Diversity on the Menu

Earlier this week I gave a talk at the invitation of the Archives Department of the San Diego City Clerk’s Office. It was part of their annual Archives Month program, held every October and featuring stories from historical archives throughout San Diego County. (Thanks again to the Archives Department folks for holding this event and for inviting me to participate.)

The subject of my talk was “Eating Local In the Roaring Twenties.” One of my lecture points was that eating out in San Diego in the 1920s offered a diverse menu of dishes, reflecting the diverse communities growing within the city and county. As an example, here’s a typical bunch of restaurant ads you’d find in 1920s San Diego newspapers, in this case from one page of the San Diego Union’s edition of December 16, 1928:

We see cuisines on offer from Italian to Mexican to Chinese to what some might consider your basic Anglo meat-and-potatoes dishes. I could show you more ads for French, Japanese and Kosher offerings as well. My research indicated that many, if not most of these places were run, at least at the start, by individuals and families who’d immigrated to San Diego from other parts of the world. And their clientele came to cross racial and ethnic borders as well. These places often became popular hang-outs and meeting places for all local residents, regardless of race or ethnicity, as the “Dine and Dance” reference on the ad for the Nanking Café illustrates.

Food for thought, you might say

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Support Your Local…Oh, Wait a Minute

Below is part of an ad in the San Diego Union of January 3, 1925 for Waite’s Economy Stores:

As of January 1925, Waite’s had 10 stores in San Diego County, eight in San Diego city and one each in Coronado and La Jolla.

They weren’t through growing. Just a few months later, in its April 26 issue, the Union announced, “As a necessary part of its expansion program, Waite’s, Inc., one of San Diego’s big grocery chain concerns, has moved its headquarters into a new warehouse, 753-56 Union Street.”

The chain was up to 13 stores, according to the article, and the company was in the process of building a new store “in Escondido, on one of the best corners,” and planning on opening one in National City as well as another new one in San Diego city.

“Their business has grown rapidly,” the article concluded. “Large volume buying makes it possible for this company to sell merchandise at low prices.”

Waite’s had grown to 20 stores by September 1925, but the ads under that name disappeared from local newspapers. The reason for that was found by your History Seeker research team which uncovered this item in the September 1925 issue of a marketing publication of the day, The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal:

“The Safeway Stores, Los Angeles, have taken over the 20 stores of the Waite’s Incorporated Chain of San Diego and will operate them under the Safeway name and system. This gives the Safeway chain a total of 306 stores.”

“Large volume buying” in more ways than one.