Category Archives: confectionery restaurants

Confectionery restaurants

A little-recognized restaurant type that has had considerable influence historically was the restaurant that grew out of or was associated with a confectionery business. The closest this type of eating place came to public acknowledgment was in the 1920s when the weird term “confectaurant” popped up in the West, mainly California. As silly as that might sound, confectionery restaurants as a class ranked among America’s finest and most elegant eating places.

For instance, Delmonico’s, the country’s finest restaurant in the 19th century, began as a confectionery shop serving chocolate, candies, and petits fours, then expanding into more substantial food. Peter Delmonico who founded the shop with his brother John in 1827 was a Swiss confectioner.

The list of well-known restaurants with confectionery connections is long and includes Fera’s, Maillard’s, Sherry’s, Rumpelmayer’s, Schrafft’s, Mary Elizabeth’s, and a number of early 20th century chains. These restaurants were known for being ultra-respectable – and clean — and they were especially popular with women.

Going back to the 18th century, Samuel Fraunces of New York’s landmark Fraunces Tavern produced confectionery. He advertised in 1766 that he could supply “Syllabubs, Creams, Blamois [Blanc Mange], Custards, Cakes and Pastries of all Sorts … Wedding Cakes … and a universal Assortment of Sweetmeats.” Catering and supplying wedding cakes was already a hallmark of the confectionery restaurant.

At that time confectioners produced not only candies but fancy pastries, ice cream, and preserved and frozen fruits. These foods were distinctly different than those of the English tradition that dominated the eating-out scene up until about 1840. English eating places were  mostly about meat and alcoholic drinks. In strong contrast, the early confectioners who came to this country from France and Haiti were skilled practitioners of the more refined culinary arts.

Colonials and early Americans understood that consuming confections was somehow Parisian, certainly Continental. In 1773 M. Lenzi arrived upon the scene in New York straight from London and announced that he had catered “Balls, Masquerades, etc. in most of the principal cities of Europe.” He intended to sell “all sorts of fine French, English, Italian and German biskets, preserved fruits; also in brandy, jams, pates, and jellies” as well as “sugar plumbs.”

Up until the 1850s, a confectionery was more than a place to buy sweets. It was equally a restaurant for more discriminating diners. In 1790s Boston, French confectioner M. LeRebour furnished meals in “American, English, and Paris style.” New York’s Mrs. Poppleton, “Restaurateur, Pastry Cook, and Confectioner” supplied delicate items for discerning palates such as Savory Patties, Puff Pastry, Italian Sallads, Fish Sauces, Ornamental Hams, and Anchovy Toasts. In short, she advertised in 1815, she aimed to please “Persons inclined to indulge in the height of European luxury.”

The caterer-confectioner-restaurant complex continued throughout the 19th century and was found across the country. In 1889 Kansan J.C. Hopkins claimed to be the “Maillard’s of Topeka.”

Some interesting twists to the old traditions occurred in the 20th century when Greek immigrants flooded into the confectionery business shortly before it collapsed. Faced with competition from mass produced branded candy many of them expanded into the confectionery-restaurant-luncheonette-tea room business. About the same time the “chain store age” commenced and regional chains of tea room-like confectionery restaurants such as Schrafft’s, Loft’s, DeMet’s, Huyler’s, Reymer’s, Puritan, Priscilla, Pig’n Whistle, etc., grew. Another new twist was that many of the 20th-century places featured soda fountains. Many of these eating places were owned by Greek-Americans who often expanded their candy-making confectionery into a lunch  or tea room when packaged candy bars came to market in the 1920s.

Although the confectionery restaurants of the 20th century were more informal than many of their predecessors, they often had expensively decorated interiors with hardwood paneling and handsome fixtures. This was particularly true of confectaurants such as California’s Paulais. Even though many chain confectioneries became primarily places to grab a quick sandwich, something of their Continental heritage lingered on.

© Jan Whitaker, 2011

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Sweet treats and teddy bears

rumpelmayers343Where could you — once upon a time – enjoy European pastries, cinnamon toast, and ice cream soda while you hugged a teddy bear? Rumpelmayer’s, of course. A very popular rendezvous for pampered New York children after a visit to the zoo or the ballet. I suppose adults could hug the bears too, but Rumpelmayer’s sweetness – its confections, pink walls, and shelves of stuffed toys — might close in on you if you didn’t hold fast to some grown-up habits such as cigarettes and highballs.

rumpelmayer's36REV2Rumpelmayer’s tea and pastry café  began its Manhattan life in 1930 in the new Hotel St. Moritz on the corner of Central Park South and Sixth Avenue. The hotel almost immediately went into foreclosure though it continued in business. Oh, happy day when Repeal commenced in December of 1933 and the St. Moritz announced, “In Rumpelmayer’s, as in the Grill, we will feature a number of bartenders with Perambulating Bars, for serving mixed drinks.” Bars might be everywhere, but Rumpelmayer’s other attractions were not. For decades it provided a jolly spot for children’s birthday parties, lunches, late Sunday breakfasts, and afternoon teas and hot chocolates. It closed around 1998.

rumpelmayerspitcherREV2Always proud of its continental delicacies, New York’s Rumpelmayer’s was related (exactly how I’m not sure) to sister tea shops in London, Paris, and on the Riviera. The original Rumpelmayer’s was begun by an Austrian pastry cook in the German resort town of Baden-Baden in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It then followed its Russian clientele to Cannes and Nice, then later to Mentone and Monte Carlo. In 1903 a shop was opened on Paris’s Rue de Rivoli (pictured, somewhat later) and in 1907 on St. James Street in London. Parisians, infected by Anglomania in the early 20th century, eagerly adopted the afternoon tea custom, in this case reputedly known as having a feeve o’clock-air at “Rumpie’s.” Though it was rated slightly less chic than the Ritz, it attracted mobs of fashionably dressed women who paraded their outfits up to the counter where, according to custom, they speared their chosen pastries with a fork.

In London before World War I Rumpelmayer’s became incorporated into the daily routine of the elite smart set who spent most of their time at the table, beginning with breakfast at 11:00, lunch at the Carlton at 2:00, tea at Rumpelmayer’s at 4:00, a stroll in the park, followed by dinner, then supper a few hours later. Although some Rumpelmayer’s survived well into the 20th century, the pre-WWI lifestyle that gave birth to them did not.

On tea shops and tea rooms, see also:
Mary Elizabeth’s
Schrafft’s
Vanity Fair, etc.
Country tea houses
Lord & Taylor’s Bird Cage
Maillard’s
— Also, search for department stores

© Jan Whitaker, 2009

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Famous in its day: Maillard’s

maillard5thave206Henri Maillard came to New York City from France in the 1840s bringing with him a bit of Paris represented in the pots and pans and fancy moulds he used as a chocolatier. It wasn’t long before he added a catering department to his confectionery at Broadway and Houston. He let the public know he was ready to produce meringues, Charlotte Russes, jellies and ice creams for balls and parties, as well as provide dinners by reservation on his premises. His fame spread beyond New York, leading him to cater an inaugural ball and grand dinners at the Lincoln White House. In 1878 he took the gold medal at the Paris Universal Exposition at which he exhibited solid chocolate statues and vases weighing from 100 to 180 pounds each and a catalog of 3,000 candies.

maillardmarshmallows209When he died in 1900 at age 84, his estate was valued at $2 million, a vast fortune at that time. His son Henry Maillard Jr. continued the business, moving the fashionable restaurant and candy store in 1908 from the lower level of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, its home since the early 1870s, to more luxurious quarters at Fifth Avenue and 35th street (pictured). By this time Maillard’s had long enjoyed a reputation as the premier restaurant of society women. Billing itself as “An Ideal Luncheon Restaurant for Ladies,” it also offered afternoon tea from 3 to 6 p.m. In 1913 Maillard’s opened a branch in Stern’s Department Store.

maillardext207In 1922 Maillard’s made another move, this time to Madison Avenue at 47th street. At this address it added something new, a dining room for men with its own entrance separate from the larger women’s dining room. It was undoubtedly this location which attracted the patronage of James Beard, who would later write, “In the ‘twenties in New York, you’d have a good cup of Maillard hot chocolate and a chicken sandwich for 75 cents and you thought you were whirling through the world.” In the 1920s there was also a Maillard’s restaurant and store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago where patrons lunched on delicate sandwiches of cream cheese and white cherries.

During the Depression Maillard’s failed. The Chicago location was taken over by the Fred Harvey corporation as its first non-railroad restaurant, while a syndicate took over the New York location and the Maillard’s name. Although Maillard’s candy was produced until the 1960s or later, the restaurant at Madison and 47th, which advertised mundane economy lunches of corned beef, veal cutlets, and chopped ham sandwiches during the 1930s, closed in 1942.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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