Recently I was looking over some of the comments my readers have left over the years and I realized that saying thanks is way overdue.
I’m flattered and pleased that my readers and followers are so kind – and so smart! They have sent praise, suggested new topics, asked good questions, and gently corrected me. They have added to my understanding of many of the places, people, and situations I’ve written about. Some have loaned me images or mailed me books, menus, even restaurant china on a few occasions. Others have shared my posts, bringing me more readers. The number of rude or ugly comments I’ve received is minuscule, probably less than 1 in 1000.
It’s kind of scary to realize that it’s the 14th anniversary of my blog.
At the start – July 17, 2008 – I thought it would be so easy. I thought I’d build my posts around my collection of restaurant memorabilia such as the match books above. I imagined it would take me about half an hour to write each post, and in fact the first one didn’t take much longer than that. That is no longer true.
Since then I’ve revised that initial post — Joel’s bohemian restaurant – because I came to realize it was much too sketchy. I’m thinking of revising it a second time.
My blog posts have grown longer, though I try to keep them relatively brief, and I have extended my topics way beyond the possibilities of my ephemera collection. Now my process is reversed and I’m always on the lookout for elusive images that are relevant to subjects I want to investigate.
When I began, WordPress was a folksy kind of blog host. I always got a quick answer to queries about how to do things, and they were signed with first names. The company made relatively little effort to sell additional services or to get bloggers to add advertising to their site.
They did, however, place advertising on sites without asking. The day I discovered that WordPress had inserted a weight loss advertisement into one of my posts, I shouted NO! Then I immediately signed up for “No Advertising” even though I had to pay an annual fee – and still do.
Now, after publishing 496 posts and pages, I remain glad that I didn’t “monetize” my blog.
Another change in WordPress (for the better in this case) was the ability to link posts easily to other internet sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. – and for readers to click “Like.” My early posts have no Likes, not because I had no readers but because there was no Like button then.
I am thankful for my readers and followers. I’m happy that they are interested in what I write about and that they bring a lot of knowledge about restaurants with them. Along with on-site comments, I get an equal number of emails from readers, some looking for additional information and others who kindly go out of their way to send compliments.
Another nice aspect of producing my blog are the occasional invitations to give talks and interviews.
Now, when I go back and look at my old posts I always see something that could be improved – where I should add a link or illustration (see part of my image file above), reword an awkward sentence, clarify a murky point, or insert something I’ve since discovered. Usually I try not to obsess over these shortcomings and end up moving on.
Although I often profile individual restaurants, frequent readers probably realize that my greatest interests are how the custom of eating out grew, how the various types of eating places developed, the types of food and ways of cooking that are highly associated with restaurants, and how restaurants reflect American culture.
A few of my favorites posts are linked here, some of them early ones that are deserving of more attention.
Back in 2008, a friend asked if I feared that I would soon run out of topics. That still makes me smile. I haven’t even come close.
I prepared a new post for today, but with the grotesque events happening in Ukraine, the invasion worsening by the hour as Russia attacks daycare centers and residential housing, it seems so wrong to post it.
For that matter, I feel that over the past couple of years I haven’t seriously acknowledged the effects of Covid on restaurants. When it all began – which now seems long ago – I wrote a post on the effects of the 1918 influenza pandemic on restaurants, noting a number of responses similar to what has happened recently. But since then I haven’t really dealt with the difficulties contemporary restaurants have been having, with staff miseries and shrinkage, shifts to carry out, disappearance of printed menus, mass closings, etc. I hope to come up with some new themes that touch upon historical precedents. For example, there was terrific difficulty in hiring restaurant kitchen and dining room staff during WWII. I could look at how restaurants dealt with that problem.
If you want to read something new today, I recommend some of my “old” posts that still seem to hold up. Since I’ve been doing this since 2008, there are many to choose from. Some have few likes which is because when I started blogging there was no “like” button!
It’s been a year! Bad for restaurants but good for restaurant history. I’m disturbed by the number of restaurants that became history this year and the many that are barely hanging on. It’s great that my blog has fared well but I’d rather see good fortunes shared.
The top post was a controversial one: Aunt Fanny’s Cabin. I focused on its troubled relation to race, which many readers disputed, arguing that the Black staff loved working there. Others ignored the post’s theme and just commented on the restaurant’s fried chicken.
The second most popular post was about Wolfie’s, in Miami. Since I published this post in March of 2011, it has consistently drawn large numbers of readers, becoming the all-time #1 post about an individual restaurant.
The number three post was Taste of a decade: 1970s restaurants. That was the decade in which many small chef-owned restaurants came along, introducing more adventurous menus and moving away from the post-war favorites, steak and baked (potatoes).
Most surprising to me was the number of clicks on Sawdust on the Floor, a post not focused on an individual restaurant, so not a fan page. This made me happy because I actually prefer researching and writing posts on trends and characteristics of restaurants.
Another surprise in 2020 was the increased number of appreciative comments — and especially emails — that I received from readers who took the time to write. Despite the contentiousness and divisiveness on display this year, I am also struck by how many people have gone out of their way to be kind and thoughtful.
Finally, I’m remembering what a friend said to me when I began this blog in 2008: Won’t you run out of things to write about? No, my list of ideas is longer than ever.
It has been a great blog year. After 8½ years and 381 posts, it’s nice to report that my blog is still growing. I’ve accepted that it won’t ever be a blockbuster, but I am cheered that I get more readers all the time. 2016 also stands out for including my best day ever as measured in page views, doubling the total from my last best day. And 34 posts, many of them old ones, got more than 1,000 views this year.
I hear from a lot of readers via e-mail, many of whom have information about a restaurant I’ve written about or ideas for future topics. Some of them are doing their own research. Recently I heard from an author in France asking about restaurants that provided customers with telephones at their tables. I’m always happy to share my sources with them, though of course I can’t perform individual research.
Warm thank-yous to all my readers, subscribers, commenters, linkers, and likers. Happily, only one post I’ve written has attracted trolls. I am perfectly willing to approve comments that disagree with my slant on things or correct mistakes, but I don’t accept hostile comments that attack me or another reader. Nonetheless, thanks to trolls for boosting my stats!
What’s coming up? More books are being written on the history of restaurants, so expect to see reviews of Ten Restaurants That Changed America (Paul Freedman), Restaurant Republic (Kelly Erby), and Dining Out in Boston (James C. O’Connell). And my list of ideas for future posts never shrinks — in fact it’s longer than ever. There are quite a few in the pipeline, such as restaurant fashions for women diners, The Bakery in Chicago, and the 19th century’s cheapest-of–cheap eateries.
Wishing everyone happy restaurant-ing and a good new year.