Fred Harvey Founder Of The Chain Restaurant

Fred Harvey Founder of​ the​ Chain Restaurant
In 1850, a​ 15 year old boy from London arrived in New York City with $10 in his pocket. ​
He found a​ position as​ pot walloper or​ dishwasher at ​ an upscale restaurant and​ ​ began a​ lifelong passion with fine dining. ​
From this inauspicious beginning, Fred Harvey would change the​ way people West of​ the​ Mississippi dined, create a​ marketing tool that helped create the​ world’s largest railroad, champion women in the​ work force, and​ ​ build an empire.
As Fred Harvey worked his way west, stopping in New Orleans, St. ​
Louis, and​ ​ Kansas City, he acquired knowledge of​ the​ restaurant industry. ​
When he wasn’t on the​ floor waiting tables, he was asking questions of​ chefs and​ ​ learning everything he possibly could about every aspect of​ the​ industry. ​
His goal was to own his own restaurant, and​ ​ in that endeavor, he accepted a​ lucrative position as​ a​ traveling freight agent on the​ Hannibal and​ ​ St. ​
Joseph Railroad. ​
Traveling conditions were frightful in the​ late 1860’s and​ ​ early 1870’s. ​
Trains were dusty and​ ​ full of​ mice and​ ​ flies. ​
Experienced travelers packed their own picnic of​ fried chicken, hard boiled eggs, cheese and​ ​ maybe a​ piece of​ cake. ​
When that ran out, you were forced to disembark the​ train and​ ​ take your chances on whatever was available at ​ the​ station.
Along the​ way, anything was possible. ​
at ​ best, one could expect rancid, bitter coffee, brewed once a​ week. ​
Rotten food was common as​ well as​ GI distress and​ ​ illness from food, and​ ​ the​ fear of​ being left behind in the​ middle of​ nowhere made travelers eat as​ fast as​ possible, scrambling to get back on the​ train. ​
Scam artists negotiated with railroad workers to cheat travelers. ​
Before reaching a​ stop, the​ conductor would take reservations requiring a​ 50 cent deposit. ​
When the​ train arrived at ​ the​ station, the​ food would be served just as​ the​ conductor called, All Aboard! as​ the​ travelers ran back, the​ restaurateur would scrape the​ food back into pots for​ the​ next train passengers and​ ​ give the​ railroaders 10 cents per head as​ their take. ​
These conditions and​ ​ scams made train travel dangerous to one’s health, and​ ​ as​ he worked his way across the​ West, Harvey realized that there was a​ market for​ clean restaurants serving good food at ​ reasonable prices along the​ line.
In 1875, he approached officials at ​ the​ Burlington Railroad with his idea of​ opening restaurants at ​ the​ train depots. ​
Railroad officials had no interest in supplying food and​ ​ laughed him out of​ their office. ​
But as​ he left the​ office, one of​ the​ officials commented that he should approach the​ Atchison, Topeka and​ ​ Santa Fe Railroad, which was the​ most rapidly expanding railroad in the​ West. ​
Santa Fe liked the​ idea and​ ​ a​ partnership was formed. ​
Harvey opened the​ first restaurant, the​ Harvey House, in Topeka, Kansas in 1875. ​
it​ was an immediate success, not only with travelers, but with local residents as​ well. ​
Within 9 years, there were 17 Harvey Houses along the​ Santa Fe route, and​ ​ the​ first restaurant chain was born.
Because of​ Harvey, his restaurants and​ ​ the​ rapid expansion of​ the​ West, Santa Fe became the​ premiere passenger railroad, as​ travelers could be assured of​ exquisite meals in clean dining rooms. ​
Harvey was a​ shrewd negotiator. ​
When he negotiated his second agreement with Santa Fe, he obtained exclusive rights to all restaurants along their line. ​
Not only did he obtain exclusivity, but the​ railroad supplied the​ building and​ ​ property, passage for​ Harvey employees, and​ ​ fresh laundry, ice, meat, and​ ​ produce shipped in daily. ​

Harvey’s only problem was his wait staff. ​
the​ waiters were undependable, coming to work drunk, picking fights, and​ ​ destroying company property. ​
No one civilized wanted to work out West. ​
Where could he get decent, dependable help? Women.
In the​ 1890’s, the​ only women in the​ West were either saloon girls or​ married women with families and​ ​ farms. ​
it​ was truly the​ Wild, Wild West, full of​ cowboys, gunslingers, scam artists and​ ​ roughnecks. ​
An uncivilized place to be. ​
So, Harvey did something truly revolutionary. ​
He placed an ad in East Coast papers for​ women 18 30 years of​ age, attractive, educated, and​ ​ decent. ​
Harvey offered room and​ ​ board, free train passage, and​ ​ wages of​ $17.50 per month. ​
No experience necessary. ​
Harvey wanted to train them his way. ​
But would they come?
They came like gangbusters. ​
In the​ late nineteenth century, opportunities for​ women were very limited. ​
the​ only suitable positions were as​ teachers, servants, dressmakers, or​ factory workers. ​
Not only was being a​ Harvey girl an opportunity to make great money, it​ was an opportunity for​ adventure. ​
But being a​ Harvey girl was not easy.
The standards set by Harvey were rigid. ​
First, they were given a​ 6, 9, or​ 12 month contract during which time they were not allowed to marry. ​
if​ ​ they did, they would be financially penalized by half of​ their salary and​ ​ lose their travel privileges. ​
the​ dormitories were strict, with a​ house mother overseeing the​ girls and​ ​ a​ curfew of​ 10 pm every night. ​
if​ ​ you broke curfew 3 times, you were summarily fired and​ ​ sent home. ​
the​ training process was a​ grueling 30 days of​ learning strict cleanliness, grooming and​ ​ table service without pay. ​
the​ training period was difficult and​ ​ stressful, but many women spoke of​ how the​ experience gave them selfassurance and​ ​ poise.
They were trained in the​ Harvey way. ​
Because of​ the​ train schedule, timing was incredibly important. ​
When the​ train arrived in the​ station, the​ first course was already on the​ table. ​
One girl came through and​ ​ took drink orders as​ another was right behind her pouring. ​
a​ system of​ coffee cup placement was the​ key to communication. ​
as​ the​ first course was being cleared, a​ manager would come in with trays of​ hot entrees which would be served by the​ girls. ​
Generous portions and​ ​ seconds were the​ standard. ​
and​ ​ so was the​ timing. ​
the​ trains only stopped for​ 30 minutes and​ ​ Harvey provided a​ refined, delicious dining experience on a​ schedule.
Cleanliness was also a​ key to success. ​
if​ ​ they weren’t busy, the​ girls were expected to be cleaning; their station, polishing silver or​ brass, folding napkins or​ dusting. ​
In spite of​ the​ dust and​ ​ dirt of​ the​ West, Harvey Houses were known for​ their immaculate tidiness. ​
This included the​ girls’ uniforms. ​
They were expected to be wellgroomed, spotless and​ ​ ironed. ​
if​ ​ they got dirty during a​ shift, they were expected to change uniforms immediately. ​
Gum chewing was ground for​ dismissal. ​
Harvey himself would make surprise inspections and​ ​ literally perform a​ white glove test.
Harvey’s chefs were also the​ best. ​
When Fred Harvey traveled, he would try to lure away the​ chef anytime he had a​ superb meal. ​
He paid his people well and​ ​ believed in the​ best quality ingredients. ​
the​ chefs had the​ authority to create their own menus and​ ​ pay handsomely for​ supplies and​ ​ produce. ​
Not unlike great restaurants today, Harvey Houses had the​ first choice and​ ​ the​ best supply of​ meat and​ ​ fresh vegetables. ​
Hence, they had the​ ability to provide diners with first class meals.
Harvey was also a​ believer of​ promoting men and​ ​ women from within. ​
Many women started out as​ a​ waitress, became head waitress, and​ ​ some even became managers. ​
Another way he emphasized respect and​ ​ respectability was in the​ name he chose for​ his wait staff. ​
His girls were never referred to as​ waitresses. ​
Rather, they were known by and​ ​ proud to be called Harvey Girls. ​
Being a​ Harvey Girl meant poise, respect, and​ ​ independence. ​

Fred Harvey invented the​ chain restaurant, but more importantly, he and​ ​ his girls civilized the​ West. ​
Not only did they provide a​ service to the​ travelers and​ ​ the​ communities through their restaurants and​ ​ mere presence, they became the​ standard of​ civility and​ ​ dining. ​
Many Harvey girls did find marriage and​ ​ adventure. ​
Many had lifelong, fascinating careers in Harvey’s empire that would have been impossible back East. ​
Some paid for​ college and​ ​ went on to become professionals in other careers. ​
No matter what paths they found themselves on, the​ Harvey Girls became the​ matriarchs of​ the​ West.
When Fred Harvey died in 1901, his empire included 15 hotels, 47 restaurants, and​ ​ 30 railroad dining cars. ​
at ​ its peak, the​ Harvey House restaurants were the​ most successful in the​ country, with 100 locations, and​ ​ provided the​ Santa Fe Railroad with the​ marketing tool and​ ​ support to become the​ largest passenger train company in the​ United States. ​
During both World Wars, the​ Harvey House was instrumental in providing meals to the​ troops being moved across the​ country on trains. ​
But the​ Wright brothers, the​ automobile, and​ ​ the​ Great Depression led to the​ demise of​ the​ empire. ​
Fine dining and​ ​ civility in the​ West are legacies that Fred Harvey and​ ​ his Girls bequeathed us all.
Mary Margaret Ambler is​ the​ Publisher and​ ​ Editor of​ Black and​ ​ Whites Magazine, a​ trade publication for​ wait staff,
This article was researched and​ ​ references, the​ Harvey Girls the​ Women Who Civilized the​ West by Juddi Morris. ​
Published in 1994 by Walker Publishing, Inc.

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