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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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