Pope's Cafeterias

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 Pope.
 

International Shoe Company
Above: Cafeteria Counter
Left: Harry Pope's Recipes

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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 successful.
 

Pope's Cafeteria, 3538 Washington Avenue, 1953
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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.
 

Pope's Cafeteria, 804 Washington Avenue, 1953
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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.
 

May 29, 1936 December 26, 1937 December 3, 1942 December 14, 1942
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Ads with Menus
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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.
 

Pope's Cafeteria kitchen and dining areas, 1953
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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 expanded 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 Shopping Center.
 

Pope's Cafeteria, Northland Shopping Center, 1958
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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.

Customers these days expect something better in atmosphere no less than in food, in the opinion of Harry Pope. Pope has reduced the preparation and serving of food commercially to a scientific routine. He began demonstrating last week in a newly completed eating establishment in Clayton.

Pope's new cafeteria is in the basement of the Siteman Building at Bemiston and Carondelet in Clayton. It has an atmosphere of candlelight and old wine, the coziness (less than 2000 square feet) of a small-town, old-world coffee house.

The walls are teak, with wax-luster finish. They are adorned with imported art objects, including a fourteenth-century head in bas relief on greenstone; a split, lathe-turned post off a Venetian gondola; a worm-eaten wood carving from a French cathedral; contemporary framed pictures made of inlaid seeds. These are soft-lighted by white-globed ceiling lights having rheostat switches, and by indirect rays from brass canister fixtures that extend above and below suspended walnut canopies.

Floor in the dining area is carpeted wall to wall with a spring-back synthetic fiber covering in blue-green pattern. On two sides of the room this carpet runs right up to the gold-white upholstery of wall-length settees. Tables are for two, with square sides, so they may be pushed together, but with curved ends to make it easier for diners on the settees to get out from behind them. Tables and chairs are walnut, with tops of teak-finished formed mica and pumpkin-orange mica edgings.
 

Pope's Self Service Restaurant, 111 S. Bemiston, Clayton

A space divider above a teak wainscot that separates serving area from dining area is done with "mobiles" of vari-shaped concrete in welded steel rods.

Kitchen and service areas are combined, all open to view, as compact as a Pullman diner. The salad maker's work table is no more than half a dozen steps from the service counter and she may function at both posts with a minimum of lost motion. The same goes for the chefs, whose counter for hot foods is at the other end of the short service line.

At the middle of the service line is the coffee urn and diners draw their own coffee. Next to the urn is the cash register.

Those who don’t want hot food go no farther, pay the tab and get out of the line. Those who get hot food double back to the center of the line to make payment, then walk directly into the dining area. Pope got the idea of the split service counter with the cashier in the center in Denmark last year. He says the cost of space and the cost and difficulty of getting help, coupled with a need for utmost speed in service to half-hour noon lunchers, dictates the compacting of operations.

With seating for 75 at a time, the new cafeteria is engineered, he said, to handle as many diners in a given time as an old-style unit have 300 seats.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 23, 1958

Pope's continued 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.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 16, 1964 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 9, 1966
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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.
 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1960s
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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.
 

Becky Thatcher on the St. Louis riverfront

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 and salads.
 

Becky Thatcher Luncheon Menu
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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.

  • Cafeterias were opened in West County Center and Northwest Plaza.

  • Three Holloway House cafeterias were acquired.

  • Three Briefeater quick food restaurants, featuring a full line of pastries, salads, soups and sandwiches, were open – two downtown and one in Clayton.

  • The El Rancho, a self-service restaurant featuring Mexican food, was opened downtown in the Famous-Barr garage building.

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.

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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.
 

Harry A. Pope Pope's Main Office, 805 St. Charles

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