A Restaurant Tale

Here at Willie’s, we love our history just as much as we love our food.   The backstory of how the restaurant became a part of our societal culture is quite a fascinating one and yet people have rarely heard it.  That is where we come in.

The word restaurant comes from the French restaurer, meaning to “restore or refresh.”  A restaurant was a place to make people feel better. In fact, during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance it was common to study medicine and food preparation together.

Paris is often cited as the birthplace of the restaurant. The institutions in which these “restaurants” were served had costly and luxurious interiors and appealed to a wealthy clientele. They were a far cry from the unsavory taverns and inns that typically provided food to travelers. Concepts such as seating patrons at their own tables, providing dining at unspecified hours and a menu from which diners could choose their own dishes came out of these institutions and became an established part of “restaurant” service.

The idea of selling food for profit goes back as far as the earliest civilization. The need for public eateries was firmly established as far back as the Roman Empire and Ancient China. When peasants and farmers brought their livestock and other goods to the urban markets, often they traveled for several days at a time. This brought about the earliest form of restaurants, the roadside inn. Usually located in the middle of the countryside, inns served meals at a common table to travelers

During the Middle Ages, it was actually illegal to sell cooked meat in any form.  But in 1765, a man by the name of Boulanger added cooked lamb to a stew he sold in his shop.   The caterer’s guild sued and Boulanger won the case. Over the next 20 years leading up to the French Revolution, more and more shops like Boulanger’s began opening up all over Paris.

But what of the first American restaurant?  That distinction is generally given to Julien’s Resorator, a Boston establishment opened in 1793 by Jean-Baptiste Julien.  Julien specialized in turtle soup, and he went so far as to take out advertisements in local papers exalting his “fresh supply of green sea turtles, of a midding size” prepared “in the best manner.” Taking a cue from eateries in France, Julien emphasized the healthy nature of his dishes, promising to nourish, invigorate and strengthen bodies with his various cordials, broths, soups and meats.

Nowadays, whether it’s for a sandwich or a 10-course tasting menu, many people don’t think twice about getting a bite to eat at a restaurant. In fact, nearly every street corner presents a new opportunity to enjoy a meal without the hassle of messing up our own kitchens.

The next time you feel grabbing some good old fashioned grub we encourage you to visit Willie’s for a truly historic meal!