What do America’s longest-running restaurants have in common?

I read a great article today in Business Week that profiled the country’s longest-running restaurants.

Among others, they include the Union Oyster House in Boston (est. 1826!), Delmonico’s in New York (1837), Berghoff’s in Chicago (1898), el Charro Cafe in Tucson (1922) and the Original Pantry Cafe in Los Angeles (1924).

These institutions have survived a host of economic meltdowns and natural disasters, not to mention changes in the surrounding geography and changes in ownership. So what is the common thread that ties them all together?

It would be easy to say all it takes to stay in business is good food, great service and atmosphere, and a boatload of capital to get you through the hard times, but even with those crucial conditions, I think it goes a bit deeper.

Staying relevant

The article touched briefly on what I like to call the “Madonna technique” – being able to reinvent yourself to fit in and stay relevant in any decade. In the 1820s, when the Union Oyster House opened in Boston, John Quincy Adams was president, the very first photograph was taken, and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony premiered in Vienna. It is indeed a delicate balance for an establishment to both stay true to its roots as well as continue to be timely and trendy.

Being first

Delmonico’s in New York City is credited with a number of culinary innovations. It is the birthplace of Eggs Benedict, Lobster Newburg and Baked Alaska. Moreover, the restaurant was the first to present diners with a menu, and the first to offer private dining rooms.

Social psychologist Kurt Lewin said, “if you truly want to understand something, try to change it.” It’s just that sort of inventive and creative nature that I believe is not only helpful, but essential to staying ahead of the competition.

Being genuine

Antoine’s in New Orleans (est. 1840) is still family-run by the fifth generation of Antoine Alciatore, an immigrant credited with making New Orleans a “culinary capital.” The dining room is rich with memorabiliia, and its owners are said to regard each member of their staff as extended family. This type of sincerity is no-doubt reflected in every facet of the establishment, and is something that customers will recognize and will return to.

What are some of the establishments YOU think will still be around in 100 years?

The short piece is also accompanied by some great photographs.

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