Book Review: Appetite for America

In the book Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West we learn that the name Fred Harvey was once ubiquitous in America. His company built the nation’s first chain of restaurants, lunchrooms, hotels, bookstores—in fact, the first national chain of anything—and was heralded for its unusually high standards of customer service and employee loyalty. By the 1940s, Fred and the Harvey Girls were such a well-established part of Americana that they inspired both a best-selling novel and an Oscar-winning movie musical with Judy Garland. And they went on to inspire everything from the Howard Johnson’s chain to McDonald’s and Starbucks, and all the major national hotels (along with a robust community of Harvey memorabilia collectors.)

Appetite for America covers Fred Harvey’s history. His first big day was the opening of a “eating house” for the Santa Fe, Atchison and Topeka Rail Road in Topeka, Kansas. Eating out was not an experience that most Americans enjoyed or looked forward to. Establishments offering food were suspect for many good reasons and the actual food offered was usually mediocre at best. But Fred Harvey changed that: eating at one of Fred Harvey’s eating houses was virtually guaranteed to be a pleasant experience with tasty and nourishing food at reasonable prices. The nation was on the move with the spread of railroads – and Fred Harvey reached a deal with the Santa Fe rail road to feed its ever increasing number of passengers. A shrewd entrepreneur, Harvey realized that creating satisfied customers was the key to success.

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