Tag Archives: California

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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(In)famous in its day: the Nixon’s chain

nixonsDriveIn338Since the 35th anniversary of Richard M. Nixon’s 1974 resignation from the presidency was commemorated this past weekend, it’s as good a time as any to focus on his brother Donald’s brief career as a restaurateur in Southern California. In the short span of five years in the 1950s, Don managed to go out of business while doing some serious damage to brother Richard’s political fortunes.

He got into several pickles but the biggest issue concerned a 1956 loan of $205,000 he received from Howard Hughes’s tool company to rescue his failing restaurants. Richard Nixon was VP in the Eisenhower administration at the time. Although Don denied that his brother had any involvement in soliciting the loan, critics were not convinced and persisted in raising questions about several decisions the government made that were beneficial to defense contractor Hughes. The toxic issue dogged Nixon in his unsuccessful 1960 presidential campaign against John Kennedy and again in his failed 1962 California gubernatorial run.

nixonburgerREVThe chain of five Nixon’s restaurants began modestly in 1943 when the Nixon family’s grocery store, established in 1922 by father Francis Nixon in Whittier, added a coffee shop. Although Don was involved in running the coffee shop, his first real business venture took place in 1952 when he opened a drive-in on East Whittier Blvd. (shown above). Two years later he opened Nixon’s Family Restaurant, also on East Whittier, home of the “Nixon Burger” whose unfortunate, opportunistic name would be used to taunt Richard Nixon during his two terms as President. Next Don opened a drive-in near Disneyland, in Anaheim, and a restaurant and bakery in Fullerton. In 1957, despite the Hughes loan and proceeds from the sale of Nixon’s Market to a supermarket chain, Don Nixon put all five restaurants up for sale to settle the chain’s debts.

The Nixon’s at 822 E. Whittier became a Whirly’s Drive-in, which itself went out of business in 1962 or early 1963. The Anaheim Nixon’s, at Harbor Blvd. and Katella Ave., was taken over by the Harris chain of Portland OR in 1958 after it was remodeled to include a cocktail lounge. Cocktails had been prohibited in the Nixon’s restaurants judging from a 1954 ad which proclaimed, “Since children are most welcome at Nixon’s – liquor is never served.”

In subsequent years as President, from 1969 to 1974, Richard Nixon kept close tabs on Don. At one point he had the Secret Service wiretap his phone. Richard also found Don a job that he hoped would keep him out of trouble. In 1970 staunch Republican J. Willard Marriott, founder of the Hot Shoppes and CEO of the Marriott Corporation, agreed to do the President a favor. Marriott appointed Don vice president in charge of franchises and acquisitions on the West Coast. Marriott officials denied that Don had any influence in helping the company win government contracts.

© Jan Whitaker, 2009

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Taste of a decade: 1940s restaurants

DCcafeteria1943During the war (1941-1945) the creation of 17 million new jobs finally pulls the economy out of the Depression. Millions of married women enter the labor force. The demand for restaurant meals escalates, increasing from a pre-war level of 20 million meals served per day to over 60 million. The combination of increased restaurant patronage with labor shortages, government-ordered price freezes, and rationing of basic foods puts restaurants in a squeeze. With gasoline rationing, many roadside cafes and hamburger stands close.

For a time after the war, rationing continues and wholesale prices stay high but patronage falls off as women leave jobs and return to the kitchen. Trained restaurant personnel are in short supply. Restaurants take advantage of food service methods and materials developed for the armed services. The frozen food industry supplies restaurants with fish, French fries, and baked goods. Boil-in bags of pre-cooked entrees become available. Fast food assembly lines and serving techniques used by the military are transferred to commercial establishments.

Highlights

1940 Based on how many restaurant tablecloths have numbers scribbled on them, executives of the National Restaurant Association reason that mealtime deals are being made and that business is finally bouncing back from the Great Depression.

toffenetti3321941 When the restaurant in the French pavilion at the New York World’s Fair closes, its head Henri Soulé decides he will not return to a Paris occupied by Germans. He and ten waiters remain in New York and open Le Pavillon. Columnist Lucius Beebe declares its cuisine “absolutely faultless,” with prices “of positively Cartier proportions.” – Chicago cafeteria operator Dario Toffenetti, who also had a successful run at the Fair, decides to open a cafeteria in Times Square.

1942 According an official of the National Restaurant Association, nearly one tenth of the 1,183,073 employees and proprietors in the U.S. restaurant business are in California.

1943 Decreeing that patrons will not need to turn in ration coupons for restaurant meals, Washington makes a fateful decision that will fill restaurants to the bursting point. In Chicago, restaurants in the “Loop” experience nearly a 25% increase over the year before, while in New York City patronage doubles and earlier seatings must be devised.

1943 Food imports cease and Chinese restaurants cannot get bamboo shoots. They substitute snow peas, now grown in California and Florida. Because of restrictions, restaurants of all kinds leave cakes unfrosted and substitute honey and molasses for sugar. Instead of beef, lamb, and pork, vegetable plates, fish, omelets, spaghetti, and salad bowls fill menus.

1944 In Reno, Nevada, the White House offers a menu with many fish, seafood, and poultry selections, including lobster, crab legs, frog legs, oysters, fried prawns, brook trout, guinea hen, squab, pheasant, sweetbreads, turkey, duckling, and chicken a la king.

schrafftsrockefellerctr19481946 Like health departments all across the country, NYC begins a crack down on unsanitary conditions in restaurants, a problem that worsened with skeleton crews and extended mealtimes during wartime. An official says that of five inspections he witnessed only a Schrafft’s (shown here: Schrafft’s at Rockefeller Center) could be pronounced “sanitary and clean.”

1947 The Raytheon Corporation, maker of radar systems and components for the military, teams with General Electric to introduce the first microwave oven, the Radarange. Not available for home use initially, it is rented to hotels and restaurants for $5 a day.

1947 After numerous Afro-Americans are refused service in Bullocks department store tea room in Los Angeles, a group sponsored by C.O.R.E. stages a sit-in. Later a supportive white veteran publishes a letter to the editor of a paper declaring that since black soldiers regarded it as their duty to protect him from the “enemy abroad” during wartime, he now feels it is his duty “to protect them from the enemy at home.”

1948 An advice column tells girls to let their date handle all restaurant transactions, including complaints or questions about overcharges. “The girl does not intrude or ask, later, who won the argument,” advises the columnist. – In Chicago, a year-long trade school program in professional cooking enrolls veterans to help relieve the city’s acute chef shortage.

howardjohnsons1949 Howard Johnson’s, the country’s largest restaurant chain, reports a record volume of business for the year. HoJos, which has not yet spread farther west than Fort Wayne IN, plans a move into California.

Read about other decades: 1800 to 1810; 1810 to 1820; 1820 to 1830; 1860 to 1870; 1890 to 1900; 1900 to 1910; 1920 to 1930; 1930 to 1940; 1950 to 1960; 1960 to 1970; 1970 to 1980

© Jan Whitaker, 2009

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