some preferred to stick with the old wood stoves.
Jan: Many thanks for the info on Pilcrow. On un-tasty gas, I picked that up years ago in a ca 1910 brochure about gas stoves. I don’t recall who it said objected, but it notes that some Brit hotel operators were among the earliest to experiment with gas roasting and baking. Also gas at the time was manufactured from coal and so foul smelling it had to be “scrubbed” before being sent to consumers. This was different from today’s natural gas — which is actually scentless, and has the odor added for safety. — Gordon
Hi, The first photo you have here https://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/about/ I am pretty sure that is the small Diner I use to go when I was a little child it was on Cherokee Street and California then they torn it down and made a small Ice cream shop I use to work there and now it has a bigger restaurant called La Vallesana 2801 Cherokee St, St. Louis, MO 63118. Cherokee is my home town and I love it and enjoy going there, a lot has happen since I was a child well it use to be a busy area when I was young but, still love going there to see what is going on ……….. I remember so much about Cherokee Street…..Good luck with your Blog
Thanks for sharing, but where is the photo you are referring to?
Hi, I thought the picture was on this page I copied and paste but it didn’t look as if it was the same page of your blog. The picture you are talking about is from a yard sale. You said you bought 2 pictures and the one of them had the Diner in it …I was doing history on St. Louis and I was actually thinking of that Diner and wanted to see it. It brought me to that exact picture. Amazing how The Lemps had a underground rooms in St. Louis and the amazing restaurants that the Lemps have. St. Louis use to have all sorts of shops to go shopping for almost anything and the bars they had now they have a lot of artist shops and Mexican restaurants. Love to keep up with how things change and one that stands out is that a new restaurant supposed to be on the corner of Cherokee and Texas. I think I will have to take a visit to see if the restaurant has been built yet. I would be a good person to talk to about Cherokee Street, that’s for sure Thanks! Darlene 🙂
Milliken’s restaurant in Boston also rented rooms–the singer Ossian Dodge lists it as his address when advertising for songs, in the Boston Weekly Museum. So possibly the “apartments for ladies” was literal apartments.
The word apartment wasn’t used then like today, but meant instead simply a separate dining room. You are correct, though, that many eating places also rented rooms. (But not for women.)
Hi. I’m a longtime follower and a former administrator of the Restaurant Ware Collectors Network, to which you have a link. The forums closed last summer, but we’ve reorganized the group on Facebook – still dedicated to collecting and research – and would appreciate it if you’d point the old RWCN link our way: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheRWCN/
Thanks so much!
Thanks, I’ll correct it.
Hi, I just found your blog when I was looking up: “Whatever happened to tomato juice as an appetizer?”
Anyway I’m so grateful to have found you. What a great concept and fantastic writing.
I always try to stop at non-chain diners when traveling and of course I’m always looking for that place that still serves homemade pie.
Keep up the great work!
Dear Jan Whitaker,
Your site is wonderful. Not only informative but also entertaining. And very colorful. You’ve obviously put a lot of work into this, and I appreciate that. As you requested, I’m letting you know that I’d like to quote this from your blog:
“The King Joy restaurant on W. Randolph was a much bigger venture. It was a component of an international Chinese organization meant to raise funds for political and economic modernization in China.”
In addition, I was wondering where you found the line drawing: Randolph Street Restaurant Row…and how I could secure a high resolution version (at least 300 dpi). I’d like to include this drawing and the quote in my forthcoming book, Lost Restaurants of Chicago. I’m an established author (see gregborzo.com) and can assure that these items will be sourced, credited and presented accurately and fairly. Many thanks. And I look forward to reading many more of your entries. Best regards, Greg
Your blog is absolutely marvellous; do you happen to have any information on why waiters wear numbered badges at some restaurants? Thank you so much!
What a good question — but I have no idea, really, only guesses. But now I want to find the answer!
I see waiters in longtime union restaurants wear metal badges from the union that often has numbers on it.
Your article about Christian restaurants jogged my memory of Scholl’s Cafeteria(s) in Washington DC. Always a great place for good, cheap meal when I first moved to DC. https://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2014/07/02/eating-dining-and-snacking-at-the-fair/
Hi – great blog! I too am pretty obsessed with the subject! In your travels have you come across information about The Golden Door at Idlewild? Thanks!
I’ve heard of it but know little other than that the name is taken from Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus that is associated with the Statue of Liberty. Idlewild international airport had the Lazarus poem inscribed over a doorway to welcome passengers arriving in the U.S. (Though they removed the words “wretched refuse”). The line it appears in is “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” I believe the restaurant operated in the 1950s and 1960s and aimed high, as did the Newarker.
Hello Ms. Whitaker. My family is from the Minneapolis area and my grandparents had their portraits sketched by “Gene” at a place called “Coffee Dan’s” in Minneapolis in 1934. Any thoughts on how I could find out more about the establishment? Thank you!
Hello Warren. The famous, original Coffee Dan’s was in San Francisco but there were many others by that name around in the U.S. I don’t believe they were related, but I’m not 100% sure of that. The only trace of the Coffee Dan’s in Minneapolis I can find is from the same year your grandparents had their portrait done, 1934. It was located in the basement of 509 Hennepin Ave. The proprietor was named Frank Falk. Sorry I can’t tell you any more about it. There was also a Coffee Dan’s in Onamia MN in the 1940s and 1950s but it appears to have been entirely separate, owned by a man named Earl Daniel Auger.
Thanks you so much for the prompt reply. Very helpful!
I haven’t had a chance to do more than glance at your site this morning but I like the bits and pieces I’ve read and I think you may be able to help me.
Yesterday, I received a stack of papers from my grandfather, who would be 84 now, if he’d lived past 1994. He was wounded outside Bergen Op Zoom, Netherlands, in WWII and spent his recover in Nijmegen. Apparently, there were a few hamburger huts there called White Spot Hamburger Hut.
I found a letter from the mayor of Nijmegen (dated 1993) in response to one Grampa had sent there asking about the huts. It seems there were several White Spots around Nijmegen.
I was wondering if you could point me in the direction that might help me find out more so I can finish the story he was writing about his time there.
Thanks for your time.
Hi Caity, My research is confined to the United States, but I’ll take a guess how you could search. Usually the only record of old businesses consists of advertising, either on postcards or business cards or in newspapers. I think you would need to find archival newspaper sources in Nijmegen, or search on e-Bay. There were many restaurants in the U.S. (and Canada) called the White Spot, some chains and some independent businesses, and they often specialized in hamburgers, but I would seriously doubt they had any relation to Europe. Best of luck with your quest.
Thank you very much for the answer. I will make a note of that and, when I find the story/work that relates to it will do the research. 🙂
A British Columbia entrepreneur named Nat Bailey started The White Spot in south Vancouver, Canada’s first drive-in restaurant, in 1928. Maybe the name crossed the ocean. There’s a good book, “Triple O, The White Spot Story,” by Constance Brissenden, that tells the White Spot story with terrific photos. (Opus Productions, 1993).
Thanks for the suggestion. I have The White Spot Cookbook, which also has good illustrations.
Just stumbled in your blog and already love it. Lovely project and great idea! Looking forward to read more about your “restaurants adventures”! 🙂
Hi! I love learning about history and what you have here with these restaurants is amazing! I just shared your blog page on my blog: this21stcentlife.wordpress.com
Dear Jan, as a novelist, I have my own publishing demons to slay, so am not an expert, but perhaps you’re just ahead of your time? Am fascinated by studying what people eat in old movies, old magazines, old menus, old photos of restaurants, etc. — how eating has changed radically in ever way possible in such a short time. Am so happy to have found your blog & hope you’ll keep it up! Love the old department store info as well. I live relatively near Wilshire Blvd area of Los Angeles, where historic L.A. Farmer’s Market, Macy’s, & Bullocks had wonderful eateries – perhaps you’ll find time (& interest) to write about them? Best of luck to you! – Daal
Thanks for your perspective!
I think you are referring to iconic May Company store at Wilshire and Fairfax, which is now owned by The L.A. County Art Museum. I grew up near there, and my first job after graduating from Fairfax High in 1965 was as a salesgirl in the children’s department.
What great memories you must have of that area!
I love your project! My mother was the original foodie in the 1950’s-60’s. We cherish her German cookbook and James Beard’s original cookbook she inspired!
Tell us more about your mother!
I meant to say, the German cookbook belonged to her not that she wrote it. I must’ve been half asleep when I wrote that. We still have Beard’s first cookbook, a later printing tho. I’m about to launch my website and when I do I’ll send you a note. I have a profile about our family’s love of food. The Smarter Shopper.
Hi, I have an old picture of my Mother with the cut off Logo of a restaurant that she’s standing in front of. It looks like Playa or Maya, there’s possibly a first word that’s been cut off. It’s from circa late 1930’s-1940’s and she lived in San Francisco at the time. She has suitcases so it may be near an airport.
Would love to know what restaurant that was.
There was a La Playa Restaurant listed in the 1970 San Francisco directory at 3155 Vicente. It served Mexican food and was two blocks from the zoo. Could it have been around decades earlier? I don’t know. I don’t have access to any earlier city directories for SF, but if you live in that city you might be able to find some at the public library.
I’ve just come across your blog. What a delight. I have an old photo (about 1947-48) of a restaurant that I believe is in New York City, maybe Brooklyn. The canopy across the front says–a word I can’t decipher, followed by English Grill. Looks to be near a beach or waterfront. Any thoughts on where I might send this photo for help identifying where it was?
I wonder if it could be from the English Grill on the lower level of Rockefeller Center that looked out on the ice skating rink from the North side (faced on the South side of the rink by the Cafe Francais)? People tend to keep menus and souvenirs that are from places they regard as famous or notable. Also, only restaurants with a lot of out-of-town guests usually have a photographer who sells photos to guests (assuming that’s what your photograph is). I don’t know of other NYC restaurants with English Grill in their name though it’s impossible to say there definitely were no others.
I think your social history subject is very relevant today. Go ahead and publish.
Peter Rabbit stuffed himself in Mr. McGregor’s garden “And then, feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley.”
No doubt the Europeans knew that parsley can be chewed to combat bad breath and, when eaten or drunk as tea, can settle the stomach and reduce gas and bloating. Probably a handy relief for many prepared foods.
Thanks for your interesting stories and research. Always a pleasure to read.
My name is Trey LaSalle. My uncle owned a restaurant in the 1940s down on Second Street. I am looking into selling the menu that is an original. Does anyone know how I could go about selling this or anyone interested. The restaurant was called LaSalle Brass Rail in the heart of dixie.
Hi Trey, You might try auctioning it on e-Bay. People are most interested in menus from famous restaurants.
HI there! My name is Dustin and a friend of mine and I have been looking for some much needed help with a high school economics project where we need to find a series of prices for several necessities and a couple luxuries in the years 1915, 1955, 1995, and 2015. One luxury listed is a date night for two which includes 1 or 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, 1 or 2 desserts, 2 drinks, and paid legal entertainment. My friend and I can solve the entertainment part but we need some serious help with finding the other prices or what might be considered your average luxury meal in each year. If you’re up to it, it would be a lot of help if you could reply as soon as possible! Thank you! 🙂
Hi guys, Sorry that I can’t take on rather time-consuming research projects for others — I’d never get around to my own. Seriously, I get a lot of requests. I would suggest that you check out the menu collection at the NY Public Library for 1915, the Los Angeles Public Library’s collection should help for 1955, and the more recent dates should be easier. Good luck to you!
I suppose I didn’t mean to word it that way but we were hoping that maybe you had some useful information to share with us off the top of your head. Anything other than that would basically be me having you do the project for us which isn’t at all our goal for contacting you especially if you’d have to do the research anyways which would put us in the same boat. If there is anything though that you might already know or any more advice on where we might search to find some information would be plenty help!
The only part I could tell you offhand is what it costs in 2015. In a nice but not exorbitantly priced restaurant, figure the appetizer at $8 to $10, the two entrees at $15 to $20 each, the desserts at $6 to $8 each. By drinks I assume you mean non-alcoholic, so that would be about $3 each. Then you have to add local tax (figure 5% on average, though I’d give you higher marks for knowing your actual sales tax if I were your teacher) and, finally, add a 15-20% tip on the pre-tax total.
Hmm OK thanks! Are there any other sites or sources besides the ones previously listed that you think may help? If not, how would you begin to search for this information?
You could also look at menus on e-Bay.
Hi Jan! I’ve been lurking for a while and I just wanted to comment to say that your blog is fascinating, and refreshingly well-researched and -written. I love that you’re out there slogging through primary sources so that the rest of us can get such a detailed take on the way things were. Things seem to have changed so much in the last century about how our food is produced and distributed — and of course that history is inextricably linked to and informed by our political history.
Does anyone remember Lums Restaraunt in Schenectady, NY? Specifically, I’m trying to find out where it was located.
Can you tell me how I might find out about a NY restaurant from the 40’s? I have a pastel portrait of my mother. Under the portrait it is signed “At Denney’s” to the left of the portrait and the artist’s name “Paul/1945.” Are there sources I can look up?
I am not familiar with a restaurant of that name, but you could search New York City directories under “Restaurants” for 1945 or years close to that. I also wonder if the portrait could have been done at the Frances Denney cosmetics salon on Fifth Avenue.
Thank you for your suggestion about the telephone directories. I know the 42nd Street Library has a big collection. Thanks also for your suggestion about the cosmetic salon. Good to know.
Why I’m pretty sure it was a restaurant is that my mother told me that my father called from the restaurant late in the evening asking her to come into the city. My mother had already set her hair in pin curls, for the night, so she put a scarf on her head like a turban and went into Manhattan to meet him.
Believe me, my father wouldn’t have been caught dead at a cosmetics salon.
I just discovered a “Denny’s” [no second E] Restaurant in 1945 at 7 East 30th Street. Guessing that was it.
Hey there, I’m a student as well, writing a history paper about women and the growth of the restaurant industry, do you mind if I use this quote? (And cite you in my bibliography, of course): “Working mothers and smaller families in the 1960s further enhanced restaurant growth. By the mid-1960s there were 18,000 restaurants in Southern California, where sales had increased almost 100% since the end of WWII, attributed primarily to family dining. In 1976 the National Restaurant Association identified families’ favorite eating spots as family restaurants, fast-food eateries, theme restaurants, cafeterias, and coffee shops. Chains such as Howard Johnson’s, Bonanza, Ponderosa, Pizza Hut, International House of Pancakes, and Denny’s looked forward to a bright future.”
Go right ahead. Thanks for asking.
My son is doing a major project on the 1940s. He has to compare prices and famous restaurants from that decade. May we quote your stats you have listed? He must provide a bibliography so he will cite your website.
Yes, he may. Thanks for asking.
I’m writing a book set in the late 1910’s, and your blog has proved to be the easiest part of my research so far. Thank you!
Great project. If I can be of help with Ohio let me know.
Hi, I just came across your website while looking up 1950’s Hollywood restaurants and was wondering if you have ever heard of my father’s restaurant the “Villa Capri,” it was a very famous restaurant 1950-1982. His 1949 pizzeria in the original Farmers Market is still running! My father and uncle’s first LA restaurant “Casa D’Amore,” opened in 1939 and this menu is in Jim Heimann’s Menu Design in America.
Yes, “Patsy D’Amore’s Villa Capri,” as it was often referred to, was quite a popular spot with the movie crowd in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I found a book of matches with the slogan, “Dining Favorite of the Hollywood Stars.” Would have been fun to be there in 1955 when James Dean was a patron!
Have you considered doing a blog post on the history of Chinese restaurants in small towns, etc. across North America?
Often they were informal community hubs.
Yes, a fascinating topic, but a big one. I plan to tackle it soon though I’ll probably concentrate first on larger cities.
I cheer you on! Rites of passage and milestones in this lifetime were connected to restaurants. How I yearn to recapture even a glimpse of the the awe of being taken at 8 years of age in 1953 to Schrafft’s tea room in Syracuse or KEELERS in Albany ! Tommy Del’s in Syracuse, where my family went in the 50’s to celebrate special occasions KEELERS in Albany shared a very special ‘scent’ of ” fine dining”. I can’t put a finger on it…a combination of the air-conditioning, the table linen, the silverware, the celery and olives served on shaved ice before the meal- what could have created that scent? Trinkaus Manor in Oriskany, NY and Mayfair Farms near Newark, NJ (when it was just a restaurant) have surrendered to the march of Time. I love your project!
Thank you for your lovely comment!
Such a cool project!
I wonder if you can help though? I’m trying to find photos of restaurant photographers – you know, the men or women who would walk around nice restaurants taking photos of the diners. I can’t seem to find any reference to them and perhaps don’t even know what they were – or are – called. Any ideas?
That’s a hard one. They seem to be completely anonymous. The photos I’ve seen give no clue as to who took them.
Those photographers also were the ones taking shots of people walking to and from Cleveland Municipal Stadium for baseball games in the 1950s and 60s. They carried Speed Graphic cameras and would give you a card so that you could order a photo later. They were on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City too. I think they were photo hobbyists doing it for extra income and some worked at camera shops. The Eastman Kodak museum in Rochester may have someone who knows what they were called.
I’m doing a senior paper and I was wondering if I sited your information in a MLA citation maker would that be alright? If so, I need your first and last name so that it’s sited correctly. thank you 🙂
You must check out the NYC Public Library exhibit if you have the chance! Some great info on NYC lunch restaurant history http://eyechow.com/2012/07/25/lunch-hour-nyc-at-the-new-york-public-library/
I’ve seen it — great show!
I think there are 1-2 books and a film about Chinese North American restaurants in small towns ..with the older faux Chinese dishes of chop suey, sweet and sour chicken balls, etc. of the 1930’s to 1960’s. Again this is a niche area. I always find it interesting when we go cycling in different parts of the continent especially in rural areas.
Best wishes for your specialized blog and happy adventuring/researching.
What a delightful blog! Congrats on the Freshly Press as well!
I stumbled upon your fab blog late last night and haven’t been able to stop reading it for about 24 hours!
Unlike you, I almost NEVER went to a restaurant as a child…maybe we went out for a hamburger twice a year. It wasn’t until I was an art student that I started to enjoy going to NYC and Philly and seeing what restaurants were really like. It was then also that I started working at an east coast chain of ‘Perkin’s Family Restaurant and Bakery’. I worked the 11p to 7a shift for almost five years. It was a really fun place and almost twenty years later, I am still friends with many former co-workers and regulars.
Keep the articles coming!
You wrote about Smith & McNell’s in 2009; McNell was my husband’s great-great grandfather. How do I get permission to quote your article for purposes of genealogy reports to share with family? Can you tell me where the image of the restaurant is from, as I am also interested in using that.
Please feel free to share the post as long as you attribute it to me, possibly by linking to my site. You may use the image also. Thanks for asking!
Hi Jan… I absolutely love the work you are doing here. I have two questions: 1. Would you like to help on our film about the Restaurant Industry? 2. I think with our film project, it might be possible to bring your book to life if you are interested.
Keep up the good work.
Hello, my name is Vladimir, thank you for your article about Russian Tea Room. I have about 100 old postcards with Russian restaurants in US
I ll be happy to share my collection with you and your readers
I’m an Australian journalist writing an article about entertainment restaurants. I’ve been searching for someone who is in a position to talk about the history of these venues, and if they are growing in popularity again.
Would this be an area you would feel comfortable discussing?
My grandfather, Romeo Santoro, was a chef in Chicago during the 1940’s and 1950’s. I know that he worked at Stone O’Brien’s and Frescatti’s during this time period. I have not been able to find any information on either of these restaurants. I was wondering if you have come across them, or my grandfather, in your research. I would appreciate any info or hints.
Thank you. Love your blog!
Regrettably, I can tell you nothing about those restaurants. I’ve never heard of them and after looking around a bit, I could find absolutely nothing. Unless they advertised in newspapers or on postcards or had fires or robberies or were famous, most restaurants disappeared without leaving a trace. I did discover, though, that your grandfather worked around WWII at the Admiral Restaurant at 24 S. Dearborn in Chicago, another establishment about which I have no further information.
Dear Ms Whitaker,
What a great website! I’m looking for more specific menu items for high end establishments in NYC in the 1960s (specifically 64/65) Do you know where/how I could find this information or if you have any menu items from that time? Thank you!
Sally, I would contact the NY Public Library. Their menu collection is larger than what is represented by the digitized images they’ve made available. Also, there is a great-looking new book which I can’t wait to get my hands on called Menu Design in America: 1850-1895. I would imagine its three authors could be helpful.
Hello, my name is Dara and right now i’m working on my diploma project, wich is related to restaurants for healthy eating . I need some history notes and images for it. I found interesting things in your blog, so i would like to quote them in my project. Would you mind?
Please, excuse my awful English.
Yes, go ahead as long as you credit my blog site. Thanks for asking.
Thanks so much for your site – ran across it searching for history on Busch’s Grove shared that on my FB page, will dig a little deeper when time permits!
I have acquired what I believe could be a print ?for approval possibly for the front of the menus for the Marshall Fields Narcissus Room and the English Room. It was in an envelope with a return address which reads The Meyercord Co,5323 W. Lake St.,Chicago 44, Illinois, World Leader-Design-Manufacturer-Research-Service of Decalcomania. Can I send you a photo and see if you know? Debbie
Yes, I’m curious.
There was a restaurant in NYC in the ’50s named the ‘Sportsman Club’ Their claim to fame was-they could serve you anything you wanted…everything from alligator to giraffe to snake…we used to have a menu that got lost over the years…Have you ever come across this place in your studies?
I’m assuming you mean the 1950s. I have found two places with names similar to that. One was the “Sportsmen Restaurant” across from Yankee Stadium on Knightsbridge Road and the other was Major’s Cabin Grill, a steakhouse on 33 West 33rd Street which had a “Sportsman Bar” and was sometimes referred to as the “Sportsman Restaurant.” But I know next to nothing about either one and have seen no mention of exotic steaks, though there were a number of these restaurants around the US. Maybe your menu was for a special occasion dinner?
What a great site! We linked to you from http://historiccookingschool.com
I had googled ‘Turner in Fairfield Iowa’ and found Fairfield in the section on Jails! We didn’t know about this cafe and are intrigued. Where would I find more info? There was a Turner Hotel in Fairfield Iowa up until 1964.
“Fairfield, Iowa, enjoyed Turner’s Jail Café where, in 1939, Mr. and Mrs. Turner invited guests to Eat (plate lunches) at the Jail!”
May I quote you (above) with credit of your choice on the Facebook page FAIRFIELD IOWA HISTORY ?
Dear Ms. Whitaker,
Thanks you so much for taking the time for all your research! As a mother of three and also working in PR I can’t even imagine how much time you’ve spent creating this amazing site!
One of my clients is Chumley’s, the old Speakeasy located in the West Village of NYC. Since taking on this new task of handling a restaurant discovering your site has helped me tremendously! I’ve always worked in fashion and after the third child decided only to take on clients that were local entrepreneurs that were taking on big challenges all due to their wild visions!
So again thank you for helping me, help them!
Collector of old cookbooks and restaurant history of Dallas. Love this blog.
I’m impressed with your Texas cookbook collection!
Don Lessor suggested that we get in touch. I enjoyed reviewing your Blog and links. I have a vast collection of menus, cook books and ephemera related to the subject of dining (eating and gluttony included)along with a gadget collection which numbers in the many thousands. Some gadgets date back to the 1700’s. I frequently lecture using these items as fun and exciting thought provoking props. Remembering not all things are as they seem.
I would enjoy touching base and sharing ideas. I have been published (Ala Carte A Tour Of Dining History,PBC International 1992) I have also collaborated on cookbooks at Mystic Seaport.
I look forward to hearing from you.
As a great grandchild of J R Thompson I would be very interested in any information or images of Thompson menus, newspaper ads or other printed material you would be willing to sell or share scanned images.We have a few newspaper ads and monthly in-house company news brochures. Any help would be most appreciated
Peter Pook….. email@example.com
Dear Ms Whitaker, as the author of “America Eats Out” (1991), I have very much enjoyed your website and can appreciate the research you have done. As for turning it into a book, I wish I could be of more help. My own book, which at the time was the only one to chronicle American food service from the Pilgrims through the end of the 20th century, did not sell particularly well and never went to paperback–a situation in no way helped by the usual sluggish publisher, whose marketing department my friend Ellen Brown calls “The Dept. of Sales Prevention.” There have been some fast food histories, and “Fast Food Nation” sold very well indeed. But I just don’t know if there is a market for the kind of serious research you have done at a time when food history has gotten more serious but is usually confined to a single subject like “Salt.” But keep up the good work. You are a fount of info! John Mariani
I love your site, and have copied book titles/authors from it that may help me find information I need. I’m writing because I’m having difficulty finding info about Boston restaurant and cafeteria chains from the late ‘1920s to the ’50s. The reason? I interviewed a 97-year old man (who has since died), who was a Boston restauranteur in that period. I don’t have time frames for his stories; in his late nineties, his mind couldn’t accomplish that. That makes writing his life story for his nieces quite challenging. There are four major phases of his restaurant career: He started out in the kitchen of the Copley Plaza in 1923 and has wonderful stories of what he and the other employees did, some of what they served, what their standards were for food and glassware, how they bootlegged and more. He started his own restaurant in the late ’20s (prix fixe but cheap), opened more in the ’30s (late ’20s?) until he had nine, then took over the failing Walton restaurant/cafeteria chain. I THINK this takeover was in the mid- to late-’30s, but it could have been postwar, for all I know. He mentions that he, the Waldorf chain, the Hayes-Bickford and Albiani groups met every few weeks to fix prices! The last, and I think longest-lasting phase of his career, was (adding to the restaurants) huge food-service operations for clients like Boston University. I don’t feel comfortable mentioning this fellow’s name here because of confidentiality (and the spelling changed at some point, adding to my problem) but would love to get an e-mail from you if you can point me toward any more books, articles or Web sites. Maybe you’ve even heard of him! Thanks a lot, Ruth Elkin
I am searching for a menu from a restaurant in the Village in NYC that existed in the 1960’s. It was on the corner of 6th Avenue and west 10th street (just across from the library). It was called something like Arte Sandwiches and had the most wonderful, inventive sandwich menu. Would love to get a hold of one. It’s not in the NYC library collection of menus. Do you know anything about it?
Thanks. Love your site.
Kevin — Not offhand, but I would suggest looking on e-Bay. Good luck. — Jan
Hi There — i am looking for images of old, b&w fotos of italians eating in a large group. The foto(s) would be for personal use. Do you have any or know where I could find them? Many thanks.
HI! love this blog and happened upon it only because as a photo researcher I have come across a marvelous album belonging to the family who owned 9Owls tea room in Pembroke Mass. I have over 600 photos and many are of the people and inside of the restaurant. Your blog is facinating and as the mother of a young woman who opened her first restaurant in Mexico as a single mother and later catered Barbara Streisand and Donna Karan for a week in Cabo I am very proud to say that restaurants are “in our family” until last month when my daughters 3rd succesful restaurant was closed in Eugene Oregon due to the economy. I cannot wait to send her a link to your site. If interested in the 9 owls photos and you might like some, email me and I will send a link to you when they are posted.. all the best.. Marianne
Dear Ms. Whitaker,
I admire what you’ve done with this fascinating site— congratulations. I’m particularly interested in restaurant menus of the mid-19th century and looking at what kind of food was featured at elegant restaurants particularly hotel restaurants. I have a post on gourmet.com on the oldest menu in the NY Public Library collection (funnily enough entitled by the web-editors “Ladies Who Lunched”) which is from the Ladies’ Ordinary at the hotel. I wonder if you know of collections or other resources that include or describe menus from the 1840s – 1860s? A private collector in Delaware, Mr. Henry Voigt, has a couple of menus from Southern hotel restaurants during the Civil War and its sobering to contrast their meager offerings with the opulence of NYC restaurants at the same time. Have you ever come across menus from such restaurants in the South from this period?