Life Before McDonald’s

Part of Pittsburgh's Chinatown

Part of Pittsburgh's Chinatown

Believe it or not, there was a time when there was no such thing as McDonald’s. The same can be said for Wendy’s, Burger King, Arby’s, Taco Bell, Captain D’s, Long John Silver’s, Subway, Quizno’s, and Jack in the Box. Come to think of it, when I was a youngster, there were no Appleby’s, T.G.I.Friday’s, O’Charley’s, Longhorn, Outback, Macaroni Grill, or any other national chain restaurants. Let’s face it, fifty years ago, there were very few restaurants from which to choose. Perhaps that’s why we ate most of our meals at home.

When I think back on the business district that was closest to the home in which I grew up, there were, at most, two places where one might be able to get something to eat. I’m not counting the small grocery stores; nor am I considering the stores that sold penny candy. In fact, I’m not even considering the sort of meal one might expect at a sit-down restaurant.

One of those places was what we called a ‘dairy’ store. I’m not sure why such places were given that name. I don’t recall ever being sent there to buy milk; milk was delivered to our home. If we needed eggs, butter, or cheese, mom would send me to either Simpson’s or Bartlet’s.

The ‘dairy’ store did sell ice cream cones, chocolate covered ice cream bars, creamcicles, and popcicles. That’s about as close as they got to dairy products. But they also sold hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries. For all I know, they may also have sold cold sandwiches.

I never indulged in those offerings – I never had enough money – but I did buy ice cream cones, popcicles, and soda pop at the dairy store.

In Pittsburgh, we just called it pop. I added the word ‘soda’ so da people from other parts of the country would know what I was talking about. Here in Georgia, many of the natives would simply call it co-cola… regardless of the manufacturer or flavor.

The other place in Crafton Heights one might hope to find a burger was the tavern. I was too young to pass through the doors of that place, so I cannot honestly say whether they served food or not.

The main difference between the burgers that could be bought in the days before McDonald’s and after the advent of the plethora of fast food restaurants was the fact that in the old days, everything was cooked after it was ordered. Nothing was prepared in advance; that was not cost effective. This was true for everything including burgers, hot dogs, and pizza.

As for pizza, that was a luxury item on the Leeds family menu. Maybe once or twice a year – for whatever reason, this became a New Year’s Eve tradition – we’d have Chef Boyardee pizza. If you’ve never had this experience, I encourage you to stop at your favorite grocery store and pick up a package to try.

For whatever reason, I’m suddenly reminded of an advertisement for Stoney’s beer. The tag line was “If your favorite tavern doesn’t carry Stoney’s, then how come it’s your favorite?”

Chef Boyardee’s pizza came in a box that included an envelope or bag full of flour, yeast, and whatever else was required for pizza crust dough, a can of pizza sauce, and another envelope or bag filled with the grated cheese topping. That was it. When you made the dough – by simply adding water and kneading – and spread it on a cookie sheet, you could almost see through it. Obviously, this was the thin crust variety of pizza. After you added the sauce and cheese, you’d bake the thing for fifteen or twenty minutes and have a treat that vaguely resembled the pizza we’d eventually be able to buy at the pizzerias. As I recall, pizzerias began to appear about the time I was in the tenth grade – that would make it around 1960.

In all honesty, there were a few restaurants in the Pittsburgh area when I was growing up. My family seldom frequented them simply because we couldn’t afford to eat anywhere other than home. Even when we went on vacation, we’d buy groceries and cook our own meals at whatever cottage we were renting.

But our family was not much different than many others. So, had there been more restaurants, they wouldn’t have been in business for long. The ones I can recall are Klein’s Seafood, Naples Italian, and the Atlantic Grill (a German restaurant) in downtown Pittsburgh, the Venice Italian restaurant in Beechview, and Wright’s Seafood in Carnegie or Bridgeville. However, perhaps the best known restaurant was Tambellini’s on Mt. Washington.

I’m sure there were others, but these are the ones that have stuck in my mind all these years, Eventually I was able to dine at some of them, but not until I was married and earning my own money.

I wonder if my father would think I was being less than frugal when I dined out.

Before I complete this post, I must explain the photo at the beginning of this article.

Many people who have spent their entire lives in Pittsburgh may not know that there is a Chinatown in the city. It’s located just to the left of the Boulevard of the Allies ramp. At one time, there were several restaurants there, but now it’s down to two or three.

I never ate at Chinatown (I didn’t know it was there) until I was in my late twenties  or early thirties. Prior to then, I would’ve told anyone who was interested that I did NOT like Chinese food. Truth to tell, that was based on my mother’s Chop Suey.

Then, in 1972 or 1973, I was in New York City visiting friends. Without being given an option, I was told we were going to Chinatown for dinner. I was not pleased, but didn’t want to be the party pooper. We dined at Hong Fats. I let it be known that I didn’t like Chinese food, and let others order for me. A group of six or eight ordered a wide selection of dishes and we all shared. When it was all said and done, I finished off each of the platters. Now I love Chinese food.

Ever since then I insist that whoever I am with at least taste what is served. Anyone who lets his or her mind decide whether or not a dish is edible is making a big mistake.

And that’s all I have to say for today!

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10 Responses to Life Before McDonald’s

  1. Ivan G. says:

    You know you’re in good company when someone calls it “pop.”

  2. josce says:

    it has nothig in it about McDonalds even thought the title is life befrore McDonalds. It should have “unlike McDonalds today…”

  3. jimsjourney says:

    Josce,

    If I’m writing a piece to explain what life was like before the advent of McDonald’s, I’m assuming people are aware of McDonald’s. The object is not to describe McDonald’s, but to explain how it “used to be.” I’m sorry if you feel deceived or misled.

  4. Tiffani says:

    this needs more about mcdonalds!

  5. jimsjourney says:

    Tiffani needs to learn to read the comments before she adds to them. An article written about life before something would be misleading if it contained lots of information about the thing that did not yet exist. Why is that so difficult to understand?

  6. Selena says:

    I found this really helpful for my McDonalds project! The other sites don’t have anything about life before McDonalds, just during McDonald’s. Great article!

    • Romel says:

      this didn’t help a lot i just wanted to know any other restaurants before Mcdonalds. So not worth it

      • Jim says:

        Note to Romel: If you had read the article more closely you would’ve discovered that there were very few national chain restaurants of any kind before McDonald’s. The only one that comes to mind is Howard Johnson’s. Otherwise, each city and town had it’s own privately owned and operated eateries.

  7. jimsjourney says:

    Thank you Selena. I’m glad it served its purpose.

  8. Your way of telling everything in this post is
    genuinely pleasant, every one can without difficulty understand it, Thanks
    a lot.

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