Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores

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DavidEMartin
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2006/06/13 12:14:57 (permalink)

Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores

I was having a conversation with a high schooler. He was telling me about his classes that day and mentioned in History they were discussing the Lunch Counter Sit-ins of the 50s.

Then he asked "What's a 'lunch counter'?"

After the initial shock of being reminded that I'm middle-aged (50), I explained to him how dimestores had a diner where you could get a simple meal for a buck or two.

"What's a 'dimestore'?"

sigh.....

Anyway, that got me to noticing how this once-plentiful aspect of the American hospitality business has pretty much gone extinct. Dimestores usually had their lunch counters right up in the window (seems to me the right side of a Woolworth's). Drugstores usually had the paperback stand and the magazine rack somewhere nearby, with a big sign telling patrons to BUY the magazines before taking them to the lunch counter.

Even as dimestores mutated into Woolco's and K-Marts, the lunch counters survived, at least for a time. A short-order cook was able to provide you with anything he could make on a grill or in a fryer. But then sometime in the past 15-20 years, the general purpose lunch counter was replaced by modules that served reheated franchise food.

I can't think of when I last saw a drugstore that had a lunch counter.

Department stores, depending on their size, had lunch counters AND restaurants. Higbee's Department Store, the haunt of my '60s Cleveland childhood, had a stand-up snack bar in the basement, a cafeteria, a coffee shop, and The Minotaur Room, a really nice restaurant with murals of Greek mythology.

Mall stores had their restaurants too, always smaller but at least worth the time to seek out. Higbee's Severance Mall store had a really good smorgasbord on Saturday, for example. The Gimbel's in Brookfield Square (here in Milwaukee, my current home) had their restaurant on a balcony overlooking the rest of the mall.

Now? Nothing. Department stores got out of the restaurant business, sending customer and employee alike to the food court. Of all the department stores in Milwaukee, only Goldman's Department Store stubbornly, proudly retains their lunch counter. They even exploit the fact that since such a thing is an anachronistic rarity, it can be a tourist attraction.

So...... anyone know any lunch counters or department store restaurants that survive? Or care to share any memories?

#1

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    renfrew
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/13 12:47:27 (permalink)
    No Memories of these as I am also too young. However all the Nordstrom's I have been too have had a restaurant. and a small cafe. Not really a lunch counter though.

    In Belgium there is a department store chain called Inno. I have dined in their restaurant which was pretty good. Full menus, real silverware and glasses, etc. I remember talking with my wife about how weird this was, since in the US we dont have this at all. This was about 5 years ago.
    #2
    Ashphalt
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/13 12:51:46 (permalink)
    That is sad. I just did some research on the Web and it looks as though even Macy's Herald Square has farmed their dining rooms and lunch counters out to McD's, Annie's Pretzels and Starbucks (please tell me if I'm wrong).

    You did remind me that I heard of one still in existence, at least a couple of years ago, on our local restaurant review show, The Phantom Gourmet. http://www.phantomgourmet.com/Showpage.aspx?content=ReportCard&id=3175


    PhantomGourmet.com
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Mary Anne's Luncheonette

    446 Main St.
    Medfield, MA 02052
    (508) 359-6859






    Lord's in Medfield, Massachusetts, is true throwback. In the age of Super-Duper-Mega-Marts, this family owned department store has thrived for 65 years offering one stop shopping for everything from clothes to canning jars. And at the back of the store, behind the school supplies, is another blast from the past, an old-fashioned lunch counter.

    Mary Ann's Luncheonette is one of the few lunch counters still in existence. And as you might expect, the Fonzie-friendly atmosphere is straight out of the fifties. Black and white tiles, a red stool lined counter, and some of the nicest folks you'll ever meet.

    Mary Anne Richmann - Owner, Mary Anne's Luncheonette: "You come here to lunch and you're never by yourself, you'll always know somebody, and if you don't know the person you're sitting next to, you'll make a friend while you're having lunch."

    It seems like everyone here really does know everyone else, and just like the old days, customers come to chew and chit-chat.

    Mary Anne Richmann - Owner, Mary Anne's Luncheonette: "Most of the people that come in here everyday, we know them by first names and 'how's your kids, how's the dog, how's the cat?'"

    As friendly as the atmosphere is at the counter, it's just as homey in the kitchen, which looks more like it belongs at your grandmother's house than a restaurant. And the wholesome fare coming off the grill would make granny proud.

    Mary Anne Richmann - Owner, Mary Anne's Luncheonette: "There's a lot of TLC that goes into everything that we make. 'And we have a lot of fun doing it too.' That's right."

    Everything is made from scratch, like the French Onion soup, smothered in cheese. Other comfort food favorites include Ali's Grilled Cheese, and Mary Ann's Cobb Salad with chicken, blue cheese, and egg. Of course no '50s feast would be complete without a classic cheeseburger.

    Mary Anne Richmann - Owner, Mary Anne's Luncheonette: "Sarah's Supreme Cheeseburger has a secret sauce, pickles, lettuce, tomato. It's cooked just perfectly, so it's just pink in the center and it absolutely melts in your mouth."

    For dessert, you can't beat a slice of homemade Apple Pie, or a thick, creamy Strawberry Milkshake. The prices are a throwback too. Salads are about six bucks, and sandwiches are five and under.

    One thing that has changed over the years is the soda. The fountain at the counter is so old; they don't even make parts to fix it anymore. So these days, the cola for the Vanilla Cokes and Root Beer Floats comes out of a can. That's one of the few changes from decades ago, when Bill Kelly used to run the lunch counter. And back then, the food was just a way to get customers shopping.

    Bill Kelly - Owner, Lord's Department Store: "Everyday we would put out sandwiches for 29 cents. Once in a while we would sell hot dogs for a nickel, and Coke for a nickel, stuff like that. Anything for promotion. We didn't do it to make money, we did it to bring customers into the store."

    Today, Mary Anne's is still bringing in customers. Many of whom are looking to pass this place on to the next generation.

    Mary Anne Richmann - Owner, Mary Anne's Luncheonette: "The parents will bring the kids in and say 'I used to come here actually when I was a kid.' And sit at a certain place at the fountain 'and this is where I had my lunch.' So now they're brining their kids in and having the milkshakes and the Raspberry Lime Rickeys with the kids."

    It's a time frozen in time, at Mary Anne's Luncheonette, a Phantom Gourmet... Hidden Jewel.


    Review Date: 11/20/2004


    #3
    Bob in Cary
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/13 13:21:16 (permalink)
    Ashworth's Pharmacy, in Cary, still has a lunch counter. They mostly sell sandwiches, but they still squeeze oranges and lemons when you order an aide.
    #4
    BhamBabe
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/13 13:35:50 (permalink)
    I don't know of any around here still in business but I remember the one at our Woolworth's fondly.

    Early 70's and my great grandmother lived in downtown Birmingham. It was a huge treat for this little country girl to go anywhere in the big city and she would delight in taking me places. White gloves, a dime inside for a phone call and a hat. We'd dress up like fine ladies to go eat there. She'd take me into the alley next door and tell me to blow my nose as it was unseemly to be seen with your nose running when you walked from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors lol. After our lunch she'd order a dessert and we'd share. She always made things so fun and I have such fond memories of sitting in a noisy room with the windows fogged up with the Christmas lights on the streetlights throwing patterns on the wet glass. She'd then take me to Pizitz's Enchanted Forest Christmas display. Hasn't felt like that kind of Christmas in a years.
    #5
    salsailsa
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/13 14:06:21 (permalink)
    I miss these- funny I was thinking about Eaton's in downtown Winnipeg when I was a kid. Mom and I used to go for lunch at the Char-bar lunch counter and I'd always have Egg salad on White. They also had Euphoria which had healthier sanwhiches and salads. The Char-bar was more old school with a couple of horse-shoe style loops. I loved the rotating desserts in the display stand-jello cubes with whipped-cream-like stuff on top.
    #6
    Lucky Bishop
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/13 14:22:15 (permalink)
    Unless it's closed in the last couple of years, the lunch counter at the Model Pharmacy on Monte Vista in Albuquerque -- reviewed here -- is still ticking right along.
    #7
    boyardee65
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/13 15:13:35 (permalink)
    I remember that there was a lunch counter in Woolworths in Dodge City KS. Probably the first time I had a Reuben. Had to have been the BEST sandwich I had ever had up untill that point in time. Wallgreens in Colorado Springs also had a lunch counter on the lower level. They have since closed thier doors and remodeled the building into a strip mall. Too bad, Oh so Sad!!
    #8
    GordonW
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/13 15:17:15 (permalink)
    This is a previous thread on lunch counters.

    http://www.roadfood.com/Forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=8760&SearchTerms=bannana,split,balloon

    I enjoyed the discussion of the market strategy behind the pop a balloon and get your price for a bannana split.
    #9
    Phildelmar
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/13 21:52:59 (permalink)
    Lyons Pharmacy in Elkton, Maryland has a great old fashioned lunch counter.Great homemade soups
    Fabulous milkshakes, too
    #10
    enginecapt
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/14 00:10:12 (permalink)
    The W.T. Grant in my home town had a great little restaurant in it. Was it the Harvest House? Can't recall. The best onion rings I've ever had. Now, no more Grant stores.
    #11
    Tony Bad
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/14 00:16:39 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by enginecapt

    The W.T. Grant in my home town had a great little restaurant in it. Was it the Harvest House? Can't recall. The best onion rings I've ever had. Now, no more Grant stores.


    Our town had Woolworth's, Kresge's, and W.T. Grant...on special occasions my Mom would put us on a bus and head over a couple of towns to Abraham & Strauss (A&S) where they had a fancier restaurant. I would always look forward to the scoop of ice cream in a dish made to look like a clown, with a cone for a hat.
    #12
    buckeye1
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/15 00:43:22 (permalink)
    David - as a Clevelander, do you remember the Silver Grille that used to be in the downtown Higbee's? While the department store has closed, the Silver Grille was recently restored and now serves as a banquet facility - we had a meeting there for the CWRU Alumni a year or two ago. I also liked the Attic restaurant at our local Higbee's in Elyria's Midway Mall - it was always a treat as a kid because they served your meal in a mini-oven looking box.

    There's a book now with memories and recipes of Higbee's Silver Grille:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/093676015X/002-1547678-8700023?v=glance&n=283155
    Check out "look inside the book" for some pictures and an index of recipes.
    #13
    lleechef
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/15 02:24:29 (permalink)
    In Rochester, PA we had the Rexall drug store, great food, phosphates, cherry Coke, ice cream, banana splits and lots of other delights. Then we had Kaufmann's Department store.....it was a wonder that the little old ladies that had just gotten their blue hair done in the Parlor didn't show up to eat their soup and watercress sandwiches with white gloves on. But they did make this fantastic "Ice Cream Pie" about 8 inches thick, graham cracker crust, whipped cream and caramel sauce. I used to beg my mother to take me there........she did.
    #14
    roossy90
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/15 04:18:44 (permalink)
    Walgreen's Drug Store in downtown Miami.. I had many grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches there while my mom was working down the street at the Travelers Insurance building... (circa 1966-69)
    Uh, this was way before I dared not stop at a red light in downtown Miami...I used to walk around by myself as a /elementary and jr high schooler in Miami..Boy, the memories......I think there was another one near Burdines starting with an S....
    Damn... I wish I could remember it. I had ham salad sandwich at that one. With a coke in a big coca cola glass....
    Thanks....
    #15
    roossy90
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/15 04:19:52 (permalink)
    too lasy to log in..
    It wasnt a dept store, but drug store luncheon counters..
    Sorry..
    #16
    pcdiva
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/15 07:57:09 (permalink)
    I remember Grant's restaurant from my early childhood. I also remember Macy's and Rich's in Atlanta had tea rooms as late as when I was in college. I'm afraid I missed the lunch counter heyday by about 10 years, though. I did buy lots of malted milk balls & French burnt peanuts at the Sears candy counter though. It always seemed to be under the escalator if the store had more than one level.
    #17
    enginecapt
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/15 08:19:02 (permalink)
    Escalator? Fancy stuff. Our Sears and Pennys had wooden floors and wooden stairways up to the second floors. This was back in the pre-mall era.
    #18
    Buckshot
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/15 18:50:14 (permalink)
    Back in the late 50's - early 60's I enjoyed eating at the dime store and drug store lunch counters. I remember the pimento cheese sandwiches - pimento cheese on toasted white bread with mayo, lettuce and tomato, cut diagonally and served with a couple of dill pickle slices. Fountain cherry cokes and hot french fries, man, that was good!

    Buckshot
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    malibucreek
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/06/15 19:28:55 (permalink)
    I highly recommend the Fair Oaks Pharmacy in South Pasadena, Calif.

    http://www.fairoakspharmacy.net/index2.html

    You might have seen it in TV commercials, as it is a frequent filming location. The food and soda fountain are top-notch. My wife swears by the chocolate Cokes.

    The DeSoto Pharmacy in Canoga Park (corner of Roscoe and DeSoto) also has a soda fountain and serves sandwiches. The food's not nearly as nice as the Fair Oaks and it is more a '60s suburban feel, as opposed to the Fair Oaks' early-20th Century decor.
    #20
    sk bob
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/07/12 21:13:26 (permalink)
    Jupiters dept. store , downtown New Britain,CT. They had a stand up hot dog counter inside between the two front doors. early-mid 60's.Thats where my mother turned me on to steamed hot dogs & buns with mustard & sauerkraut. love em to this day!!!
    #21
    Ort. Carlton.
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/07/12 21:30:53 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by enginecapt
    The W.T. Grant in my home town had a great little restaurant in it. Was it the Harvest House? Can't recall. The best onion rings I've ever had. Now, no more Grant stores.


    Captain,
    Ours in Athens, Georgia was Bradford House. Their mascot was a chubby little kid named Bucky Bradford, who looked like he could eat anything, just make sure there's lots of it.
    Nostalgically, Ort. Carlton in Athens, The Athens Of Georgia.
    #22
    Ort. Carlton.
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/07/12 21:35:08 (permalink)
    Dearfolk,
    In spite of the fact that I may well have reported on this elsewhere, Athens Discount Drugs on South Lumpkin Street in the Five Points neighborhood still to this day maintains a vintage luncheonette. If I remember right, it opened as a desegregated place circa 1962. The same owners still have the place and it continues to thrive.
    If any of you come through Athens, I can recommend the place having never eaten there myself... it's clear across town for me. The only thing missing is that the building is too new to have a squeaky floor.
    Even If Redundantly, Ort. Carlton in The Usual City.
    #23
    MilwFoodlovers
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/07/12 22:07:48 (permalink)
    Ort.Carlton, what would be the hit tunes back in 1962 (my sophomore year in high school)?
    We were all pretty much into R & B and I would think that James Brown, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, The Impressions, Ike & Tina Turner among others all had chartable 45's; at least in the "race" charts.
    I have to agree with David, Goldman's is a trip and still a place to buy size 52 Union suits!
    Now ask a high schooler what those are!
    #24
    enginecapt
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/07/12 22:36:17 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Ort. Carlton.

    quote:
    Originally posted by enginecapt
    The W.T. Grant in my home town had a great little restaurant in it. Was it the Harvest House? Can't recall. The best onion rings I've ever had. Now, no more Grant stores.


    Captain,
    Ours in Athens, Georgia was Bradford House. Their mascot was a chubby little kid named Bucky Bradford, who looked like he could eat anything, just make sure there's lots of it.
    Nostalgically, Ort. Carlton in Athens, The Athens Of Georgia.
    That's it! Instant memory jogger. Thank you Mr. C.
    #25
    John A
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/07/13 09:33:24 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by Ort. Carlton.

    quote:
    Originally posted by enginecapt
    The W.T. Grant in my home town had a great little restaurant in it. Was it the Harvest House? Can't recall. The best onion rings I've ever had. Now, no more Grant stores.


    Captain,
    Ours in Athens, Georgia was Bradford House. Their mascot was a chubby little kid named Bucky Bradford, who looked like he could eat anything, just make sure there's lots of it.
    Nostalgically, Ort. Carlton in Athens, The Athens Of Georgia.


    I was a Credit Manager for W.T. Grants way back when. Bradford was their trademark name for the restaurants as well as appliances, etc.

    John


    #26
    Rusty246
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/07/13 10:07:40 (permalink)
    We have Wise's Drugstore WITH a lunch counter here in Downtown Gainesville. Alot of attorney's dine there as it's walking distance from the courthouse. One of the best darn cheeseburgers around and they also make a kick butt pot of great northern beans.
    #27
    mbrookes
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2006/07/13 14:47:29 (permalink)
    I may have mentioned this on an earlier thread, but both Brent's Drug Store locations (Fondren and Belhaven) have working lunch counters/soda fountains. I prefer the Belhaven location where they make the famous "slaw burger" That's a hamburger with only their homemade slaw. It is super.

    They also make really good milkshakes and all manner of fountain drinks. The Belhaven one also does breakfast... bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, etc.
    #28
    jinjo76
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2007/03/09 01:17:37 (permalink)
    Harvest House

    http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/5883/1181/1600/SPRINGFIELD%20OHIO%20UPPER%20VALLEY%20MALL%20SHOPPING%20CENTER.jpg
    #29
    Ashphalt
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    RE: Lunch Counters & restaurants in department stores 2007/03/09 11:32:46 (permalink)
    quote:
    Originally posted by jinjo76

    Harvest House

    http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/5883/1181/1600/SPRINGFIELD%20OHIO%20UPPER%20VALLEY%20MALL%20SHOPPING%20CENTER.jpg


    Wow! Thanks! I can smell the too-sweet perfume and cigarette smoke now.
    #30
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