Figure 1 La Fonda Harvey House, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

For this month’s posting, we are looking to the famous Fred Harvey Company, which was known for revamping the way people ate on the railroad.

When it comes to the history of chain restaurants, if you ask the average American, “Who started the chain restaurant business?” the likelihood is high that they will say the McDonald brothers or Ray Kroc. However, the true father of the chain restaurant business is Fred Harvey.

Having emigrated from England in 1850, Fred Harvey spent a lot of time on trains when he got to the United States. He first started out in New York, then moved to New Orleans, then to St. Louis, and finally to Kansas where he ultimately settled. Through his travels, and his work in various restaurants along the way, he saw the chaos and poor service of trackside eating houses and decided he could do better.

After working for other people in the hospitality industry, Harvey opened his first restaurant in the depot in Topeka, Kansas in 1876. Shortly after opening this restaurant, Fred paired with the Santa Fe Railway and created eating houses along the track wherever there was a water stop for the train. Quality was Harvey’s goal, so he ensured that his restaurants were clean, bright, and inviting with fresh food and top-notch service. From this one restaurant, the Fred Harvey company would grow to include over 155 hotels, restaurants, lunch counters, and newsstands.

One of the most famous “Harvey Houses”, as the hotels were called, was located at the end of the old Santa Fe Trail in Santa Fe, New Mexico and was called La Fonda. “La Fonda” simply means “The Inn” in Spanish. The site of the current La Fonda has hosted various inns since the early 1600s, making it the oldest hotel site in the United States.

The Santa Fe Railway/Fred Harvey acquired the La Fonda hotel in 1925, and reopened it in grand style in 1929. By this time, Fred’s son, Ford, was in charge of the Fred Harvey company, as Fred passed away in 1901. Mary Colter, who designed other Harvey Houses, was the interior designer, while Ford was in charge of the food and hospitality management. Konrad Allgaier, who was German-born and a former chef for Kaiser Wilhelm, was the head chef at the La Fonda restaurant while it was owned by Fred Harvey. Allgaier created a pudding named for La Fonda that we have shared with you, below. Perhaps it can be a new addition to your holiday dessert lineup this Thanksgiving Weekend!

As always, if you try making this recipe, please let us know how it turned out via our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving, from our Colorado Railroad Museum family to yours!

La Fonda Pudding

Adapted from Dining by Rail by James D. Porterfield

  • 1 cup finely crushed graham crackers (12)
  • 3 egg yolks, well beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 egg whites, stiffly beaten

For topping:

  • 1 pint heavy cream, whipped
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crush graham crackers fine using a rolling pin and set aside for later use. Butter bottom and sides of an 8” x 8” baking pan and set aside. Separate egg yolks from whites. In medium mixing bowl, beat egg yolks until thickened and of a lemon color. Continue beating constantly as you gradually add the sugar. Into the yolk/sugar mixture, fold the graham cracker crumbs, salt, chopped walnuts, vanilla and baking powder. Beat egg whites until light peaks form, then fold into mixture. Pour mixture into baking pan and bake for 45 minutes, until inserted knife comes out clean. Remove baking pan to wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cut into 2-inch squares. Serve topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of chopped walnuts.

Figure 2 Map of Fred Harvey Establishments.

Figure 3 Courtyard of La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, NM.


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