A fascinating new book by Stephen Fried is called Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West. This book introduces you to Fred Harvey, originator of American fine dining at chain restaurants, a man who did more to tame the Wild West than all the sheriffs. Fred Harvey brought fresh meat and vegetables to dusty towns where even hot coffee was more than rail travelers could expect to find. In 1905, without the benefit of modern refrigeration, Harvey restaurants managed to serve 6 million eggs and 2 million pounds of beef.
The author gives us mouthwatering details because Fred Harvey kept records while developing standardized operating procedures that paved the way for today’s restaurant chains. Harvey was obsessed with high standards and quality. His “Harvey girl” waitresses became the first large-scale female work force in America. These single women were originally recruited from Kansas and brought gold-standard service, civility, and prospective wives to many a cowboy, even inspiring a 1946 movie starring Judy Garland.
Fred Harvey’s humble start began by sailing from England to New York at age 17 with only two pounds in his pocket. He took a job as a dishwasher, and worked his way up to busboy, waiter and cook, learning lessons about the restaurant business along the way. It was his extensive railway commuting experience eating “one ghastly meal after another” that inspired him to open trackside eateries serving affordable, quality food. The well-managed Harvey food empire lasted the better part of a century.
This biography by Stephen Fried is entitled Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West.
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