Every week, we tap into the deep recesses of the New York Public Library’s vast archive of old menus to take a look at the history of dining out. Click here for more Menus of the Week.
The name Horn & Hardart is synonymous with the word automat. Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart opened their first automat-style restaurant, in which you insert a coin into a slot, open a small door, and remove a prepared dish, in Philadelphia in 1902, and by the time of Horn’s death in 1941, there were 157 locations in the Philadelphia and New York areas, serving 500,000 patrons per day.
The most defining aspect of the automat was convenience, and lots of folks would drop in for a quick breakfast on their way to work. In this breakfast menu from 1940 (courtesy of the New York Public Library), when the automat was at its height of popularity, a wide selection of breakfast items are on display. Just $0.25 would get you fresh or stewed fruit or juice and eggs, griddle cakes, or "frizzled beef" (which is another name for chipped beef) on toast.
There was also a nice selection of breakfast cakes and breads, like coffee cake, cinnamon buns, and the great-sounding "cinnamon butterfly cake" which contains raisins and pecans. There are also plenty of cereals (including the long-gone Wheatsworth), and hot breakfasts like omelettes, country-style tongue and egg, fried tomatoes with scrambled eggs, and the intriguing "pancake-style" deviled ham and egg.
After looking at the menu, it’s clear why Horn & Hardart was such a popular chain. Not only was it inexpensive and convenient ($0.25 in 1940 equals about $4.16 today), the food served was wholesome and no-frills.