This is the second of a four part series that is an overview of the 78 years I have been associated with the foodservice industry. Part 1 described the three or four years before World War II, the postwar growth of the industry, and how the GI Bill of Rights and the National Interstate Act were catalysts for that growth. This installment covers the diversification that the 1960s and ’70s introduced to the industry.
The ’60s could be called the transitional decade for both the hospitality industries of foodservice and lodging. While there were many regional foodservice companies, there were few, if any, national multi-unit operators. Two men were about to change that: Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame and James McLamore of Burger King. Another popular operation—though not as large as the home of the Big Mac or the Whopper—was Burger Chef, which was sold to General Foods Corporation and eventually went out of business. Its demise was due to General Foods’s decision not to retain any of Burger Chef’s management. This decision proved to be a costly $30 million mistake, and in the ’60s that was a lot of money! As a by-product of this new type of operation, the term “fast food” became a part of our lexicon. Today we describe them as quick-service restaurants.
Another aspect of foodservice growing at a prodigious rate was the phenomenon of contractors feeding workers in our U.S. war plants: the Crotty Brothers from Boston, the Slater System of Philadelphia (now known as ARA), Fred Profit from Detroit, and many regional operators. Once the war was over, these same companies continued to not only function, but to expand as the country returned to normalcy. In addition to industrial clients, the impact of the GI Bill of Rights on educational communities, such as colleges, trade schools, and universities, enhanced the account books of the foodservice contractors. One of the attractions of working for these companies (especially for managers and chefs at that time) was the five-day schedule with weekends off—a rare happening in the public sector.
One of the more creative companies of that time (and still operating today under the capable leadership of Nick Valenti) was Restaurant Associates Corp. In 1964 their list of operations read as follows: Charley Brown’s, Tavern on the Green, the John Peel Room, and Douglaston Steak House (both located on Long Island), the Tower Suite, The Forum of the Twelve Caesars, Mama Leone’s, and La Fonda del Sol. They also popularized the Italian word for casual café, with The Trattoria, the Zum Zum (a quick-service concept), The Brasserie, and the Newark Airport. The crown jewel of the company was the Four Seasons. In this writer’s mind, this was the greatest collection of individual restaurants in New York’s restaurant history. The two men responsible for this restaurant development were Joe Baum and Jerry Brody. Joe was a marketing genius and innovator, and Jerry was a great manager and deal maker.
This was also the beginning of the phasing out of landmark “smart set” operations such as the Stork Club, the El Morocco, the Colony, and the Copacabana, to name a few. The famous “Breakfast at Longchamps” chain would soon join them.
The interstate highway system was about 60 percent completed by the latter part of the decade, and the old motor courts and ageing motels were being replaced by Quality Inns, Best Westerns, and Howard Johnson Motor Lodges.
One of the more interesting stories deals with the founding and growth of the Holiday Inns of Memphis, Tennessee. It seems a young man by the name of Kemmons Wilson took his family for a three-week trip to parts of the country and was appalled by the lack of family accommodations. When he returned home, he put together a group of investors and, as a result, gave birth to the Holiday Inn chain of hotels. Need I say more?
The growth of the new type of highway accommodations also meant new restaurants competing with longtime established operators, and travelers now had a choice of various types of cuisine. Most of the new housing had swimming pools, catering capabilities, and conference centers. The hospitality landscape was changing and interstate interchanges were now becoming sought after by an army of multi-unit foodservice companies as well as lodging groups.
One of these lodging groups slowly but surely moving ahead was Marriott, a company that started out as operators of drive-in restaurants, to motor lodges and fine hotels—in only two generations. First, J. Willard Marriott Sr., now deceased, and then his son Bill led it to become the largest hotel chain in the world.
The early 1970s witnessed the first sign of casual foodservice. TGI Fridays, Houlihan’s, Ground Round, and later, Ruby Tuesday and Applebee’s sprang up all around the country. Bob Evans, Waffle House, and Huddle House joined those who were surrounding the interstate interchanges, to create what was to become known as “the strip.”
One of the most industry-wide developments to take place in the latter part of the ’70s was the expansion—one might even call it an explosion—in foodservice education for all disciplines. The CIA moved to New York State and started to expand its facilities and curriculum. Johnson & Wales University duplicated that growth, and today most state universities have courses in foodservice management and culinary arts. The ProStart program developed by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) has helped high school students to hone their desire to create and perform in the foodservice industry. There is no question that the industry’s tremendous growth could not have taken place or continued without the contributions of the educational community.
Next, part 3: The industry’s continued growth, government’s expanding role in the industry, and America’s ascension to culinary heights.