An advertisement in the Dec. 5, 1932 Daily Oklahoman introduced the Britling Cafeteria as “Oklahoma City’s newest good place to eat,” adding it would “soon be famous in Oklahoma City for serving fine home-cooked dishes at new and sure-to-be-popular low prices.” Accompanying renderings showed patrons dressed in fine gowns and tuxedos dining in opulent settings.
The restaurant at 221 W First was opened a few days later by A.W.B. Johnson, who had opened his first cafeteria during World War I utilizing conservation methods popularized as a war measure, combined with serving quality food. He opened his first Britling Cafeteria in Birmingham, Alabama, followed by additional restaurants opened in Louisville and Memphis – both of which were then transferred to the control of Johnson’s sons.
Those who dined at the cafeteria that first week were treated 5-cent bowls of vegetable and cream of tomato soup, beef loaf with onion sauce for 12 cents, deviled crabs for 15 cents, veal pot roast and dressing or baked ham for 24 cents. Sides included Mexican slaw, potato salad, sweet slaw, Colorado lettuce, Waldorf Salad and sliced tomatoes.
The restaurant isn’t mentioned after 1948. A year later the address of 221 W First appears to have been swallowed up by the appliance section of the growing John A. Brown Department Store.
Such restaurants, however, are a critical part of a community’s history. They are where happy memories are created – and hopefully a memento might survive decades later.
Such is the case with the Britling Cafeteria, which closed decades ago. A simple matchbook collected by restaurateur and self-professed history geek Kyle Anderson gives a glimpse at the cafeteria’s reach for grandeur.
Anderson, owner of Kyle’s 1025 at NW 70 and Western (formerly Charlie Newton’s and before that the Kentucky Club), is a fifth generation Oklahoman whose collection of restaurant memorabilia includes menus from Beverly’s and Glen’s Hickory Inn, matchbooks from numerous old restaurants and hotels, table settings, advertisements and other mementos.
Anderson learned about the importance of such acquisitions as a youth volunteering his time for the Oklahoma Historical Society at the Overholser Mansion. He admits his mother and grandmother rarely cooked – and the family dinner hour was often spent at Queen Anne Cafeteria in Founders Tower, which was where his grandfather worked.
He remembers enjoying meals at Sleepy Hollow Restaurant, where his grandfather often joked that the pineapple sherbet, which never seemed to disappear, was left over from a truck that wrecked in 1945.
Anderson’s mementos are the foundation for Retro Metro OKC’s vintage restaurant collection, which also includes items displayed by members and the Oklahoma Historical Society. And this is one collection where visitors’ comments may shape the future of our history.
Anderson’s restaurant is itself a bit of history, having once been home to the last incarnation of the Kentucky Club, where the city’s well to do used a secret buzzer to gain access to an upstairs room where drinks flowed a bit more freely than legally allowed and certain games were conducted despite the disapproval of the law.
The history of the Kentucky Club goes back to 1939, when it was opened at 1226 NE 63 by Kentucky transplants Tony and Winnie Bell Marneres. The site was far out in the country – and customers could pay a $1 cover charge and enjoy a 25-cent Coke in the air conditioned oasis. Newspaper clippings document the gambling; only legend and gossip support reports of alcohol (Oklahoma remained a Prohibition state long after the national ban was repealed in 1933). The original building burned in 1949 and reopened as the Ramada Club (it is now home to the County Line BBQ).
John Bell, Winnie Marneres’ brother and head chef at the Kentucky Club, was lured away to start a new Kentucky Club at NW 70 and Western, where, legend has it, some of the old activities enjoyed at the original establishment were resumed in an upstairs room that could only be accessed by a hidden buzzer. The restaurant was later renamed Bells – then Charlie Newton’s – and now Kyle’s 1025.
As this collection is being added (July, 2010), Anderson is planning to share the history of his restaurant, and his extensive mementos with patrons, with menus changing every couple of weeks to feature recipes from beloved old eateries.
Please feel free to use the comments section to share your own memories, even recipes, from your favorite old Oklahoma City restaurants.