"Greeks Invade Cheap Restaurant Field" article - Chicago Daily Tribune, May 2, 1909

Published in the Chicago Daily Tribune, May 2, 1909


Have Kitchen in Front.

Life "All Work and No Play"
By Herman Miller

"Whose is the hand that feeds us?"

Thousands of Chicagoans might properly ask that question.  For not only are most of the domestics in the city recruited from foreign countries but even the restaurants, the genuine American restaurants, are rapidly passing over into foreign hands.  America may feed the world, but it is generally a foreigner that feeds the restaurant going Chicagoan.  Whether it be the long hours that restaurant work requires, the small earnings, or, perhaps the confining character of the work that is responsible for the constant dwindling of the number of American restaurant proprietors, the fact is that their number is constantly decreasing.  In the foreign newspapers one frequently meets advertisements inserted by Americans who would sell their restaurants to foreigners.

Of the foreigners who are invading the restaurant field in the city, Greeks are coming to the front as leaders.  The Italian may run a sort of an artistic cafe, the Chinese may cater to the fancy trade of chop suey eaters.  The Greek caters to the American workman.  His meals are not fancy.  They are plain and wholesome and in general strive to give one "his money's worth."

The number of Greek restaurants in Chicago, located in American neighborhoods, serving American meals, and catering to American trade, is about 400.  The number of Greeks employed in the restaurant business in about 2,000.  Large as this number is when compared with the number of Greeks in the city, which is somewhere around 15,000 or 18,000, it become still larger when measured by the time since the Greeks first entered in the restaurant business in Chicago.  According to some of the old Greek residents in the city it is only four years since the Greeks "discovered" the unlimited field which Chicago offers in the restaurant industry.  Four years ago, they declare, there were not more than half a dozen restaurants owned by Greeks who catered to trade outside of their countrymen.  Today every Greek who wants to make money in the restaurant business goes out of his own colony and establishes a restaurant in an American neighborhood.

Have Kitchen in Front.

Greek restaurants are found all over the city.  They are located in districts inhabited or frequented by working people.  The majority of these restaurants, however, according to a Greek editor who has investigated them, are located on west Madison, Halsted, and South State streets.  On West Madison street, between Canal street and Western avenue, there are about eighty Greek restaurants.  On Halsted street, between Madison and Harrison streets, there are ten such restaurants, in addition to a large number of Greek restaurants catering to Greek trade only.  On South State street, between Van Buren and Twenty-sixth streets, there are about 100 Greek restaurants and lunchrooms.

The life of the Greek restaurant keeper is a life of all work and no play."  He works hard himself and makes his waiters and helpers work hard.  The Greek restaurant owner works sixteen and eighteen hours a day.  His waiters work at least twelve hours a day.  But more often they work fourteen hours.  It is this hard work which may largely account for his success in the restaurant business from that field.  The Greek restaurant keeper is generally a young man.  He is single or has a sweetheart in the old world.  In business he takes for his motto "Small profits, but a large trade."  And if he does not make as much profit on a meal as his American neighbor makes he works longer hours and pays his help less for longer hours work than the American waiter puts in.  Above all he spends less.  He has fewer needs than his American competitor, who generally has a family here and wants to keep them in comfort or wants to give his children a good education.

Life "All Work and No Play"

"The Greek restaurant keeper is beginning to pay more to his waiters," said a Greek editor who had spent considerable time investigating these restaurants.  "A few years ago it would frequently happen that these restaurant keepers would bring over boys of 16 to 18 years of age and work them hard here for a little or nothing.  Now this form of peonage has been stopped by the police.  The restaurant keepers who are suspected as in the least mistreating their employes are watched by the Greek consul and by the leaders of the Greek colony.  Still, however, the Greek restaurateur goes the American 'one better' in help.  The Greek waiter cooperates more with his employer than the American waiter does.  I don't mean to say that this is a good thing, but it's a fact.  The Greek waiter generally lives in the same building where the restaurant is.  Sometimes he stays with the proprietor on the floor above the restaurant.  The waiter has less opportunities for social life than the American waiter and therefore attends to business more.

"Then, too, most of these waiters are young men who are still 'green', so to speak.  They are eager to learn, eager to work and make money.  Frequently a Greek waiter does the work which two or three waiters would not be required to do in an American restaurant.

"Old Story" Adds Zest

"There is, also, a sentimental reason why the Greek restaurant keepers, as well as their waiters, work hard.  The restaurant keeper generally has a sweetheart in the old country.  The sooner he becomes established in this country, or makes enough money with which to return to his native land, the sooner his ambitions will be realized.  Love sickness, in his case, makes him work harder to realize his dreams.  Every year a party of such young Greeks return to their native country, marry, and bring their wives to Chicago or remain in Greece."

According to the opinion of some of these Greek proprietors of restaurants, American cooking is the easiest thing on earth.  By keeping an American cook for about two months at the time they open up the restaurant they can easily learn the "art".  Then they do the cooking themselves.  The reason for this is that there are no elaborate dishes to be prepared and because the American likes to have his meat cooked while hi is waiting for it.  

The method of getting into the restaurant business is simple.  The Greek boy who comes over here starts as a dishwasher in some restaurant.  From his comrades he picks up the few English words, he is deemed fit for it, he is promoted to the rank of waiter.  He works as a waiter a few years and by that time he generally has saved about $300.  With this he starts a restaurant.  If he needs more money he goes into partnership with some one.  Once in business his frugality and hard work, together with cheap and faithful hep, assure his success.