Over the past few weeks I’ve been identifying some of the oldest, American fast-food/restaurant-chain franchises, whose famous menu choices were among the building blocks upon which Mom created her legacy as the Recipe DetectiveTM. She investigated, tested and imitated their famous dishes at home, in her own kitchen, and shared her developments in her self-published newsletters and cookbooks – as well as through radio and TV talk-shows – for over 40 years (1974-2014).
As I mentioned last week, September is National Americana Month! It’s a great opportunity to reminisce about the “Norman Rockwell basics” of life in America. We often idealize and idolize those simple things that have uniquely woven us together as Americans!
When I think of the nostalgic icons that represent Americana to me, in terms of food-related, I think of the famous fast-food chains across our country, as well as the traditional state fairs, carnivals, and carhop drive-ins. Even department store restaurants and dime store cafeterias make the reminiscing list for me!
Department store eateries are just another niche in the vast food industry from which Mom found inspiration in imitating “famous foods from famous places”. DepartmentStoreHistory.net says: “The three biggest department stores in the mid-1960s, both in sales volume and physical size, were Macy’s, Hudson’s, and Marshall Field, in that order.” Their mentioning of Hudson’s (a former Detroit area icon), really brought me a lot of pleasant childhood memories.
In fact, there was a report on the iconic J.L. Hudson’s site, in Detroit, not too long ago, in our local news; as it is being re-developed. The Detroit Hudson’s store was once the tallest department store in the world! It was such a sad day, when they closed their doors in 1983; and even sadder, when the iconic, historical building was imploded in 1998.
There is a lot of great information about the new project and the history of Hudson’s at https://www.hudsonssitedetroit.com/. Mom imitated at least 28 menu offerings from the Hudson’s dining room – as Hudson’s was one of her favorite places to shop and dine! She used to joke that she wanted her ashes spread around Hudson’s purse department, after she was gone.
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes© Book (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; June 1997, p. 16)
HUDSON’S OF DETROIT – THE WAY IT ONCE WAS!
During the financial panic of 1873, Joseph L. Hudson was a young man, working with his father in a men’s clothing store in Michigan. Times were hard. Customers could hardly pay their bills. After Joseph’s father died, partly from worrying, young Joseph struggled with the business for about three years and eventually went into bankruptcy, in spite of all he tried to do to bring the business up.
He paid his creditors [60 cents] on the dollar and, with great determination, began over again! Through remarkable enterprise and ingenuity, in 12 years, he owned a store in Detroit. Even more remarkable, he located all the creditors whose claims had been embraced by the bankruptcy proceedings and paid them in full – even though they did not ask it of him.
This so astounded the business world in 1888 – that Hudson’s reputation was of an honest man, caring for his customers as much is his creditors. Thus, word spread, and the store became one of Detroit’s most important, not only in the state, but eventually in the entire country.
[Hudson] established major shopping centers in Metropolitan Detroit, beginning in 1953 with the magnificent Northland Center, the first of its kind in the country. At the time of this writing , Hudson’s has merged with Dayton and with Marshall Fields and no longer offers the personal hometown touch that it used to have.
Their original building on Woodward and Farmer Street, in downtown Detroit, once controlled the shopper’s mecca; with Kern’s and Crowley’s, as well, in that area. We have seen the passing of a great institution, but I am so glad I did not lose the precious recipes [for which] the Hudson’s dining room and bakery were known…
Recently, I read an article by Katherine Martinelli (July 20, 2018), at EatThis.com, about stores with amazing restaurants. I was flooded with memories of going to the malls and big department stores, like Hudson’s, as a young girl, in the 1970s.
I remember when Mom would take me and my sisters to the malls and department stores like Sears, J.C. Penny’s and J.L. Hudson’s. It was an all-day shopping event combined with Mom’s work, as each of us girls would get a handful of her business cards to stick in the pockets of various clothes and purse displays while we shopped. It was an innovative way she had developed, to advertise to her “target audience”, based on inspiration from a Detroit car salesman. It was so fun!
After a few hours of shopping and marketing, we’d all take a break to have lunch in one of the department stores’ dining rooms, where Mom found a lot of great dishes to mimic at home. My sisters and I had a 5-star rating system of our own for the restaurants we went to with Mom on any of her investigative reviews – it was, actually, largely based on how clean they were, especially in their restrooms!
Alex Witchell wrote an article Feb. 25, 2019 about the best department store restaurants, which was posted on the NYPost.com website. In it, she reminisced about those by-gone days of shopping and lunching with her own mom and sisters. I related to a lot of it.
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
My Cup Runneth Over and I Can’t Find My Mop (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1989, p. 43)
To make the mimeograph pay for itself, I even printed up my own business cards on it, using dime-store construction paper and then cutting the cards apart with scissors until I had neat little stacks of about 50 and a total of 200 or 300 cards. These I distributed at the mall whenever and wherever we might be in one. Paul did not know I was doing this, at first, either, or he would’ve disapproved.
It was unprofessional and risky, but I thought anything was worth a try and what I could do ‘quietly’ until I could prove it was either a mistake or a benefit, would have to be my little secret. Well, actually, the kids were a part of that secret too. I had heard an interview on TV or radio with ‘the world’s most successful salesman’, who was a Chevrolet salesman in Detroit and who believed heartily in business cards, placing them everywhere and anywhere that it was allowed.
From his story, I found it was easy to drop my card into the pocket of a bathrobe in the ladies’ wear [areas] in the department stores and in the purses and tote bags, on public phone booth stands, [in] restaurant restrooms, even in cookbooks in the bookstores. From these, you’d be surprised, we DID hear from people who wanted to know about my recipes, which was the first experience I had with public response.
‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.’ – Seneca (Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD)
Due to the ever changing shopping and eating habits of Americans, we’ve seen the rise and fall of many retail establishments. In this new era of Amazon and online shopping, department stores and malls are now becoming more like the relics of bygone days.
The idea of eating where you shop can be tracked back to 18th century Europe. Many argue about who started the idea of “eating where you shop” in America. Macy’s claims to have opened the first restaurant within a department store in May 1878 (originally Marshall Field’s Walnut Room).
Others say that in-store restaurants were already established (in America) earlier, in the 1870s, when Wanamaker’s, in New York and Philadelphia, were offering consumers the first in-store eateries, in which shoppers could pause in the middle of their bargain-hunting excursions to rest and have some sustenance (before continuing on).
The idea was based on the theory that the longer consumers remained in a store, the more they were likely to look at more things and, thus, buy more things. It was a groundbreaking marketing tactic to attract and keep shoppers!
‘You certainly won’t hear opportunity knocking at the front door, if you’re in the back yard looking for four-leaf clovers.’ – Gloria Pitzer [My Cup Runneth Over – And I Can’t Find My Mop (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1989, p. 4)]
In a 2015 essay by Angela Serratore, “In Praise of the Department Store Restaurant”, at Racked.com, she wrote: “Department store restaurants allowed middle-class women in the throes of consumer ecstasy to pause and refresh themselves in a manner that was, above all, civilized… The food was fancy but not overly so – consommé, tongue sandwiches, and delicate fruit salads all appear on a 1901 Macy’s menu – and nothing served would render a woman incapable of continuing to shop after she’d finished.”
Famous department stores with restaurants, cafés and tea rooms – as they were often called – which come to mind, past and present, include Marshall Field’s, JL Hudson’s, JC Penny’s, Saks 5th Avenue, Tiffany’s, Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Barney’s, Nordstrom’s, and Lord & Taylor’s.
Even the, later, general merchandise, “big box” stores like Walmart, Target, Kmart, Kresge’s, Sears, and Woolworth’s joined the band wagon with their own lunch counters and cafeterias – or they rented space within their stores to “established brands” like Starbuck’s and Subway. From most of these places, Mom imitated at least one of their famous dishes, but usually more.
We’ve seen Mom-and-Pop shops struggle to compete against department and “big box” stores, which competed with the all-inclusive mall settings, which are now struggling to compete against virtual stores, online. Small and large retailers, alike, have been disappearing due to the rise in online shopping over the years, but it especially exploded this year due to the brick-and-mortar store closings for the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
Those establishments that were not already involved with the growth of the internet and hadn’t yet closed their doors, were teetering on bankruptcy due to the rise in online shopping over in-store shopping, especially among the newer generations. To make matters worse, those retailers who were hanging on by a thread, trying to come up with new marketing gimmicks to bring consumers back to their brick-and-mortar stores, were more-or-less “done-in” by the pandemic’s restrictions.
Additionally, according to a blog at Cheapism.com, about 38 companies that were already on shaky ground have filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, this year, due to the various impacts from the Covid-19 pandemic. Among those listed were iconic department stores like Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor’s, J. C. Penny’s, and Sears-Kmart.
In memory of Hudson’s iconic footprint, here is Mom’s imitation of the famous Hudson’s Maurice Salad & Dressing…
As seen in her self-published cookbook…
The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes© Book (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; June 1997, p. 16)
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again…
Next Monday, September 28th, is National Good Neighbor Day!
You can listen, live or later, through the station’s website at https://www.whby.com/goodneighbor/.
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