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- 1 2016-11-06T13:09:08-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b The intricate images painted on the front of the cafe show patriotic scenes of judicial buildings. A common theme introduced by T.H Buckley, and continued by the Worcester Lunch Car Company. Cassidy Nemick 1 plain 2016-11-06T13:09:08-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b
- 1 2016-11-06T13:10:38-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b This Quick Lunch Cafe also utilized the flimsy temporary steps to get into their wagon. Having temporary steps allowed owners to avoid paying rent. Cassidy Nemick 1 plain 2016-11-06T13:10:38-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b
- 1 2016-11-06T13:09:49-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b Both sets of wheels are smaller, indicating that this Cafe did not move often, but still retained the option to relocate if needed. Cassidy Nemick 1 plain 2016-11-06T13:09:49-08:00 Cassidy Nemick cf80a2fbfbf26cc0303a79834a26a4cb79a11a9b
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The Classic American Entrepreneurship
The appeal of owning a lunch wagon to working-class Americans.
Why was the idea of owning a lunch wagon so appealing to working-class Americans at the turn of the century?
Working class Americans at the turn of the century worked hard, and they worked hard for minimal pay. The working class scraped by doing manual labor, and dangerous labor in pursuit of the American dream. After Walter Scott decided to quit his job and create the lunch wagon business others followed suit.
The appeal of owning your own lunch wagon is the same as the appeal today in the twenty-first century of owning your own business. Not only do you get to be your own boss, but you also get to make the rules and set the standards which your business runs by. It was common for lunch wagons to follow their own rules, and to have different food menus based upon their owners. One of the problems the lunch wagons ran into of course was the issue of remaining open late into the mornings, which was against their permits. The decision to do stay open late or to close before 10:00 am was made by each individual business man. Those who decided to stay open past the curfew on lunch wagons did so in an effort to make an extra buck. Dictating your own rules, work hours, and success widely appealed to the working class, who were subject to the exact opposite in their previous jobs.
The varying menus of each lunch wagon were subject to more variability than the hours or location of lunch wagons. A menu was susceptible to not only the patrons of the lunch wagon, but also the tastes of the owners. While the lunch wagon was primarily horse drawn, the menus were limited to what could be easily transferred and prepared beforehand at home. For example, Walter Scott prepared all of his food at home beforehand because his small lunch wagon did not include a kitchen. Of course, after the inclusion of more space to incorporate a small kitchen within the lunch wagon the menu possibilities greatly expanded.
Another large factor which affected the food menus and success of the lunch wagons was the ethnic diversity of the owners. People from varying backgrounds left their jobs and pursued a career in the lunch wagon business. As Andrew Hurley states in his book, Diners, Bowling Alleys, and Trailer Parks, “The majority of diner builders, operators and customers were either immigrants or second-generation Americans. German, Irish, Italian, and Jewish families dominated the manufacturing end of the business. . .” Due to this large diversity in the lunch wagon business, patrons were guaranteed to find varying flavors and types of foods from wagon to wagon, and often immigrants frequented wagons owned by others from their culture.
A perfect example of a second-generation American finding his own personal success story within the lunch wagon business is Patrick Tierney. Patrick Tierney was the son of an Irish immigrant, and went on to build his own wildly successful diner company.
This wide ethnic diversity within the diner business would continue for the rest of diner history. On a phone interview, I had with Michael C. Gabriele, journalist, author, and member of the Nutley Historical Society, I asked him the hard-hitting question of “What is your favorite diner?”. Despite finding a new favorite diner almost constantly he stated that one of his favorites is, “The Wall Street Diner, its owned by a young Greek couple. They dreamed of having a neighborhood diner. It’s an old vintage stainless steel, Mahoney diner. They know what they’re doing. Their food is impeccable. He continued to explain that in New Jersey it is very common for Greeks to run and operate diners, as they have been doing so for many years. Now days, there are more Hispanics and Asian people running diners along the east coast.
The success of immigrants and second-generation Americans in the lunch wagon and diner business reinforces the classic American dream. Anyone, from any background, and any ethnicity can start their own business and create their own success. This ideal of American culture is deeply related to the success story of the diner, and its uniqueness to America.
There’s no better way to put it than what Gabriele said during our interview about the success of diner owners, “They should be very proud, it’s a great success.” Michael Karl Witzel, The American Diner (Osceola: MBI Publishing Company, 1999), 17. Andrew Hurley, Diners, Bowling Alleys and Trailer Parks: Chasing the American Dream in the Postwar Consumer Culture (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 34. Ibid. Interview with Michael C. Gabriele. Author of The History of Diners in New Jersey. Transcript in my possession. Ibid.
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The Transition from Horse-Drawn to Stationary
Why Lunch Wagons found themselves abandoning the horse.
How did the horse drawn wagon find its way to a stationary location?
Originally the very first lunch wagon by Walter Scott was horse-drawn. Scott’s wagon had to be horse drawn to transport his goods and business throughout the city to find customers. The appeal of a move-able business far outweighed having a stationary business. Having a stationary business meant that customers had to come to you, but by owning a portable business you could relocate yourself in search of customers. The number of customers you could service multiplied by having a portable business.
To maximize sales Walter Scott purchased not only his modified freight wagon but also a horse named “Patient Dick”. One of Walter Scott’s favorites spots for business was along Westminster Street, but he also commonly planted his business in front of the offices of the Providence Daily Journal.
The issue with having a popular and successful lunch wagon, was that other promising and driven individuals could just as easily acquire a lunch wagon and create competition. As Gutman says, “In this fledgling business, the possibilities were so vast that many an entrepreneur could rightly earn the title of pioneer.” The opportunity for success was there and many working class people took this chance for success.
Along with lunch wagons, came the patrons. The patrons of lunch wagons varied from late night industrial workers, reporters working late into the evening, rowdy young people, and even just a regular customer getting his daily cup of coffee. There existed a vast variety of customers and owners alike. By 1912, the popularity of lunch wagons grew so quickly there were almost fifty lunch wagons being carted around the streets in Providence, Rhode Island.
With their growing popularity, the lunch wagons began to wear. The constant visits from regulars and rowdy customers alike lunch wagons began to fall apart and their paint chip. The operating permits of lunch wagons require that they can only operate at night. Operation during the morning hours was a violation and often caused traffic congestion. With more and more entrepreneurs trying to make a buck in the lunch wagon business, more and more complaints against them rose.
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In order to quell the rising complaints cities mandated that lunch wagons be closed for business and off of the streets by 10:00 in the morning. Of course, this did not stop the lunch wagons. To get around this new requirement, lunch wagons began to give up on the idea of having a horse-drawn wagon. Instead many began to find a site off of the road, to plant their business and avoid the regulations on night lunch wagons. Gutman states, “Supporting the romantic image of the horse-drawn lunch cart was really a lot of trouble and soon most everybody was happy to abandon it.” By abandoning the horse-drawn aspect of a lunch wagon, wagons could stay open longer, no longer had to take care of a horse, and complaints against them were reduced. It was a win-win solution for the lunch wagon business.