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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West » User review

Fred Harvey built the first chain of restaurants, hotels & bookstores in the late19th century.

  • Feb 15, 2010
Rating:
+5
When Fred Harvey was just 15 years old he left his native England bound for the United States.  Upon his arrival in New York City Fred began working at a very popular eatery known as Smith and McNell's.  Over the next eighteen months Fred worked his way up at Smith and McNell's from pot walloper, to busboy, waiter and line cookHe learned the restaurant business from the ground up.  Some years later in 1858 Fred Harvey would open his very own restaurant in St. Louis.  Things were going great until the eruption of the Civil War in 1861.  Fred quickly realized that the Civil War was going to be very bad for the restaurant business but a windfall for the railroads.  Fred decided to give up his restaurant and go to work for a railroad in Chicago.  Fred's work with the railroads would take him ever westward.  Fred noticed that while the railroads did a terrific job moving freight the passenger service left an awful lot to be desired.  He saw that passengers were hard pressed to find decent food on their journeys.  This observation would spawn an idea---upgraded depot dining facilities.  His idea met with great resistance from his employers.  These were men who were much more interested in moving freight than people.  But Harvey was persistent and  finally he was able to convince the management of the fledgling Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad of the wisdom of his concept.  And so it was that the very first Fred Harvey lunchroom opened at the Santa Fe Railroad's Topeka Depot in January, 1876.  It was a day that would be touted as a major turning point in culinary history.  "Appetite for American:  Fred Harvey Civilizing the West--One Meal At A Time" is the real-life saga of this legendary American company.  This is a history not only of a business, but of the taming of the American West.  It is a fascinating story to be sure. 

Prior to Fred Harvey passengers were pretty much forced to put up with any "slop' they could find at the depot restaurants. The food was lousy and portions were small.  In addition, passengers were afforded very little time to eat their food.  Before just about anyone else Fred Harvey figured out that there was a fortune to be made by serving hot, delicious meals to these passengers at a fair price.  Having grown up in the restaurant business Fred Harvey had developed some definite ideas about how to run a dining room.  He would serve a high quality product in clean, comfortable surroundings at a reasonable price.  The very first "Harvey House" in Topeka, Kansas was an immediate success.  Ridership on the Santa Fe increased dramatically and more Harvey Houses would follow.  Fred Harvey set very exacting standards for the preparation and presentation of his meals.  Consistency was his goal and as such the same procedures were in place at each and every one of his locations.  As his company grew Fred Harvey surrounded himself with lots of very capable people.  It was one of these executives who first came up with the idea of the "Harvey Girls".   Fred Harvey was becoming disenchanted with the conduct of his rowdy male service staff who often picked fights with customers and arrived at work drunk.  This was after all the Wild West!   Why not bring in young ladies who would be taught the "Harvey Way" of doing things?  Fred Harvey placed ads in newspapers on the East Coast and in the Midwest seeking "single, well-mannered and educated young ladies 18 to 30 years of age."  The girls would be paid $17.50 per month plus room and board and tips.  This was a very attractive offer that lots of young women found simply too good to pass up.  It was a brilliant stroke. Women were scarce in these parts and many of these girls would eventually find husbands and settle down.  In fact, many historians believe that the "Harvey Girls" were quite instrumental in helping to tame and then settle the American West! 

When Fred Harvey passed away in 1901 the reigns of the company would be turned over to his son Ford.   Ford would prove to be a very savvy businessman as well.  The company would continue to be known as simply "Fred Harvey".  Over the next three decades the company would continue to expand and boast the largest chain of restaurants in the country.  During the 1930s, Harvey Houses were serving more than 15 million meals each year.  Meanwhile, Fred Harvey would expand into other areas including hotels and bookstores"Appetite For America:  Fred Harvey Civilizing The West--One Meal at a Time" chronicles the story of how and why Fred Harvey would prove to be such a successful and enduring enterprise.  Author Stephen Fried also discusses in great detail the people who made the company work.  This would include both members of the Harvey family and others who dedicated their lives to the company. 

But all good things eventually come to an end.  In the early 1940's faster trains, growing automobile travel and increased restaurant competition signaled the demise of the Harvey Houses.  By this juncture it seemed there was no one in the Harvey family ready, willing or able to take the company in the new direction that was needed.  That void would be quickly filled by a young man from Quincy, MA named Howard Johnson.  I found "Appetite For America:  Fred Harvey Civilizing The West--One Meal at a Time" to be a very compelling and well written book that held my interest from cover-to-cover.  Finally, I thought I would make mention of the neat addendum at the end of "Appetite for America" that features several dozen recipes of items that were served at Harvey House restaurants over the years.  Kudos to Stephen Fried for a well thought out and well executed project!      Very highly recommended!
The man and the company responsible for establishing the first restaurant chain in America. The man and the company responsible for establishing the first restaurant chain in America. The man and the company responsible for establishing the first restaurant chain in America. The man and the company responsible for establishing the first restaurant chain in America.

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February 22, 2010
Cool...It looks like Howard Johnson has pretty gone the same way as the Harvey House. You very seldom see them anymore (at least in the parts of the country I frequent).
 
February 18, 2010
This book sounds excellent, and what a fascinating story! Thanks for the great review, Paul :)
 
February 18, 2010
Excellent review, and now I have *another* book to add to my reading list. :-)
 
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About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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Wiki

The legendary life and entrepreneurial vision of Fred Harvey helped shape American culture and history for three generations—from the 1880s all the way through World War II—and still influence our lives today in surprising and fascinating ways. Now award-winning journalist Stephen Fried re-creates the life of this unlikely American hero, the founding father of the nation’s service industry, whose remarkable family business civilized the West and introduced America to Americans.

Appetite for America is the incredible real-life story of Fred Harvey—told in depth for the first time ever—as well as the story of this country’s expansion into the Wild West of Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid, of the great days of the railroad, of a time when a deal could still be made with a handshake and the United States was still uniting. As a young immigrant, Fred Harvey worked his way up from dishwasher to household name: He was Ray Kroc before McDonald’s, J. Willard Marriott before Marriott Hotels, Howard Schultz before Starbucks. His eating houses and hotels along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad (including historic lodges still in use at the Grand Canyon) were patronized by princes, presidents, and countless ordinary travelers looking for the best cup of coffee in the country. Harvey’s staff of carefully screened single young women—the celebrated Harvey Girls—were the country’s first female workforce and became ...
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Details

ISBN-10: 0553804375
ISBN-13: 978-0553804379
Author: Stephen Fried
Genre: History
Publisher: Bantam Books
Date Published: March 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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