Tag Archives: Chicago

Department store restaurants: Marshall Field’s

mfwalnutroom092271In 1890 Harry Gordon Selfridge, manager of Field’s in Chicago, took the then-unusual step of persuading a middle-class woman to help with a new project at the store. Her name was Sarah Haring (pictured) and she was the wife of a businessman and a mother. In the parlance of the day, she was needed to recruit “gentlewomen” (= middle-class WASPs) who had “experienced reverses” (= were unexpectedly poor), and knew how to cook “dainty dishes” (= middle-class food) which they were willing to prepare and deliver to the store each day.

sarahharing1894And so — despite Marshall Field’s personal dislike of restaurants in dry goods stores — the Selfridge-Haring-gentlewomen team created the first tea room at Marshall Field’s. It began with a limited menu, 15 tables, and 8 waitresses. Sarah Haring’s recruits acquitted themselves well. One, Harriet Tilden Brainard, who initially supplied gingerbread, would go on to build a successful catering business, The Home Delicacies Association. Undoubtedly it was Harriet who introduced one of the tea room’s most popular dishes, Cleveland Creamed Chicken. Meanwhile, Sarah would continue as manager of the store’s tea rooms until 1910, when she opened a restaurant of her own, patenting a restaurant dishwasher in her spare time.

The store’s first tea room met with success. When Field’s Wabash Street annex opened in 1893, an expansion timed to the World’s Columbian Exposition, the tea room moved into that space, seating 300 and taking up the entire 4th floor.mfmenu229

More tea rooms were added, including the Walnut Room which opened on the 7th floor of the new State Street building in 1907 (pictured, 1909). By this time the store’s restaurants could accommodate 2,500 people. Considering that the holiday season could attract as many as 200,000 shoppers daily, they were all needed. By the 1920s there were seven restaurants altogether: the Narcissus Fountain Room, the North Grill Room, the South Grill (aka Circassian Walnut Room), the Wabash Avenue Tea Room, the Colonial Quick Service Tea Room, the Wedgwood Room, and the Men’s “Grill” in the Store for Men.

mfmensgrill228A graduate of Chicago’s School of Domestic Arts and Sciences named Beatrice Hudson opened the all-male sanctum Men’s Grill (pictured) about 1914 and was responsible for developing a famed corned beef hash which stayed on the menu for 50+ years. Later she would own several restaurants in Los Angeles, coming out of retirement at age 76 to manage the Hollywood Brown Derby and again in her 80s to run The Old World Restaurant in Westwood.

The Depression evidently took a toll on the store’s restaurants because by 1941 only four remained. According to an advertisement customers could enjoy their North Shore Codfish Cakes, Canadian Cheese Soup, French Bread, and Chicken Pie in either the “Stately Walnut Room, picturesque Narcissus Fountain Room, rose-carpeted English Room, [or] serve-yourself Crystal Buffet.” For many years no liquor was served in Field’s restaurants – except for the Men’s Grill. Liquor or no, by 1952 the store’s restaurants sometimes fed as many as 25,000 people a day.

In later years many customers preferred to grab a quick snack and the store obliged. In the 1980s the 7th floor housed three cafeterias, a self-service pizza/pasta/salad bar, and a take-out sandwich stand. The full-service Walnut Room, however, continued, and was especially popular with Chicagoans for whom dining there was a family holiday tradition.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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Filed under department stores, tea shops, women

Anatomy of a restaurateur: H. M. Kinsley

Herbert M. Kinsley, a leading Chicago restaurateur of the later 19th century, faced many obstacles. Like many in the restaurant business, his was a high-energy career full of zigs and zags. Born in Canton MA in 1831, he began working at a young age, picking up a skill of great value for his future, bookkeeping. After several years in retailing he entered hotel stewarding in Cincinnati, then Chicago and Canada.

He returned to Chicago in the early 1860s and was employed in hotels. In 1865 he acquired the restaurant in Chicago’s Opera House where he established a reputation as a skilled restaurateur, but lost money. He sold the business, spent some time setting up railroad hotels and dining cars, and then in 1868 started another restaurant in Chicago on Washington Street. The following year he reportedly also ran the first Pullman dining car, on the Chicago-Northwestern railway. In 1870 he opened a restaurant in the new planned community of Riverside IL, which likely went out of business when the development faltered shortly after its inception, about the same time his Washington Street restaurant was badly damaged in the Great Fire of 1871. He once again left Chicago, to open hotels on the Baltimore & Ohio line.

When he returned to Chicago he took over a restaurant called Brown’s, in 1874 during a nationwide depression. A few months later he closed it, announcing, “The expenses of a fashionable restaurant just now are too great, and the receipts too small, to warrant keeping it open longer.” The furniture and fixtures were auctioned and he leased out the premises, keeping just enough space to continue his catering business.

A few years later he dared to try again and opened a new place, finally meeting with success. By 1884 Kinsley’s was considered Chicago’s finest restaurant and society’s first choice for catering dinners and parties. In 1885 he built a new four-story restaurant on Adams Street. Short of capital to complete this costly venture, he turned to one of Chicago’s noted restaurant backers, the liquor distributor Chapin & Gore.

Kinsley took positions on the issues of race and tipping that were at odds with many restaurateurs of his time. He declared in 1880s he was always willing to serve Afro-American customers, thought black waiters were among the finest, and found tipping a reasonable system of remuneration that encouraged good service. He was fond of large silver serving pieces (coffee urn pictured) and authored a book for Gorham Silver on chafing dish recipes.

In 1891, he and son-in-law Gustav Baumann opened the new and elegant Holland House hotel in New York City, hiring a Delmonico veteran as steward, importing a French chef, and sinking $350,000 into the wine cellar. In 1892 architect Daniel Burnham hired Kinsley to plot the logistics of restaurants for the Chicago World’s Fair. That same year Kinsley’s was the site of a lavish inaugural dinner for the Fair that hosted the Vice President of the US and 6 cabinet members, former President Rutherford Hayes, 27 governors, 4 supreme court justices, 17 ministers of foreign governments, and countless dignitaries. After H.M.’s untimely death in 1894, his Chicago restaurant continued under new management until 1905 when the building was razed. For years to come it would be remembered as a symbol of a lost era.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

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