Tag Archives: bread lines

Early chains: Vienna Model Bakery & Café

Contemporary bakery restaurant chains such as Au Bon Pain and Panera Bread may have more units but they are scarcely the sensations that Vienna bread cafés were in the 1870s. America was a country that many considered plagued with inferior bread, whether commercial or home baked. The Fleischmann brothers, Charles, Maximillian, and Louis, were determined to improve American bread with their compressed yeast. Although they manufactured it as early as 1872 – as a byproduct of distilled spirits (another Fleischmann enterprise) – its fame was established at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. There the crusty Vienna-style bread produced with Fleischmann’s yeast won a prize for excellence and attained international renown. Although the fair’s Vienna Model Bakery café which served this bread was intended mainly to showcase the baked goods that could be made with the company’s yeast, it became a runaway hit in its own right. Some said the bakery café’s fame was as great as the fair itself.

A short time after the Centennial ended, Vienna Model Bakeries and cafés were opened in Philadelphia, New York City, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Chicago, very likely making this the country’s first restaurant chain. The cafés, whose coffee was as prized as their baked goods, were modeled on European coffee houses and furnished guests with comfortable seating and newspapers from all over the world. The St. Louis branch was so popular it had to move to larger quarters within months of opening. In Chicago, as in New York City, the cafes were located close to the cities’ major dry goods firms, Field & Leiter and A. T. Stewart, respectively, thereby attracting women customers as well as men. In the 1880s New Yorkers could enjoy their refreshments outdoors amidst planters of flowers under a large awning stretching in front of the 10th and Broadway café, which also had a full-scale restaurant on the second floor.

Another distinction of the Manhattan Fleischmann’s was its practice of giving away bread to anyone who would wait in line at midnight. Dubbed “the bread line,” it continued until around 1918 when the bakery café closed.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

4 Comments

Filed under chain restaurants