Category Archives: restorators

They delivered

Many restaurants survived the past year’s shutdown by offering curbside pickup as well as delivery by outside services. Neither takeout nor delivery is a new idea. Both stretch back into at least the 18th century when French-influenced “restorators” in cities offered a range of ready-to-eat food to be picked up or delivered to homes.

Deliveries included soups – a specialty of restorators – oysters, and full meals. A typical newspaper notice would closely resemble that of J. B. LeRebour of Salem MA in 1800, offering “all the delicacies that the season and market can afford . . . dressed for the epicure . . . Families in town may be supplied with Dinners and Suppers at the shortest notice.”

Notices in 1815 and 1816 from the versatile New York restaurateur, pastry cook, and confectioner Mrs. Poppleton give an idea of the kind of food that epicurean families might order. They included: Almond Soup; Savory Patties; Lobster Puddings; Chicken, Eel, and Game Pies; Anchovey Toasts; Omelettes; Italian Sallads; and Cold and Ornamented Hams, Tongues, and Fowls; as well as Savory Cakes and Pies.

Mrs. Poppelton also provided ladies with party trays. Clearly the notion of restaurant-ing then was closely tied to that of catering.

With the decline and disappearance of the French-influenced restorators by the 1840s, it seems as though home delivery pretty much dried up for a while.

Toward the end of the 19th century, some women interested in reducing household drudgery began to dream of a future when cooked food would be delivered to homes. Writer and thinker Helen Starrett, author of After College – What?, predicted in 1889 that cooking would one day leave the home just as had soap and butter making. She believed that meal delivery would succeed as a business “because capital will find it profitable.”

It wasn’t always profitable, though. Perhaps Starrett was unaware of the startling collapse in 1884 of one of the earliest for-profit ventures, The New-York Catering Company. Despite a strong beginning, with $100,000 capital and floods of orders from families, it failed due to poor management and the disappearance of subscribers during summer when they left town for the countryside.

The fate of other early companies is mixed. In 1890 the Boston Catering Company delivered not only dinner but also lunch and breakfast. Founded by Thomas D. Cook, it was carried on by son Walter. It fared better than The 20th Century Food Co. of New Haven CT, which lasted little more than a year. Its menus offered a range of choices in 1900, such as Breaded Lamb Chops, Beef Stew and Dumplings, and Corned Beef Hash.

Despite failures aplenty, interest in home delivery of ready-to-eat meals did not disappear, and grew even stronger in the early 20th century propelled by the “servant shortage.” Co-operative projects, such as the Women’s Industrial and Educational Union in Boston and the Central Co-operative Kitchen in Minnesota’s Twin Cities tried to take up the slack. And a number of women around the country began to run small enterprises out of their home kitchens, hiring boys on bicycles to deliver within relatively short distances.

Profit-making restaurant-based food delivery grew stronger at the same time. Examples include the Laboratory Kitchen of Boston, which retained a strong flavor of the co-operative movement. But other restaurants were purely business. For them, delivery was encouraged by the number of people able to order via telephone. Two New York tea rooms, The Colonia and The Fernery, delivered to businessmen who called in orders from their offices.

It wasn’t long before Chinese restaurants were taking delivery orders by telephone. And in the 1930s, fried chicken became a popular restaurant specialty for delivery. An interesting development was the opening of the first unit of the fried chicken delivery chain Flying Chicken in Albuquerque in 1946. Like the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain established in 1952, it did not provide any dining facilities. It advertised with slogans such as “Prepare Dinner with One Finger – Use Your Phone, Not Your Stove.”

Through the 1950s and 1960s, the idea of home delivery remained strong, increasingly focused on relatively limited menus, such as pizza, barbecue, or chicken, rather than full dinners or choices of many entrees. Still, here and there someone would start up full-service meal delivery with more ambitious selections and higher prices. For example, the Casserole Kitchen in New York City, begun in 1951 by a continentally trained chef, offered about 10 entrees each day. A sample dinner was Green Turtle Soup, Ham Imperial, Brussels Sprouts, Salad, and Vienna Chocolate Cake.

It wasn’t influential – and certainly not typical – but it’s impossible not to mention a phenomenon of the 1960s, San Francisco’s Magnolia Thunderpussy. Named for its proprietor, it was an eating place in Haight-Ashbury whose x-rated menu featured suggestively-named ice cream desserts and basic grub like stew (Mouthpiece Menage), and chili. Deliveries continued until 4 a.m., often handled by Magnolia herself.

Today’s “ghost kitchen” concept – restaurant-less kitchens used only to prepare food for delivery — obviously isn’t new at all, going back to businesses such as the New York Catering Company of the 1880s. The arrangement remained strong in the 1950s and 1960s, even continuing into the 1980s. Examples include Phone-A-Feast (Peoria IL); The Orbit (Jersey City NJ); Mr. Dinner (Columbus OH); and Bring Me My Dinner (Stamford CT). General Mills, however, did not succeed with its trials of the concept: Order Inn was shut down in 1988 after one year, while the next experiment, Bringers, ended in 1992 after a two-year trial in Minneapolis.

Another delivery concept — such as Uber Eats or Grubhub that bring orders from any number of restaurants — isn’t new either. Messenger services, such as the Boys With the Red Sweaters (Bakersfield CA, 1910), provided early meal delivery for Chinese restaurants. In the early 1990s Las Vegans were served by Entrees on Trays, which handled deliveries from 20 restaurants.

Apart from pizza and Chinese food, it’s my sense that there were fewer restaurants and kitchens that delivered food to homes (and offices) in the 1980s and 1990s, perhaps because that was a time when going out to eat, often for entertainment as well as nourishment, became very popular with a wide swath of the population.

© Jan Whitaker, 2021

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Taste of a decade: the 1830s

Although the U. S. population exceeded 12 million, only about 5% lived in the ten largest cities in 1830. Most Americans lived in sparsely populated areas where they rarely encountered restaurants — nor could they afford them.

Nonetheless, those who did patronize “restaurants” – then more likely to be called restorators, refectories, restaurats, eating houses, coffee houses, or victualing cellars – noticed a growing French influence grafted onto the predominant plain English style of cooking. The word “restaurant,” when used in this decade, usually had the modifier “French” preceding it.

To the relief of diners, it was becoming easier to find eating places that would serve dishes a la carte at the hour the diner wished to eat rather than having a pre-determined meal served only at set hours.

At most eating places the three F’s dominated menus: Fish, Flesh, and Fowl. And, of course, oysters were tremendously popular with all social classes. Occasionally, a restaurant offering a more varied bill of fare could be found, such as that at Robert G. Herring’s American Coffee House in Philadelphia that includes Green “Pease,” String Beans, Lobsters, Frogs, Sardines, Anchovy Toast, Omelet with Asparagus, and Strawberries and Cream.

Patrons of wealth and sophistication indulged in the finest foods that could be found in major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. According to one observer, worldly young men were becoming knowledgeable about “culinary details” in the early 1830s. “It has become wonderfully fashionable lately in discoursing upon eatable matters,” wrote the author of A Short Chapter on Dining, “to parade the names of a dozen or two of French dishes.”

At the same time a spirit of abstemiousness was spreading as people rejected “ardent spirits” such as gin, rum, whiskey, and brandy. Temperance followers also condemned restaurants themselves, viewing most of them as “grog shops.” During the cholera pandemic of 1832, some temperance advocates went so far as to blame the high death rate among the poor not on urban filth and polluted drinking water, but on alcohol consumption, particularly by Irish immigrants.

In the larger cities, New York especially, many couples and families chose to live in hotels and boarding houses rather than run their own households, finding it both cheaper and easier. Others, who lived in their own residences, took their meals in nearby hotels or had them delivered by a restaurateur.

Two English women who visited this country wrote scathing accounts of life here, painting Americans as shallow, grasping, and dull. In Frances Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans, she observed how American conversation frequently included the word “dollar,” and also noted, “They consume an extraordinary quantity of bacon.” The actress Fanny Kemble’s Journal (1835) included among its “vituperative remarks” criticism of New York hotels and their rigid meal schedules.

As railroads and waterways were extended, newly settled areas of the country gained access to more oysters, seafood, and exotic fruits. In 1832 a traveler recorded that he ate “fine sea fish and oysters one hundred and fifty miles inland – drank punch from fruit imported from the Indies, at Pittsburg, and sat down to a dessert in Cincinnati, the ingredients of which were the delicacies of every clime.”

Highlights

1831 After visiting the dining room of the recently opened Tremont House in Boston, a Baltimore man writes that he finds it an “essential improvement in tavern keeping” that everyone dining there receives a bill of fare listing all dishes to be served at that meal. Otherwise, he comments, a diner departing from the dining hall usually discovers favorite dishes placed on another part of the long shared table that never made it to him.

1832 In Domestic Manners of the Americans, Frances Trollope asks why Americans are so fond of boarding in residential hotels: “What can induce so many . . . citizens to prefer these long, silent tables, scantily covered with morsels of fried ham, salt fish and liver, to a comfortable loaf of bread with their wives and children at home?” she writes.

1833 Harvey D. Parker – who will establish the luxury Parker House and Restaurant in 1855 — takes over the Tremont Restorator in a cellar on Boston’s Court Street and publishes the protein-rich bill of fare shown here.

1833 The owner of a new refectory on Whale Street in Nantucket advertises that he will provide Pies, Tarts, Custards, Oysters, Fish Chowder, Hot Chocolate, Coffee, Mush & Milk, Beer, and Cider, but that he has promised his landlord he will “keep no ardent spirits of any description for sale” even though he knows it will mean lower profits.

1834 Francois Parrot, “French Cook, Restaurateur & Confectioner” in Philadelphia, announces “that after a long residence with the Count of Survilliers, he has, with recommendations from him for professional capacity and moral character (which he will be happy to shew any one), determined to set up a Cooking Establishment and Eating House in Philadelphia.”

1835 The popular Alexander “Sandy” Welsh, president of the Hoboken Turtle Club and famous for his green turtle soup, expands his Terrapin Lunch in New York City and is now able to accommodate 150 seated in small groups.

1836 After the opening of the Merchant’s Exchange Lunch on Broadway, a patron sends a glowing review to the editor of the New York Herald citing its fine cooking, clean tablecloths, damask napkins, excellent ventilation, and cheerful servers. “Only think,” he writes, “a plate of the best meat, including four kinds of vegetables, and the best butter also, in these dear times too, is only eighteen pence.”

1837 Following the destruction of their restaurant on William Street in the great fire of 1835, the Delmonico brothers open a new 4-story restaurant on the corner of Beaver and William Streets. [1880 photo shown at top, demolished 1890] Visitors are overwhelmed with its magnificence, particularly its wine vaults that extend 180 feet under the streets and hold 20,000 bottles of imported French and German wine. The restaurant’s resplendence is all the more striking as the city suffers bank failures, worthless currency, and economic depression.

1837 Outrage erupts when New Yorker Samuel E. Cornish, editor of The Colored American, discloses that he was refused service at a temperance eating house run by an abolitionist Scottish immigrant. Explaining that he has never before encountered discrimination of this sort, Cornish writes, “It remained for a foreigner, in a cellar cook-room, to insult a native citizen, of 17 years residence in this city; and to deny a minister of Christ, of gray hairs, and twenty-five years’ standing in the Presbyterian church, a cup of Tea.”

1837 As a result of economic collapse, businesses distrust paper money and refuse to give coins [aka “specie”] as change. When they do agree to accept bills they return change in the form of tickets good for future purchases. A patron of a NYC eating house becomes indignant when “a negro named Downing,” “a black villain,” refuses to accept his dollar bill. But the newspaper to which he has complained defends the proprietor, asking, “Why should any man be compelled to take worthless paper money for his goods and wares? When I visit Downing’s, I never give or take paper money. I pay in specie entirely.”

1839 At a “restaurat” in New Orleans, patrons attending summer balls are warned not to bring their guns.

© Jan Whitaker, 2018

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Soup and spirits at the bar

soupIn the 1970s the National Park Service reconstructed the historic late-18th-century City Tavern in Philadelphia for use as a restaurant. An article that describes how the tavern was to be furnished noted that originally the bar was used for more than just serving alcoholic beverages. As a 1796 advertisement below shows, it also served soup which was kept hot on a stove behind the bar.

soup1796PhiladelphiaHaving soup available at the bar of a tavern or coffee house sounds odd today, but it was quite common in the late 18th century and the early 19th century. Some of the places that announced soup in their advertisements were ordinaries or coffee houses that served dinners and suppers at stated times or by arrangement. But others were primarily drinking places, such as Baker’s Porter Cellar which opened in Boston in 1796. It’s main purpose was to serve “wines and spirits of all kinds” and it specialized in “genuine draught and bottled London porter.”

soup1807NYCommonly, soup became available from 11 am until 1 pm each day, though some establishments offered it as early as 8 am and others kept serving it as late as 5 pm. A few times a week prized turtle soup would appear. In those places that were more than drinking spots and served full meals, soup was usually ready by 10 or 11 am, several hours in advance of the main meal.

soupTheEmporiumofArts&Sciences1815

So-called restorators, which were usually run by Frenchmen, always served soup, both as a standard part of a meal and alone in the morning, possibly with a glass of wine. Like the original Paris restaurants, based on soup and taking the name “restaurant” from it, they promised that their soup would restore health for those who were feeling under the weather. Boston’s Dorival & Deguise assured patrons that “nothing will be wanting on their part, to give Satisfaction, and restore Health to the Invalids, whose Constitutions require daily some of their rich, and well seasoned Brown, and other Soupes.”

I have seen one reference to an 1820s “soup and steak establishment,” that of Frederick Rouillard who carried on after the death of Julien’s wife in Boston, as well as running a hotel in Nahant MA. His “menu” reminds me of Paris bouillon parlors that served bouillon and bouilli, the bouillon being the strained liquid in which beef and vegetables had been simmered, and the bouilli being the beef which was served with the vegetables, all of it making an inexpensive two-dish meal.

Although some 19th-century Americans disliked the “foreign” French custom of beginning a meal with soup, soup soon became a standard part of most restaurant menus, as it still is. Advertisements for morning soups became rare in the 1830s, but I don’t know whether it was because it was so well-known a practice by then that there was no need to advertise or because it was no longer done.

© Jan Whitaker, 2014

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Variations on the word restaurant

Although I have found the word “restaurant” used as early as 1830, it wasn’t until about 1850 that it became common in the United States. Before that there were a variety of related words which can be seen developing into the present-day usage.

The first, in this country, was restorator, introduced as far as is known by Jean Baptiste Gilbert Julien in Boston (his restorator pictured below). A newspaper announced in July of 1793 that he had “established a HOTEL, in Leverett’s Lane, opposite the Quaker Meeting House, under the denomination of The RESTORATOR – by which it is to be understood a Resort where the infirm in health, the convalescent, and those whose attention to studious business occasions a lassitude of nature, can obtain the most suitable nourishment.”

The word restorator is an Anglicized version of the French word restaurateur. Restaurateur, in France of the late 18th century, meant an eating place where health-restoring soups (called “restaurants”) could be consumed. These were not just any kind of soups but what might almost be called liquid meat. M. Julien revealed in 1794 that he made his of “Good lean Beef, Veal and Fowls [and] Turtle flesh.”

Shortly after Julien began his restorator others did the same. Dorival & Deguise opened in Boston in 1796, promising to dress their victuals “in the American and French Modes.” They too furnished “Brown” and other soups. At the same time Claret & Mitchell opened a restorator in Charleston SC. By 1800 eating places calling themselves by this name were to be found in Philadelphia, Portsmouth NH, Salem MA, and Portland ME.

But very soon a variation, restorateur (also, less commonly, restaurator), began to crop up which more closely resembled the French word restaurateur, which also came into use then. The first mention of this I’ve found was in 1803, in Charleston, the State Coffee-House and Restaurateur Hotel. Meanwhile Boston clung to restorator, which appears occasionally as late as the 1860s.

Restaurateur soon began to take on a double meaning, applying both to a place and a profession, as in a somewhat ambiguous 1807 advertisement for “Charles Benoit, Restaurateur, who has moved to no. 1 Murray street [NYC], where he will run an Ordinary every day at 2 o’clock which he will keep ‘in the Parisien manner.’” By the 1830s restaurateur clearly denoted a profession.

One of the first uses of restaurant with reference to an eating place, if not the first, is on the occasion of the opening of Delmonico’s “Restaurant Francais” in 1831. I’ve also seen the word used to refer to eating places in New Orleans (1836), Washington (1838), and, amazingly enough even Boston (Ford’s Restaurant, 1843).

About the same time that the word restaurant was first adopted, another variation came into use minus the N: restaurat. The earliest use of this word I’ve seen is in 1821 in NYC, but also in New Orleans in 1837 (and 1863), Galveston in 1842, St. Louis in 1844, Houston in 1848 (and 1865), and San Antonio in 1853. Sometimes a period follows, suggesting the word might be an abbreviation for restaurateur. An encyclopedia published in NY in 1831 gives this explanation:
— Restaurateur, Fre., a cook, in France, who keeps victuals already dressed, to be served in the house or abroad, at the person’s request, of which he presents you a list for your choice, called carte du jour, a bill of fare.
— Restaurat, the house where the establishment of restaurateur is kept.

Was it because of restaurat’s ending – RAT — that restaurant won out?

© Jan Whitaker, 2010

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“Eating healthy”

Restaurants (and their critics) have often shown concern with patrons’ health, but the focus of concern has varied widely in different eras.

In the 18th century the idea that restaurants had a mission to restore health came to this country from France. The legend spread that a Frenchman named Boulanger invented the first restaurant, hanging out a signboard stating “I will restore you.” Whether or not this actually occurred — or whether he was “the first” — it is true that early restaurants in France promised to provide healthful dishes. The mission migrated to America as chefs arrived after the French revolution. When Julien’s opened in Boston the proprietor vowed to supply the infirm, convalescent, and weak with “nourishing” soups and broths, including turtle soups which, he advertised, would purify the blood.

But the early French “restorators” were voices shouting in the wilderness. For most of the next two centuries Americans believed their health depended on eating meat and lots of it. In the latter 19th century and into the 20th, concern shifted to unsanitary conditions in restaurants as health departments were created, ordinances established, and inspectors dispatched.

The vegetarian restaurants of the early 20th century demonstrated a renewed interest in healthy diets. Meat substitutes produced by the Kelloggs of the Battle Creek Sanitarium appeared on their tables, although breakfast cereals, whose popularity was aided by restaurant promotions, were undoubtedly the most successful of all health food products.

The food conservation guidelines of World War I lightened diets, with less meat and more vegetables on restaurant menus, as well as spreading knowledge of nutrition. A few chains, such as J. R. Thompson and Childs, provided vitamin and calorie counts in the 1920s. But the public was not too receptive. Stockholders booted out William Childs after he gained control of the mighty lunchroom corporation and removed meat from its menus, causing sales to plunge drastically.

After a prolonged beef-eating revival following the end of WWII rationing, health-conscious restaurants made a comeback as part of a counterculture critique of industrialized food. The “holy war against adulterated foods and french-fried, frozen, super sugar wastelands,” reported Mary Reinholz in the Los Angeles Times in 1971, had produced at least 25 organic restaurants in southern California, including H.E.L.P., Aware Inn, The Source, and Nucleus Nuance which served “evolution burgers,” “Virgo vege-loaves,” and carob mousse. One Los Angeles counterculture restaurant favorite, carrot cake, crossed over onto mainstream menus.

Natural food eating places, such as St. Louis’s Sunshine Inn, Long Island’s Shamballah Gardens, the Haven in Honolulu, Homeward Bound in Flagstaff, and Mary’s Natural Food Restaurant in Denton TX, to name but a few, soon spread throughout much of the country, laying the groundwork for the restaurant revival of the 1980s.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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America’s first restaurant

It’s always risky to declare that anything is a first. In some ways Julien’s Restorator, newly opened in July of 1793, may have been similar to the taverns that had been in business in Boston for ages. Almost any kind of eating place at this time would have taken in boarders who not only regularly ate their meals on the premises but slept there as well.

What set Julien’s apart was that he modeled his restorator on the restaurants of Paris. Like them, he emphasized the healthful attributes of his dishes (intended to restore health — thus “restorator” and the French “restaurant”), presented diners with a written menu from which they could choose, and charged them only for what they ordered rather than following the prevailing custom of providing a buffet-type meal at a set price. The newspaper advertisement of which this is a part states that he will furnish soups, broths, pastry, beef, bacon, poultry, wines, and cordials. He later added oysters, green turtle soup, and coffee.

Julien’s full name was Jean Gilbert Julien and he had previously worked as a private cook. At the bottom of the advertisement he states he was “Late Steward to the Honorable Monsieur Letombe, Consul of the French Republic.” He was successful at the Leverett’s Lane site and soon moved up to a substantial house on Milk Street where he remained in business until his untimely death in 1805, whereupon his widow Hannah ran the restaurant for ten years and then sold it to another Frenchman.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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