Welcome to Flashback Friday, where we take a look at a fascinating bit of pop culture history, usually from 19th century America.
A couple of weeks after doing a post on The Gibson Girl, I ran across this fabulous post on Evelyn Nesbit, one of the models for the Gibson Girl. It’s from Jan Whitaker’s blog, and she has graciously agreed to let me feature it here.
But let me tell you a little bit about Jan first. I first “met” her online when I was doing research on 19th century tea rooms and department stores for my first novel. She had written Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America and Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class. How perfect was that? After reading her books, I had some follow-up questions, which she answered for me. I’m an avid follower of her blog, and if you’re a history or consumerism buff, you’d get a lot from it, too. Here’s her main site, Jan Whitaker’s Consumer Society, which features her books and projects. Her blog link, “Restaurant-ing through History,” is below.
Celebrity restaurants: Evelyn Nesbit’s tea room
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of celebrities have gone into the restaurant business when their careers waned. Their level of direct involvement may be high or low but all these ventures bank on the idea that a famous name will attract customers.
When Evelyn Nesbit opened her NYC tea room in May of 1921 she made sure that her name was prominently displayed. Located on West 52nd street just off Broadway, the sign saying “Evelyn Nesbit’s Specialty Shop” was visible from the theater district’s Great White Way.
She was then in her mid-30s, years away from her peak as a teenage artist’s model [above, age 16], “Gibson Girl,” Floradora showgirl, and millionaire’s wife. Her fame derived not only from her former good looks – from the years her image was displayed everywhere – but also from her involvement in a romantic triangle with prominent architect Stanford White and her insanely jealous husband Harry Thaw. After Thaw shotand killed White in 1906, she became notorious as a witness during the sensational “trial of the century.”
By 1921 she had divorced Thaw, had a son, returned sporadically to the stage, taken up sculpture, published a memoir, and married a second husband from whom she was estranged. Characteristically, she was in debt, owing the equivalent of a year’s income to a dress shop.
Do you think celebrities are more or less successful at opening restaurants/businesses by relying solely on their brand? Jan and I would love to hear from you!
Until next time,
9 thoughts on “Evelyn Nesbit’s Tea Room, by Jan Whitaker”
Fascinating post — yours and Jan’s. I think that the celebrity factor can attract diners to give a restaurant a shot. But it won’t keep them coming back unless there is something more to the experience — good food, atmosphere, etc.
What’s interesting these days is how many chefs ARE celebrities! Thank you, Food Network.
That’s a great point, Julie! Until recently (oh, say, the last 10 yrs or so), Julia Child was the only celebrity chef in this country. Thanks for the visit!
A woman after my own heart. I think Planet Hollywood proves it takes more than a famous name (or two) to make a successful restaurant. I’m guessing Evelyn was a personality writ large who gave her guests more than a culinary experience.
As an aside, I took my husband to a well-known Hollywood Italian restaurant called “Frankie’s” tonight. It was my local in my single days. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Frankie, now white-haired, came up to our table, shook hands with both of us and said “Welcome to my restaurant,” just like I remembered from 12 years ago. I can see Evelyn doing that.
You’re right, Debra. The name gets folks in the door, but as Julie also pointed out, you’ve got to keep them coming back with good food and service. I’d also add “atmosphere” to the mix. People go out to eat for the experience, not just because they are hungry – you can get a burrito at 7-Eleven for that. So glad you stopped by!
Kathy, you’ve been tagged 🙂 Have fun!
I love anything tea room! You want to make me happy? Give me a pot of tea and a gluten free snack. 🙂
Love the post, Kathy!
Ah, there is nothing like tea, is there? Thanks, Jenny!
Everyone thinks owning a restaurant is easy and all you need is a name. But, yes, the quality of food and service have to be there to keep it going.
Celebs like it because as the owner, you’re the star of the show, just as they were on stage. They rarely last. Love the info on Evelyn!
Thanks, Marcia! Jan is a fabulous researcher and writer, isn’t she?
Comments are closed