The origins of Pope's Cafeterias can be found in its customers' footwear. In 1915, Harry A. Pope was a foreman at the International Shoe Company in St. Louis. Concerned about the cold lunches that he and his staff had to eat, he conceived a system of preordered hot meals. His ideas were accepted by the company and he was authorized to try his plan.
The major problem was how to produce a predictable quantity and uniform quality of food. When Pope found there was no practical system of recipes available, he converted his wife’s New England recipes to commercial formulas. He worked out a series of menus and recipes that produced a given number of servings from a given set of ingredients. Perhaps more significantly, the preparation could be handled by employees with no food service experience.
"It was simply a matter of making the recipes
understandable and presenting them in written form and in
mathematical proportions that eliminated tricky calculations," said
Within 10 years, the International Shoe Company kitchens were serving 15,000 meals a day. Pope, then personnel manager of the shoe company, had become a recognized leader and authority in the restaurant industry. In 1929, he was elected the president of the International Food Service Executives Association.
In 1933, Pope was offered
the YWCA cafeteria at 3538 Washington Avenue. He backed his sons,
Edwin and Harry H. Pope, in the venture, which soon proved
In 1936, Pope acquired the
Child’s Restaurant at 804 Washington. He then resigned from
International Shoe to join his sons on a full-time basis.
The recipes Harry
Pope devised for the International Shoe Company became the basis for
Pope's Cafeterias' operation. Three major ingredients went into Pope’s
system – formulated recipes, careful training and strict adherence
to policy – and none was foremost or more important than another.
Pope's two downtown cafeterias acquired a loyal following among shoppers and downtown workers who breakfasted, lunched and sometimes supped there. For their regulars, the cafeterias, with their cavernous dining rooms dotted with Formica tables and their cadre of polite, smiling waitresses, became a second home.
Pope’s was the kind of
place where customers and employees grew old together; where
friends gathered, or were made; where romances began and ended, amid
subdued prints, potted plants, soft lighting and dignified columns.
In 1942, Harry Pope re-entered the factory food service field by obtaining the contract to feed the workers of the Amertorp Torpedo plant at 3200 South Kingshighway. Eventually, Pope's would expand its factory and contract food service to more than 15 companies.
In 1957, Pope’s opened
St. Louis' first suburban shopping center cafeteria in the Northland
In November of 1958, the upscale Pope's Self Service Restaurant opened in the Siteman Office Building in Clayton. The restaurant was designed after a plan of service which was discovered by Pope during a trip to Europe. In this plan, orders for hot food were placed with the cashier and served directly by the chef from the kitchen.
to expand into suburbia, with Pope's Cafeterias in the Westroads
and South County Shopping Centers. By 1964, there were six Pope's
Cafeterias, with another downtown cafeteria at Seventh & Pine on the
way. In the spring of 1964, Pope's took over operation of the
Golden Falcon Cafeteria and the Round Table Restaurant in the Town
and Country Shopping Center at Page and Woodson.
By 1967, Pope’s provided
more than 30,000 meals a day in the St. Louis area, employed more
than 700, and its South County Shopping Center location was the most
profitable single cafeteria in the country. The company's operations
continued to draw on the food service preparation and management
system techniques developed by Harry Pope. Their restaurants and
cafeterias became showpieces for Europeans who wanted to learn how
to run a restaurant without experienced help.
In 1969, Pope's opened a restaurant on the
Becky Thatcher, a stern-wheel steamboat on the St. Louis
riverfront. With the historic Eads Bridge in the background,
visitors crossed a gangplank, ascended winding stairs and entered
through stained-glass doors.
The main salon, which seated 100 guests, had white walls accentuated by gold trim. Marble-topped tables of white and gold were complemented by black captain's chairs covered in red leather with brass studs. A lounge section seating 70 persons was on the bow of the ship. Another dining room seating 70 was on the upper deck.
The evening menu was
limited to three entrees associated with riverboat dining – channel
catfish, steak and southern fried chicken. These items were repeated
on the luncheon menu, with expanded offerings including sandwiches
Pope's steamboat restaurant was short-lived. It was sold to the Great River Steamboat Company in 1970. In 1975, the Becky Thatcher was moved to Marietta, Ohio.
Pope's continued to expand throughout the metropolitan area.
By the end of 1972, Pope's holdings included eleven public cafeterias, four Round Table Restaurants, two Seven Kitchens Restaurants, three Briefeasters, three retirement residence food services and ten food services in factories or office building.
Harry A. Pope continued to work five days a week, even after officially retiring to a consultant basis in August of 1972. He visited all units on a regular basis to make sure his recipes and policies were being followed.
* * * *
Eventually, tastes changed. Fast food and takeout hurt cafeteria-style restaurants. The big factories where Pope's got its start began fading away.
On September 1, 1971, Food Management Systems acquired the original Pope’s Cafeteria at 3538 Washington. The name of the cafeteria was changed to Hasty House Cafeteria.
After 44 years, on June 27, 1980, the Pope's Cafeteria at 804 Washington Avenue closed its doors for the last time. Almost 8,000 meals per day were served during the cafeteria's all-day schedule in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. But by the 1970s, the crowds had dwindled. The cafeteria was the last of five Pope-run restaurants downtown.
On December 9, 1984, Harry A. Pope died in his sleep at his home in Clayton at the age of 97.
In 1989, the last Pope's location in Florissant
closed. Pope’s Cafeterias died along with the leisurely lunch.
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