Tag Archives: restaurant names

Restaurant-ing with the Klan

To some degree, a discussion of the Ku Klux Klan’s relationship to restaurants in the early 1920s follows a familiar path that includes KKK members as restaurant owners and patrons. Not such a big deal.

But then there’s how the KKK influenced restaurants — a more disturbing topic, particularly when it gets into threatening restaurant owners, running them out of town, and destroying their businesses.

In the 1920s, the resurgent Klan had a number of targets, not only Blacks, but also Catholics and immigrants. Greek restaurant operators were often singled out. In Goldsboro NC two Greek restaurant operators were chased out of town because they served Black customers, and a similar fate befell a restaurant keeper in Pensacola FL. In that case three carloads of men dressed in long robes and hoods came into the restaurant one night, handing the restaurant man a letter advising him to leave town right away, which he did. A police captain in the restaurant at the time made no effort to arrest them for wearing masks in public, excusing his inaction by saying he thought they were members of a “Greek-letter fraternity.” In St. Louis MO a Greek restaurant operator was threatened with violence if he and his friends — called “low-class immigrants” — did not leave the country.

In Jonesboro AR the Klan called a boycott of businesses owned by Catholics and Jews, which included mills, stores, and restaurants. Anticipating a similar action in Little Rock, many businesses suddenly posted signs advertising they were “100 per cent” or “strictly” American. After a patron left, an “all-American” restaurant owner might have found a card had been left behind similar to the one shown here.

The presence of the KKK in an area, as well as a generally heightened level of intolerance throughout the country, inspired imitators. It was apparently a non-Klan group in Chester PA, who entered a Greek-run restaurant and chased out the customers. Then they formed a circle in the middle of the restaurant, launching their attack upon a signal from the leader. They smashed furniture and crockery and threw a large coffee urn at a worker, resulting in damage running into the thousands of dollars.

The Klan was only one of a number of pre-WWII terrorist groups focused on defending the rights of native-born whites and asserting social and economic control through force. Also, there were irregular mobs that rose up spontaneously in response to perceived assaults on their values and interests. Race riots took place in numerous cities and towns in the early 20th century and especially after WWI. Restaurants were often smashed and burned.

For example, a restaurant owned by Harry Loper in Springfield IL did not survive a race riot in 1908 in which many homes occupied by Blacks were burned. Loper was white, native born, an Elk, and a major in the National Guard. His offense? He loaned his car, one of only two in town, to authorities to spirit two Black prisoners in the city’s jail to safety under threat of lynching. His car was set on fire, and white rioters broke out the restaurant’s windows and smashed the interior furnishings. (see photo at top)

In Muncie IN, a crusading newspaper editor took pains to document all local KKK activity and name the businessmen, police, and other ostensibly respectable citizens who were members. He printed the letter (see above) delivered one night by two black-robed Klansmen on horses warning a white woman not to serve Blacks. He also noted that a number of Klansmen ran restaurants, among them the Blue Bird Inn and another “100% place.” He gloated as they and others failed, concluding that “klucking as business does not pay.”

As for Black-owned restaurants, who knows how many of them went out of business or relocated following mob attacks. There is no comprehensive record, but there are examples. Atlanta had a large number of Black-operated lunchrooms in 1907, the year of its race riot. Charles W. Mosley,  a restaurant owner in Atlanta at the time of the riot, moved his business to Richmond VA a few months later, where he expanded into a hotel, café, and entertainment center with movies, roller skating, and vaudeville performances. During Tulsa’s race riot of 1921, the entire Black Greenwood business district and most residences were destroyed by white rioters, including several dozen eating places.

After looking at the effect of the KKK and their ilk, it seems to me that even after they faded in the late 1920s, they left behind a legacy for decades evident in restaurants that adopted names such as the ever-popular Kozy Korner Kafe and the like.

© Jan Whitaker, 2017

13 Comments

Filed under alternative restaurants, proprietors & careers, racism

Name trouble: Sambo’s

SambosGoletaCA

You might imagine that chain restaurants would spend vast amounts of time and money researching potential names in order to pick one that would convey exactly the desired associations and nuances. Certainly one that would not insult a portion of its intended customers.

I’m sure most do. Sambo’s was not among them.

Wouldn’t the founders of Sambo’s, in the late 1950s, dimly perceive that the name Sambo was not beloved by everyone, especially African-Americans?

Why would they decorate with images from the book “Little Black Sambo,” the American editions of which were filled with racist caricatures?

sambocollage

Evidently they had no idea that Sambo had been – and still was – a derogatory word for black males for over 100 years; that the name and ridiculous images of Sambo were used on many consumer products in the early 20th century; and that after WWII school libraries had complied with requests by African-Americans to remove the book from shelves.

Even if they didn’t know any of this, when protests erupted they might have realized they had made a terrible mistake. Regardless of whether “Sam-bo” originated from the first name of one of them combined with the nickname of the other.

Nope, nope, nope, and double nope.

Instead the founders, their successor, and the corporation that finally took over the chain all insisted right up to the bitter end that no harm was intended or implied. Even as they renamed some units in the East where there had been boycotts, the company insisted the change was purely in order to market their new menus.

sambo's216CabrilloHwy1960The first Sambo’s was opened in Santa Barbara in 1957. [pictured] By 1977, when the son of one of the founders was heading the company, the chain was the country’s largest full-service restaurant chain, with 1,117 units.

But trouble was looming. Protests during the West Coast chain’s expansion into the Northeast had already resulted in renaming units in the Albany NY area “Jolly Tiger.” Eventually there were 13 Jolly Tigers in various towns. Protest would spread to Reston VA, New York, and New England including at least 9 towns in Massachusetts. In 1981 the Rhode Island Commission on Human Rights ordered the company to change its name in that state because indirectly the name violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by denying public accommodations to black persons.

SambosNoPlaceLikeSam'sLogo1981The company responded that it would rename 18 of its Northeastern units “No Place Like Sam’s”; in fact according to an advertisement a few months later they actually renamed 41 units.

Soon thereafter the company began to collapse. In November 1981 it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, closing more than a third of its units. In Leominster and Stoughton MA, early morning customers had to pick up and get out immediately so the restaurants could be padlocked.

In 1982 all, or most, remaining Sambo’s were renamed Seasons. By 1984 most of the Seasons restaurants had been sold to Godfather’s Pizza and other buyers.

The successive name switches undoubtedly hurt business, but a more serious problem was that Sambo’s, like other chains using a coffee shop format with table service and extensive menus, had been steadily losing out to fast food chains.

The chain is kaput yet the beat goes on. The original Sambo’s in Santa Barbara continues in business under new ownership – still using the thoroughly discredited name. On its website it also continues the threadbare tradition of justifying the name as a compound of the founders’ names.

© Jan Whitaker, 2013

38 Comments

Filed under chain restaurants, racism

Busy bees

A 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Nick of Time,” was set in a restaurant outfitted with a devilish fortune-telling device. The restaurant, supposedly in Ohio, was ordinary and undistinguished, with booths and laminated table tops.

The story’s writer chose a common name for it, one found in practically every city and small town across the entire United States: the Busy Bee.

I “collect” this name. To me it resonates with the typical 20th-century eating place. Judging from advertisements for eateries called The Busy Bee, they staked their reputations on being clean, economical, briskly efficient, and friendly.

I also find the name interesting because it is entirely divorced from place, proprietor’s ethnicity, and type of cuisine. Yet I’ve found that many restaurants of this name had proprietors who were of Polish, Italian, or Greek ethnic origins.

In the 19th century it was typical for restaurants to go by their proprietor’s surname. Over the 20th century, by contrast, many restaurants adopted “made up” names that were intended to suggest something positive, appealing, or at least memorable. I suspect that one of the factors propelling this change was the chance to background the ethnicity of the proprietor, particularly around World War I when much of the country became intolerant of those not native born. Busy Bee became one of the most common names around.

Also, restaurants owned by Greek-Americans, of which there were very many, were often run by multiple partners. It would be somewhat unwieldy if, for instance, the proprietors of the Busy Bee in Monessen PA in 1915 had decided to call their restaurant Chrysopoulos, Boulageris, Paradise, & Lycourinos. They might have taken the liberty of dubbing their establishment Four Brothers from Mykonos but they chose Busy Bee instead. [pictured: Busy Bee in Winchester VA — its proprietor, James Pappas, was born in Greece ca. 1889]

I have yet to find a Chinese restaurant called the Busy Bee but I’ll keep looking – I know there had to be a few.

Among many locations, I’ve found Busy Bees in Mobile AL as early as 1898, in Bisbee AZ in 1915, and in New York City’s Bowery, for decades presided over by Max Garfunkel. It was at Max’s Busy Bee, in 1917, that alumni of the Short Story Correspondence Schools of North America convened to greet the author of “Ten Thousand Snappy Synonyms for ‘Said He.’” Many Busy Bees became headquarters for meetings of business, civic, and social clubs.

Busy Bees were not known for any particular culinary specialties, offering instead home cooking favorites plus the inevitable chili and other Americanized foreign dishes such as spaghetti and chop suey. The four popular Busy Bees in Columbus OH, nonetheless, had an attractive array of warm weather choices on their June 29, 1909, menu which included Spring Vegetable Salad (10 cents), as well as Blackberries or Sliced Peaches in Cream (10 cents) and Fresh Peach Ice Cream (15 cents).

The Busy Bee name lives on even today, though perhaps less robustly. I was surprised there was not a single Busy Bee mentioned in Joanne Raetz Stuttgen’s books on contemporary “down home” cafes in Wisconsin and Indiana.

Is there a common restaurant name all around us today that will come to characterize the 21st century?

© Jan Whitaker, 2012

10 Comments

Filed under lunch rooms, miscellaneous

What’s in a name? Restaurants of 1936

To get a feel for restaurants in 1936, when drinking had recently been legalized and the Depression had eased up somewhat, I surveyed restaurants and lunch rooms entries in city directories for that year. I chose 25 cities that were among the US’s 100 largest according to the nearest census, 1940. The biggest city represented in the sample was Detroit (1,623,452) and the smallest was Shreveport LA (98,167).

I quickly discovered that people ate out frequently that year. Of the 25 cities, there were 7 that had a ratio of restaurants to population comparable to NYC today. I doubt that many readers can guess what they were. [See answer below.]

The ratio of restaurants to population is a rough guide to how often people eat out that is commonly used. But, judging from the names of eating place types – the Luncheonettes, Dinettes, Grillettes, Kitchenettes, Cabins, Cottages, Huts, Nooks, Stands, Shacks, and Shanties — it would seem that many of the eating places in 1936 were small, so there may have been less restaurant going than in NYC today. On the other hand many of the restaurant goers in NYC are not inhabitants, a situation that probably did not apply much to the cities in my survey.

The ethnicity of proprietors in each city is hard to compare. In some city directories restaurant and lunch room listings are almost entirely proper names while in others they are mostly business names. Nevertheless there are many ethnicities represented, including German, Greek, Armenian, Polish, Irish, Slavic, and Italian. Every city, except Scranton PA and Flint MI, has at least one or more Chinese restaurants. Long Beach CA has 9 Japanese names listed, and in San Antonio TX about 13% of the names are Mexican. Only 6 cities have the word Kosher in restaurant names, though of course that doesn’t necessarily mean there weren’t other kosher restaurants not so designated (obviously there are risks of reading too much into names).

Three cities, Shreveport LA, Charlotte NC, and Jacksonville FL, designate in proper Jim Crow fashion which restaurants are “colored.” After all, if everyone must stay in their place, they need to know where it is. One quarter of Jacksonville’s eating places are by and for African-Americans, including the Pink Tea Room.

Restaurant types suggest not only smallness, but a degree of humbleness, as the types above indicate. Overall the word Restaurant is used far less often than is Café. Other dominant types are Shops (Coffee [Oklahoma City pictured above], Food, Sandwich, Snack, Soda, Tea, and Waffle) and  Lunches. Diners are found infrequently, with Newark the biggest exception, having 20 diners and 20 lunch wagons. Drive-ins are mostly in Salt Lake City and Houston.

Every city seems to have places offering hamburgers, chili, spaghetti, barbecue, and waffles, but not once did I find the words pizza or pizzeria. Cheerful and corny names abound. Busy Bees are common but so are Cozy Corners and Friendly Lunches. Every imaginable play on Inn can be found, such as Buzz, Dew Drop, Drag-on, Just Ramble, Step, Squeeze, and Swim. Popular culture and current events are conveyed by the Movieland Luncheonette, the Screenland Café, the Shirley Temple Sandwich Shop, and New Deal and Square Deal Lunches. The need to economize and forge ties as workers is evident in St. Paul’s Co-Operative Café, Newark’s Labor Lyceum Restaurant, Omaha’s Farmers Union Café and Tavern, and in Detroit’s Workingmen’s Co-operative Restaurant, International Co-Operative Restaurant, New System Profit Sharing Cafeteria, and People’s Profit Sharing Cafeteria.

There is considerable evidence of both regional and national chains. White Castle System Inc. is by far the most common, but there are numerous other “White Systems” such as White Tower [Scranton pictured above], White Hut, and White Spot. There are also Dixie Sandwich Systems [St. Louis pictured], Pig Stands, Toddle Houses, units of Childs, John R. Thompson, and the Waldorf System, as well as many other forerunners of today’s fast food chains.

Finally, a few of my favorite names of 1936: Omaha’s Boo Koo Café, Kansas City’s Yours & Mine Café, San Antonio’s Wampus Cat Café, Columbus’s Krome Dome System, Oklahoma’s Joy-Boy Café, Louisville’s Hy Skool Tavern, and Houston’s Robert’s Eatorium.

I am forced to conclude it was not a good year for upscale dining.

© Jan Whitaker, 2012

———–
Note: The cities with a ratio of about 1 restaurant for every 350 people were: Cincinnati OH, Kansas City MO, Houston TX, Columbus OH, San Antonio TX, Oklahoma City OK, and Long Beach CA. The complete list of cities in the sample were, in descending population size: Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Newark, Kansas City, Houston, Louisville, Columbus, St. Paul, San Antonio, Omaha, Oklahoma City, Jacksonville, Grand Rapids, Long Beach, Des Moines, Flint, Salt Lake City, Yonkers, Scranton, Fort Wayne, Erie, Tacoma, Charlotte, and Shreveport.

7 Comments

Filed under miscellaneous

Image gallery: tally ho

A persistent theme in 20th-century restaurants, found mainly in names and signs – and thankfully now over – was the coach and four theme. Obviously it is only one of a host of old-time symbols that restaurants have borrowed over the past 100 years. Others include spinning wheels, grist mills, and, oddly enough, brothels, all suggestive of simpler times when things were made by hand and gender roles were clear cut. The names and signs also acted as practical signifiers indicating to prospective patrons that they could expect standard American food to dominate the menu.

Both World War I and World War II stimulated this theme, possibly because Americans were looking for comfort and reassurance. Tea rooms of the First World War era were among the first and the worst offenders when it came to invoking a stable and secure pseudo-past. (When they were in New England, you think, Well, they have a right.  Yeah, maybe.) An even stronger wave of nostalgia washed through the nation’s restaurants after the Second World War, replacing the brash modernism of the 1930s with colonial motifs for coffee shops and cafeterias. Never mind that the actual mode of transportation was bringing smog and sprawl to cities nor that convenience food had overtaken restaurant kitchens whose cooks could no more have cooked from scratch at a fireplace than their patrons could have hitched a buggy.

[Left] One of James Beard‘s favorite restaurants was Greenwich Village’s Coach House. It differed from most of its namesakes in having innovative cuisine. [Right] Another Coach House, in Atlanta.

Another Coast House, in Atlanta.

3 Comments

Filed under restaurant customs