History of Delmonico's Restaurant and business operations in New
By JOE O'CONNELL,
First posted August 25, 2001 at 8:25 AM PDT (1525 GMT)
Last updated December 1, 2001 at 11:29 AM PDT (1929 GMT)
NEW YORK, New York -- The history of
Delmonico's Restaurant in New York parallels in many ways the history of
American cuisine. This sets
forth the detailed history of how the Delmonico family built a
institution that lasted for almost a century and came to be synonymous
with haute cuisine. Before reviewing this history, the
reader should be familiar with the Background and Locations of
Before 1824, Swiss-born Giovanni Del-Monico (as the family name was
then spelled) had been a successful sea captain. Giovanni and his
family were from a small village, Mairengo, which was Switzerland's
southernmost area, adjacent to Italy.
In 1824, he retired from a career at sea and opened a wine shop near
the Battery in New York. His business consisted of importing casks
of wine and bottling the wine himself. In business, he called
himself "John" but used the French spelling "Jean" in legal documents.
In 1826, John closed his shop and sailed home to Switzerland.
There, he learned that one of his brothers, Pietro, had opened a very
successful candy shop in Berne. Peter was expert in the art of
making candy and pastries, but he was not a cook. The brothers
discussed business opportunities in America, and they decided to move to
New York and to invest their combined savings of about $20,000 (which
was then a very large amount) to open a new business there.
Just as Giovanni used the English name, "John Del-Monico" in business
and the French spelling in legal documents, Pietro used "Peter
Del-Monico" in business and "Pierre Antoine Del-Monico" in legal
23 William Street
On December 13, 1827, the brothers opened a small cafe and pastry
shop at 23 William Street. Just as they adapted to American
customs by using the English spelling of their first names, they changed
the spelling of their last name from Del-Monico to Delmonico.
Some writers later speculated that the change in the spelling of
their surname resulted from a sign-painter's error. They claimed
that the brothers hired a painter to make a sign for their new business,
and the painter produced a large sign that said "Delmonico".
Rather than correct the sign, it is said, the brothers changed their own
Later events prove the sign story incorrect. The enormous
success of John and Peter resulted from their constant attention to the
smallest detail. It is inconceivable that the brothers would have,
first, allowed a sign-painter to make such a mistake and, secondly,
allow the mistake to continue uncorrected. The brothers themselves
had changed their first names to conform more closely to their new
country, so it is not surprising that they made the small change in the
spelling of their family name.
The brother formed a partnership to own the cafe and pastry shop,
which they called "Delmonico and Brother" (meaning "John Delmonico and
brother Peter"). John managed the business and worked in the
front, with the guests, while Peter worked in the back as the cook.
The cafe and pastry shop started with six, small pine tables, with
chairs to match.
Half a dozen pine tables, with chairs to match, comprised the
furniture of the cafe. Along one side of the room was a counter
spread with white napkins, upon which the day's stock of cakes and
pastries was arranged neatly. John, in white apron and cap, was
the counterman. Aside from the pastries that Peter confected,
the shop dispensed coffee, chocolate, bonbons, orgeats, bavaroises,
wines, liquors, and fancy ices. . . . The first customers the little
cafe attracted were European residents in the city. There was a
considerable colony of these, mostly agents of export houses.
Marooned in a strange country, among people with barbarous eating
habits, the exiles were quick to discover the William Street oasis.
Thomas at 9.
Business grew quickly, and Peter's wife was often found working as a
cashier. This itself was a novelty, for women seldom worked in
cafes. In those days, cafes were frequented exclusively by men,
who could enjoy a coffee or drink, smoke a cigar, and enjoy a light bite
of something to eat. Cafes were modeled on the Parisian concept,
which was similar to the American tavern (or bar). There were no
public dining rooms or restaurants. Men frequented taverns and
cafes for a beverage and bite to eat. For meals, people ate only a
home or, if a visitor, at the inn, where the cost included meals
prepared by the innkeeper's wife or staff.
In May, 1829, the brothers rented a room in the adjoining building,
at 25 William Street. Business continued to grow. In
February, 1830, the brothers rented the entire building at 25 William
Street, where they planned to expand and start a new venture.
25 William Street
New York directories for the years 1828, 1829 and 1830 showed the
brothers business listing as:
Delmonico & Brother, confectioners, 23 William Street
Of course, the information in these directories was always one year
old, so the 1830 directory reflected the business as it was in 1829.
In March, 1830, the brothers opened their new business at 25 William
Street, which was reported in the following, 1831 New York directory as:
Delmonico & Brother, confectioners and Restaurant Francais,
23 and 25 William Street
|This was the very first restaurant or public dining
room ever opened in the United States. The brothers modeled
their restaurant on those which were quickly growing throughout
Europe. Peter was a pastry chef but not a cook, so the
brothers hired French cooks of ability from the steady stream of
immigrants who settled in New York.
The restaurant occupied 25
William Street, while the cafe and pastry shop continued to thrive
next door at 23 William Street.
1827 or 1830?
Did Delmonico's start in 1827, when the
"confectioners" opened at 23 Wm St, or in 1830, when the "Restaurant
Francias" opened on 25 Wm St?
Delmonico's letterhead claimed "Established 1827".
See the letter by Charles C. Delmonico dated Feb. 24, 1893,
reproduced in The Epicurean after the Preface.
But the historical fact is that the restaurant
opened in 1830.
The restaurant was a novelty in New York. There were new foods,
a courteous staff, and cooking that was unknown at the homes of even the
wealthiest New Yorkers. The restaurant was open for lunch and
The restaurant featured a bill of fare, which was itself new.
Those who dined at inns were fed on a set meal for a set price. As
a result, everyone was fed the same meal and were charged the same
price, whether they ate little or much. In Paris, however,
restaurants offered their patrons a "bill of fare", a carte,
which listed separate dishes with individual prices. Each patron
could choose a combination of dishes which was different from the other
patrons. Each dish was priced separately. Thus, the
restaurant was able to accommodate the tastes and hunger of each
individual. The various dishes and their prices were listed on a
carte or (the English translation) "bill of fare". Today,
we call it a menu.
At Williams Street, the Delmonico brothers used this Parisian system.
Foreign visitors and then residents came to the new restaurant to sample
the new fare. They tasted the new, subtle French sauces and
sampled new vegetables, like eggplant, endive and artichokes. The
restaurant grew and prospered.
. . . the process of widening and lightening the diet of Americans
was under way [with the opening of the restaurant]. And at the
same time that it was promoting this basic alternation, Delmonico's
was establishing the pattern of purveying food in America that would
be adopted universally. For Delmonico's was the first successful
restaurant in the country, distinguishable from the service
afforded by a cook-shop, tavern, inn, or hotel. In those places
the dining room was an adjunct, and the customer ate what was served
by the host or proprietor. Meals were at set times, and were
charged for at a flat, inclusive rate.
A restaurant, by contrast, is an establishment where a person may
enter at any time, and from a list of the dishes available may order
as much or as little as he pleases. Furthermore, in a restaurant
the price of each dish is indicated separately, so that the customer
can accommodate his appetite to his purse and know exactly what his
meal will cost in advance, without either paying for something he does
not want, or running the risk of unpleasant surprises when the bill is
The convenience afforded by such an innovation made an immediate
hit with the merchants who lunched and dined at Delmonico's in the
early years. Meals could be taken at opportune moments during
the hurry of the day; they could be as copious or as meager as
the customer wished; and the choice was not confined to a few
daily "specials," but was immense. Restaurants, on the Delmonico
principle, quickly appeared in imitation, spread to other cities, and
long before Delmonico's career closed they had become fixtures in
American life. Delmonico's modest beginnings laid the foundation
of the restaurant industry of today: every eating house in the
Unite States, be it good, bad, or indifferent (which most of them
are), derives from the coffee shop on William Street, and the later
establishment at Beaver and South William.
From the very beginning, the brothers operated the restaurant with a
policy of using only the very best foods prepared in the very best
manner. Quality and not cost was their emphasis.
By the next summer in 1831, the brothers needed more help to run
their restaurant and cafe. John and Peter had another brother,
Francesco, who remained in Switzerland. Francesco agreed to send
his 19 year old son, Lorenzo, to help work in the family business.
On September 1, 1831, Lorenzo Delmonico arrived and began working at
the restaurant. For the next 40 years, Lorenzo Delmonico guided
the restaurant to a status and reputation for excellence that has never
As the restaurant grew, the brothers offered more and more European
imports. They offered their guests the best wines, like Chateau
Margaux, and rare champagne. Their food was served on fine china.
In 1834, the brothers used some of their growing profits to purchase
a 220 acre farm on Long Island. (Later, in 1855, the farm was
incorporated into Brooklyn.) The brothers not only maintained a
country residence at the farm but they also used the farm for great
benefit to grow vegetables for their restaurant.
At the farm, the brothers raised many vegetables that were not
otherwise available in America. The brothers introduced many of
these to their American restaurant guests.
76 Broad Street
In 1834, the brothers purchased a lodging house at 76 Broad Street.
A lodging house in those days was not a hotel in the modern sense, since
most of the house guests were long-term residents. These included
foreign businessmen who remained in America for a year or more.
As was the custom with lodging houses of the day, all guests were
provided regular meals in the ordinary form. That is, all guests
were given the same meal, which was served at set times -- breakfast,
lunch and dinner.
This lodging house would soon prove important to the Delmonico's
By 1835, the brothers had several family members working in the
restaurant and care, including Peter's two older daughters and four of
Francesco's sons, including Lorenzo. (Francesco himself remained
living in Mairengo throughout his life.)
On December 16, 1835, a huge fire swept across the city of New York.
The fire destroyed much of lower New York, including the Williams Street
restaurant and cafe. Luckily, the 76 Broad Street lodging house
was not damaged. The brothers and Lorenzo (who was by then
actively managing the business with his uncles) went to work immediately
to remodel a portion of the lodging house to accommodate the restaurant.
On February 23, 1836, only two months after the fire, the brothers
had reopened the restaurant at the new location. They also decided
to purchase a parcel of land (they had rented the William Street
property) and to rebuild their restaurant. As reported by the
Mr. Delmonico established a restauranteur [sic] in William Street
some years ago, which was the first of any importance known in this
city. By great assiduity to his occupation, he soon acquired not
only a great run of business from foreigners, but from Americans who
were fond of the French style of cooking. On the memorable night
of the 16th December, 1835, his large establishment, which was then in
perfect order, was laid in ashes, and he, with his numerous servants
and attendants, were thrown entirely out of all business. Not
discouraged by the calamities of that night, Mr. Delmonico made
immediate arrangements for erecting a building that would afford amply
room to accommodate the public. As quoted by
No. 2 South William Street
In August, 1836, the brothers purchased a plot of ground at the
corner of Beaver, William and South William (formerly Mill) Street.
There they began construction of a building designed specifically for a
In August, 1837, construction was completed. The building was 3
1/2 stories high, and the entrance featured marble pillars imported from
Pompeii. The first and second floors featured large "saloons"
(dining rooms), decorated with inlaid floors and the most expensive
decor. The third floor held several private dining rooms, as well
as the kitchen. The cellar included wine vaults stocked with
16,000 bottles of French wine.
For the first time, the brothers gave it the name "Delmonico's
Restaurant". But the public soon called it "The Citadel".
Celebrities from around the world flocked to the Citadel to enjoy the
finest of cuisines. The brothers hired John Lux as chef de
cuisine, and he produced continual surprises.
The Delmonicos were always on the alert to learn "the latest thing"
in Parisian dining . . . . [T]hese Gallic inventions, when transferred
to Delmonico's kitchens, often proved superior to their prototypes at
Paris, because Delmonico's cooks considered themselves ambassadors
charged with upholding the honor of their national cuisine; and
in fulfilling this mission they were able to draw upon the greater
abundance of fine foodstuffs available in America. Finally,
their very nostalgia for France spurred them to intenser efforts.
Thomas at 46.
For five years, the restaurant and its fame and fortune grew and
prospered. Then, on November 10, 1842, John Delmonico died
suddenly. After being closed four days, the following notice was
printed in the newspapers:
"The establishment will be reopened today under the same firm of
Delmonico Brothers," the notice read, "and no pains of the bereft
family will be spared to give general satisfaction. Restaurant,
bar-room [i.e., cafe] and private dinners No. 2 South William Street,
furnished rooms No. 76 Broad Street, as usual."
Thomas at 48.
Lorenzo assumed the burden of management. He was 29 years old
and became the general-in-chief of Delmonico's two establishments.
His uncle, Peter, was almost 60 years old and welcomed Lorenzo's
management ability. Lorenzo had been working for the family
business for eleven years and "had mastered every turn of
restaurant-keeping; his grasp of even the most trivial details of
the business would become proverbial. In addition, he had an
instinctive understanding of New York City, and unbounded confidence in
Thomas at 49.
In March, 1843, John's widow died, and Peter and Lorenzo became the
owners of the two businesses and the farm. The business name
became "P.A. & L. Delmonico".
Lorenzo kept a consistent routine schedule. Every day he would
arrive at the market at 4:00 am to supervise the purchase of meat, game,
vegetables and other necessities for the restaurant. At exactly
8:00 am, Lorenzo would return with his purchases to the restaurant,
where he smoked a cigar and then, at 9:00 am, he walked home and slept.
At 6:00 pm, he returned to the restaurant, where he greeted guests and
supervised the business until midnight.
On July 19, 1845, another great fire swept through the city.
The Citadel survived, but the lodging house at 76 Broad Street did not.
Under Lorenzo's leadership, the family business reacted to the
destruction of their lodging house by opening a major new hotel.
They leased a parcel of land at Broadway and Morris Street (just above
Bowling Green) under a ten-year lease, and they contracted for the
construction of a new building.
On June 1, 1846, the Delmonico Hotel opened its doors. The
public announcement of the opening said"
"No pains have been spared to render it one of the most comfortable
in the city, and persons in search of a permanent home, as well as
strangers merely passing by, will find all their wants attended to
with the strictest attention." As quoted by
Thomas at 60.
This was the only real hotel which was ever operated by the
Delmonicos, and it was the first major hotel in the United States which
was operated on the European (rather than the American) plan.
Under the American plan, guests paid one price for room and board.
However, under the European plan, the room and meals were priced
separately, and meals were a la carte rather than "ordinary".
Meals a la carte meant that each dish was ordered from a menu and
priced separately, while the "ordinary" plan meant that all guests were
served the same few dishes at a fixed price.
The hotel prospered under Lorenzo's management, but his uncle, Peter,
was uninterested in the hotel business and was little involved in its
In 1848, Peter Delmonico retired and sold his half interest to
Lorenzo. Thus, Lorenzo became the sole owner of the restaurant at
2 South William Street and the hotel at 25 Broadway. The opened
the grand era of Delmonico fame and fortune.
The hotel became world famous. "Favored by visiting
celebrities, especially Europeans, it was the first considerable hotel
in New York to be conducted successfully on the European plan -- all
meals a la carte, no 'ordinary,' and guests paying separately for room
Thomas at 64. As a concession to the preference of American
men for a bar rather than a French-style cafe (which featured pastries
and coffee, although offering wine and liquor), the hotel 's bar
overshadowed its cafe.
For years, the hotel was unrivaled in New York. Constant
Delmonico, Lorenzo's brother, was the hotel manager, while Lorenzo was
responsible for overall management of the businesses.
By 1856, Lorenzo saw that the city center was continuing its move
northward, and he decided to follow. In 1856, Lorenzo elected to
let the ten-year lease of 25 Broadway expire, and the Delmonico Hotel
was closed forever. (The hotel was reopened as Stevens House.)
In 1856, Lorenzo made a decision which was even more surprising than
his decision to close the Delmonico Hotel: he decided to open a
new restaurant at the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street, across
from City Hall. He signed a 21-year lease on the corner, which had
formed part of the old Irving House, which he renovated the property.
Upon opening the Chambers Street restaurant, Lorenzo changed the
Citadel at South William Street to provide luncheons in the financial
district. The Chambers Street restaurant was an immediate success
with several segments of New Yorkers: the expansive crowd at
midday, the stock brokers and bankers at dinner, and the social set for
dining and parties.
Chambers Street became the place for social dining. The
politicians and the law clerks might usurp it during the day, but in
the evening the "best people" took over -- people who knew how to
dine. True, other restaurants provided good cuisine, but
Delmonico's had a cachet of its own. No competitor could match
its superb service, and if the prices were high, the ability to pay
was not lacking.
Thomas at 75.
The Delmonico family managed the two operations. Lorenzo's
brother, Siro, managed the Chambers Street restaurant; their
brother, Constant, had managed the Delmonico Hotel and, when it closed,
became manager of the Citadel; and Lorenzo was the general manager
and remained responsible for all food purchases.
East 14th Street
Six years after opening the Chambers Street restaurant, Lorenzo moved
again further uptown to Union Square.
On April 9, 1862, Lorenzo opened a converted mansion at Fifth Avenue
and East 14th Street into the most luxurious restaurant that had ever
existed in New York. The entrance was No. 1 East 14th Street, one
block west of Union Square.
The reviews were outstanding. Wrote a Tribune representative:
"As New York spreads herself, so must the House of Delmonico
dilate. Before Fifth Avenue was built, there was the downtown
Delmonico; when it was achieved, there were the Chambers Street
and Broadway Delmonicos; and now that Central Park is
undertaken, precedent to a line of noble mansions to its walls,
Delmonico has spread up to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fourteenth
Street . . . .
The service is splendid. The waiters noiseless as images in a
vision -- no hurry-scurry or preparation. The dishes succeed
each other with a fidelity and beauty like the well composed tones of
a painting or a symphony. It was a brilliant overture to the
noble operate henceforth to be played there. As quoted by
As the manger of this newest restaurant, Lorenzo named his nephew,
Charles Delmonico, who was then only 22 years old.
The East 14th Street building housed a cafe, as well as a restaurant.
The cafe was called "the best club in town". The New York World
described the cafe as:
"the resort of more native and foreign notabilities than perhaps
any other place in the city. There distinguished literary and
political persons stop daily to sip the matutinal cocktail, the
anti-prandial sherry-and-bitters, and the evening 'pony.' There
the Wall Street magnates drop in on their way uptown to sip the
insidious mint-julep, or quaff the foaming champagne cocktail.
There the Frenchman, Spaniard, and Italian may have their absinthe,
the American his Bourbon straight, the Englishman his half-and-half.
Morning, noon, and evening the place is alive with a chattering,
good-natured, oft-imbibing throng of domestic and imported
celebrities." Quote by
Thomas at 120.
By the late 1860s, one conspicuous change at Delmonico's was the
presence of women in the restaurant, although never in the cafe and
never without an escort.
In May, 1862, one month after the 14th Street Delmonco's Restaurant
opened, Lorenzo Delmonico hired Charles Ranhofer as the chef de
cuisine. Ranhofer was the greatest cook America ever knew,
"one who moved among the great chefs of France as peer and equal".
Thomas at 86.
His background and contributions are explained in the
Charles Ranhofer story.
For almost twenty years -- from May, 1862 until Lorenzo Delmonico's
death in September, 1881 -- Lorenzo Delmonico and Charles Ranhofer
provided unrivaled excellence to New Yorkers.
22 Broad Street
In 1865, Lorenzo opened a new restaurant branch, at 22 Broad Street.
When this opened, there were four Delmonico's in New York, and Lorenzo
Delmonico was the general manager of all. He selected his cousin,
John Longhi, to manage the new restaurant, while Constant managed the
South William Street ("Citadel") restaurant, Siro managed the Chambers
Street restaurant, and Charles managed the 14th Street restaurant.
The 14th Street restaurant drew "society". Chambers Street drew
politicians, merchants, lawyers and brokers. The Citadel at South
William Street drew bankers and shipping magnates. The new Broad
Street restaurant drew stock brokers and specialists.
It was often said that no homelier building existed in new York
than the grimy, five-story brownstone at 22 Broad, with the dingy sign
"Delmonico" above its doorway; but by the bulls and bears of
Wall Street it was cherished. It was their corral; and the
schemes that were hatched there, the companies that were floated, and
financial battles that were planned in its upstairs rooms, would form
a chronique scandaleuse of Wallt Street's wildest days.
Thomas at 123.
The 1870s were America's Gilded Age, and period in New York from 1876
to about 1896 was its Golden Age
In 1876, Lorenzo decided to move northward to Madison Square.
Again, the center of the city had shifted north, uptown, and Lorenzo
determined to follow it. Madison Square was the new center of
residences, with the finest hotels and theaters, while 14th Street was
beginning to look seedy.
On September 11, 1876, the restaurant at Fifth Avenue and East 14th
Street closed, and it re-opened at Fifth Avenue and 26th Street.
The uptown building occupied the entire south side of 26th Street
between Fifth Avenue and Broadway.
The frontage on Fifth Avenue, the public was told in relentless
detail, was sixty-five feet; the windows on that side overlooked
a miniature lawn, and beyond that, across Fifth Avenue, the trees and
flower beds of Madison Square. The main dining room was to be on
that side, enjoying the view. At the other end of the building,
fronting sixty-one feet on Broadway, would be the men's cafe;
while in the center of the Twenty-sixth Street side (one hundred and
fifty feet long) would be the entrance giving access to the dining and
ball rooms on the upper floors.
Thomas at 157.
In the first floor restaurant, silver chandeliers hung from the
frescoed ceiling. Mirrors lined each wall, and mahogany furniture
dressed the room. Flowers bordered a fountain in the center.
On the second floor was the ballroom, decorated in red and gold, and
four private dining rooms, each decorated in a different color of satin.
There were also supper and retiring rooms.
The third floor featured more dining rooms and a banquet hall, each
decorated in different colors and styles.
The fourth floor held the living quarters of a few residents --
confirmed bachelors, all.
The top floor housed the servants' quarters, storage rooms and
There was a sour note, however, with the move from 14th Street to
26th Street: Charles Ranhofer did not move. Several months
before the 14th Street restaurant closed, Ranhofer retired and returned
The famous story is told and retold of the chance remark which gave
life to a new name, a remark made Captain Alexander Williams, a
policeman. He received an order transferring him from the Gas
House District on the far East Side to the 29th Precinct on the West
Side. The precinct was bounded by Fourth Avenue and Seventh Avenue
and by 14th Street and 42nd Street. It thus included the new
Delmonico's Restaurant as well as the brothels, gambling dens and other
infamous places in the nearby area called "Satan's Circus".
Captain Williams enjoyed the new precinct, where there were so many
opportunities for the alert policeman to excel.
Yet so adaptable was he to the mixed character of his new command,
that when off duty and out of uniform he devoured steak with the
genteel at Delmonico's, serenely looking out upon placid Madison
Square. This fulfilled the prophesy that had escaped him when he
was notified of his transfer: "I've been living off chuck steak
for a long time. Now I'm going to get a bit of the tenderloin!"
The Tenderloin was thus named -- and Delmonico's was in it -- though
never in the sense that posterity has attached to that word.
Thomas at 169.
On October 26, 1876, shortly after Delmonico's moved its uptown
location from 14th Street to 26th Street, Lorenzo Delmonico moved its
downtown location. The Chambers Street restaurant closed, and a
new restaurant opened at 112-114 Broadway, near Pine Street (the "Pine
Street restaurant" or "lower Broadway restaurant").
The new restaurant prospered downtown from the very first day.
Descriptions of its commodious interior also filled the newspapers,
and all its features were carefully catalogued -- from the storerooms
in the subcellar and the bakery in the basement, to the "open, airy,
pleasant" kitchens on the top floors, whence the food was carried on
"five dumb waiters" to the dining rooms below. On the ground
floor was a quick-service counter, with a side dining room, and the
restaurant proper was one flight up -- Axminster-carpeted, with
lace-curtained windows overlooking Broadway. On the floor above,
private dining rooms, and on the fourth floor a large dining hall for
workers in the Equitable Building, to which doorways cut in the
dividing wall gave direct access; more than a thousand persons a
day were accommodated here. Nothing like this palace of good
eating had been seen in downtown New York . . . .
Thomas at 162.
In the meantime, the South William Street restaurant (the "Citadel")
and the Broad Street restaurants continued to serve their clientele, so
there continued to be four Delmonico's Restaurants in New York.
Delmonico's four restaurants required four hundred employees.
Also in the year 1876, a most curious
event occurred at Delmonico's Restaurant on 26th Street, when
Lobster a la Wenberg was invented, and then its name was changed to
Lobster a la Newberg.
In 1879, three years after he left Delmonico's to retire in France,
Charles Ranhofer returned to America and Delmonico's as chef de
cuisine at the 26th Street (Madison Square) restaurant.
Delmonico's after Lorenzo
By the time Ranhofer returned to Delmonico's in 1879, Lorenzo
Delmonico's health had begun to deteriorate. He had begun to shift
the managerial duties to his nephew, Charles. The business
continued to prosper and function smoothly.
During the summer of 1881, Lorenzo was outside the city, and no one
in the public knew of his health problems. On September 3, 1881,
Lorenzo Delmonico died at the relatively young age of 68. The
public was shocked, while newspapers retold his life and contributions.
Said the Sun:
"The influence which Delmonico has exerted upon life in New York
can scarcely be overestimated. [He] did more than build up a
great business and accumulate a great fortune. He gave an
impulse to good cookery throughout the country, and raised the
standards of hotel and restaurant kitchens. By his success he
excited emulation, and the result has been a great and general
improvement in our cookery . . . ." As quoted by
Thomas at 170.
Said the New York Times:
". . . For many years the name of Delmonico had been everywhere
received as the synonym for perfection in gastronomy. Delmonico
dinners are famous the world over. Without a peer in popular
estimation, Lorenzo Delmonico strove hard to deserve the honors
bestowed upon him. . . ." As quoted by
Thomas at 171.
His funeral on September 7 was attended his family, friends, and
notables of New York. The largest floral arrangement was sent by
the Societe Culinaire Philanthropique, of which Charles Ranhofer was
president and Lorenzo had been a member.
After Lorenzo's death, Charles Constant Delmonico inherited the
business from his uncle, and he continued to conduct the family business
in the usual tradition, until his unexpected (and very odd) death in
1884. Charles was more open than Lorenzo and thus gave more
interviews to the press. For example, in 1882, when inflation
raged, he was asked the reason that Delmonco's Restaurant raised its
price of a Delmonico Steak (a sirloin steak) from $0.75 to $1.00.
"I can't help it. The other day I had one of my cooks cut up
four short loins to see precisely what they would make in beef,
porterhouse and rib steaks, filets and Chateuabriands; and after
the most careful computations, allowing even for the trimmings given
to the servants and the bones used for making soup, I found the entire
yield was $46.50, while the cost to me was $40.75. Considering
the butter used on the steaks, the rent and other expenses, that meant
a decided loss to the establishment." As quoted in
Thomas at 201.
Note: This contains several clues concerning
the Delmonico Steak and a puzzle. The puzzle is found in the
fact that the short loin does not produce a rib steak (at least, not
in modern butchery). The rib steak is produced from the
subprimal Rib. Other than this puzzle, however, it seems that
the butchers used the typical short loin for these cuts, so that the
sirloin itself was available for steaks.
In January, 1884, Charles died very strangely. He had owned all
of the Delmonico's Restaurants, and he left a half interest to his
sister, Rosa, and divided the other half interest among his deceased
sister's (Giovannina's) three children, Charles Delmonico Crist, Lorenzo
Delmonico Crist, and Josphine Otard (nee Josephine Crist). By an
act of the legislature of the State of New York, Charles Delmonico Crist
changed his legal name to Charles Crist Delmonico ("Charles C." or
"Young Charlie"), and his brother and sister did likewise. Rosa
Delmonico brought "Young Charley" into the business and was its active
general manager, until his death in 1901.
During the period of Young Charley's management, from 1884 to 1901,
the four Delmonico's Restaurants continued to be well managed. He
established his headquarters at the 26th Street restaurant and visited
the other locations infrequently. However, because the managers
were so talented and had been with Delmonico for years, the operations
ran smoothly. At the four restaurants:
- James A. Hill, an old and trusted aide, managed South William
- Long-time Lorenzo Delmonico confidant John Longhi managed the
Broad Street restaurant, at least for a while;
- Henry Tilghman continued his long-time management of the 26th
Street restaurant, where the customers knew and approved of his
- Alessandro Filippini, who began as a cook and served as the head
chef before Ranhofer, managed the Pine Street restaurant;
John Longhi had been a close confidant of Lorenzo for many years, and
he expected Lorenzo to leave the ownership of the Broad Street
restaurant to him. When Lorenzo failed to leave the business to
him, John Longhi was crushed. Shortly after Young Charley took
over ownership and management, Longhi retired.
2 South William Street, the New Citadel
By 1888, the business at the Pine Street restaurant had decreased,
and Young Charles decided to close it. The long time manager of
the restaurant was Alessandro Filippini, who had started at Delmonco's
Restaurant as a cook and had risen to the chef de cuisine before
Ranhofer, and then to the manager of the Pine Street branch.
Filippini retired and started a new career as a writer and consultant.
With the closure of the Pine Street restaurant, Delmonico's had only
two branches remaining: the stalwart Old Citadel on South William
Street, and the Madison Square jewel at 26th Street.
In 1889, Filippini published his book, The Table, with recipes
simplified from the actual Delmonico’s preparation. The book
included a letter of praise from Young Charlie Delmonico.
There is a mystery associated with Filippini's
letter to Charles C. Delmonico asking for permission to dedicate his
book to the Delmonico Family. He wrote, apparently in 1888:
"Having been with the 'Delmonico's' for nearly a quarter of a century
. . . " The problem is simply that, by 1888, he must have been
with the Delmonico's at least since 1840, which would have been
"nearly half of a century", not merely a "quarter". Perhaps the
explanation is no more complicated than a simple counting or writing
error by Filippini.
By 1890, the South William Street restaurant had served since 1837,
some 53 years. The structure was no longer acceptable for use by
the most renowned restaurant, so Young Charley decided to rebuild the
On July 10, 1890, Young Charlie laid the cornerstone for the new
building, and construction began.
On July 7, 1891, the new Delmonico's Restaurant at South William
Street opened to the public. The new structure was eight stories
tall and featured, for the first time, electric lights. It also
kept several touches from the original structure, including the Pompeii
pillars and cornice that framed the entrance.
The first floor offered both a cafe and a restaurant, fabulously
decorated. The second floor featured a ladies dining room and two
private dining rooms. Business offices were offer for rent on the
third through seventh floors. The kitchen occupied the top floor.
The food and service in the new structure continued the Delmonico
tradition of excellence in dining, and diners continued to patronize the
Two years later, in 1893, Young Charlie had little choice but to
close the Broad Street restaurant. The property had been operating
under a lease, and the owners had decided to sell it. Furthermore,
the long-time manager, John Longhi, had retired.
The grizzly-gray sign "Delmonico" came down for the last time on
Broad Street, and on the closing day old-stagers gathered to swap
stories. One white-haired banker, as he lifted his glass, sighed
that he had bought the first cocktail at the bar on opening day, in
1866 [actually 1865], and was determined to buy the last.
Thomas at 201.
Young Charlie continued to supervise the operation of the remaining
three restaurants, even though the times were changing adversely to the
tradition of Delmonico's Restaurant. As usual, Ranhofer continued
to excel as chef de cuisine.
In 1895, Young Charles Delmonico and Ranhofer introduced New York to
the "alligator pear." or avocado, which had been newly imported from
South America. Ranhofer had known of the avocado -- he mentions
the avocado in his book, The Epicurean, which he published the
previous year -- but until 1895 he had been unable to secure a supply of
the buttery fruit.
On April 20, 1896, Young Charles Delmonico signed a 15-year lease and
surprised the entire city when he announced that "Del's" would open a
new restaurant farther uptown, at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue
and 44th Street. The city center had continued its move northward,
and Delmonico continued to follow.
As the new structure was being built, everyone assumed that
Delmonico's Restaurant would continue at the Madison Square location on
26th Street. The location there was particularly convenient for
shoppers, and it was nearby the crossing of Fifth Avenue, Broadway and
23rd Street, which was becoming known as the heart of the metropolis.
On November 15, 1897, the new Delmonico's Restaurant on 44th Street
opened to universal praise and some shock. In the restaurant,
smoking would now be permitted (previously, smoking had been permitted
only in the cafe). This change was at the insistence of women, who
resented the fact that the men would "retire to the smoking room" after
dinner. With this change, women believed that the men would be
averse to desert them after dining.
Another change and surprise was the addition of an orchestra, which
would play "in the background". Previously, listeners were
expected to cease movement and to concentrate when an orchestra played,
so that they and all could enjoy the music. Now, music would be
played while patrons ate and even talked.
The new building reflected the Delmonico grandeur with its
furnishings and atmosphere. On the first floor, the ladies
restaurant overlooked Fifth Avenue. Next to it was the Palm
Garden, with plate glass windows reaching from the floor to the ceiling.
The cafe and dining rooms on the second floor were richly decorated and
had anterooms. The rooms were constructed so that they could all
open together for very large parties. On the third floor, the
ballroom was lighted (with electric lights, of course), and there were
smaller private rooms, including a "bride's room", reserved obviously
for the bride at her wedding. Lodgers apartments, servant's rooms
and the laundry were on the top two floors. The kitchens were in
the basement, and pumps and machinery occupied the subcellar.
Early in 1898, Ranhofer had completed the transfer of the Delmonico's
Restaurant central kitchen operations from Madison Square restaurant on
26th Street. Then he retired, and he died a year later.
M. Grevillet succeeded Ranhofer as the chef de cuisine at
On April 18, 1899, New York was shocked to learn that Young Charles
Delmonico was closing the 26th Street restaurant at Madison Square.
The lease had expired, and declining business could not support a
This meant that Delmonico's Restaurant had only two locations:
the New Citadel, downtown at South William Street, and the new uptown
restaurant at 44th Street.
In May, 1901, Young Charles Delmonico died. Rosa Delmonico
(known as "Aunt Rosa"), who had owned a majority of the business for all
these years while letting Young Charles manage it, decided that the
business now required her own talents to manage it. Rosa herself
owned almost all the business interest (her niece, Josephine Crist
Delmonico owned a one-sixth interest). Rosa personally managed the
restaurants for the remainder of her life, from 1901 to 1904. She
was an active and competent manager, and it was believed by many that
she had been very influential in the management of the business since
Lorenzo's death in 1881. But few patrons knew her by sight, and
she retained the same operational managers and staff. The
Delmonico's tradition continued under her supervision.
On March 24, 1904, Aunt Rosa died at the age of 65. Rosa will
left two-thirds of the business to her niece, Josephine Crist Delmonico
Otard and a one-third interest (later reduced to one-quarter) to her
nephew (Josephine's brother), Lorenzo Crist Delmonico. In
addition, full managerial control was vested exclusively in Josephine.
From 1904 to 1907, Josephine and Lorenzo engaged in a very public,
very bitter legal and personal dispute. It became clear that
Josephine was not a competent manager and that the financial health of
the business was in dire jeopardy. Josephine left day-to-day
management in the hands of Eugene Garnier, who had been with Delmonico's
since 1872 and was entrusted with maintaining the Delmonico's Restaurant
standards. He is reported to have said,
Delmonico's for so many years has run along so smoothly in the old
grooves that the coming of one or the going of another Delmonico in
the ownership will have have any noticeable effect on the conduct of
the business. As quoted in
Thomas at 291.
In 1910, Eugene Garnier retired, and he died in 1914.
Wilfred J. Taupier replaced Garnier as Delmonico's general manager.
Taupier supervised a major renovation and redecoration of the 44th
Street restaurant. Telephones were becoming widely available, and
Taupier received credit for having installed, in the many telephone
booths, those little electric fans which started when the door was
By the beginning of 1911, the reputation of Delmonico's Restaurant
remained perfect, but its financial condition was not. There were
rumors that the restaurant would be sold, but in August, 1911, the lease
was renewed through 1927.
1914 brought the world to war in Europe, and it impacted Delmonico's
Restaurant. Eating habits were changing.
In 1917, the South William Street restaurant was closed and the
property was sold.
Long "obituaries" appeared in the news columns upon teh passing of
that famous resort of businessmen, and a story told "in the old days"
was resuscitated, about how Peter Delmonico enjoined Lorenzo, when
making the property over to his nephew, never to let the business or
the building pass out of family control. Lorenzo had lived up to
the trust; the present representatives seemed incapable of it.
In 1919, the continuing battle between the siblings and owners,
Josephine and Lorenzo, flared anew when Lorenzo and his heirs filed a
petition in bankruptcy in the United States District Court. In a
long and carefully researched ruling, Judge Julius M. Mayer reviewed the
long history of Delmonico's.
In 1919, the last remaining Delmonico's Restaurant was sold to a
restaurateur named Edward L.C. Robins. Unfortunately, the transfer
took place on the very day that Prohibition went into effect.
After 1919, dining in the traditional style at Delmonico's Restaurant
was no longer possible, because:
- There was no wine cellar;
- There was no wine for use in cooking;
- Some dishes, like Terrapin, disappeared, because they could not
be prepared without wine or spirits;
- Other dishes, like Canvasback Ducks, disappeared because their
habitats were destroyed; and
- No more wild game could be sold in New York.
Prohibition brought an immediate and vast change in the eating habits
of the wealthy. Long and elaborately prepared meals were not
possible at restaurants, so the wealthy no longer ate at Delmonico's or
other restaurants. Instead, they enlarged their kitchens at home
and entertained there, with private cooks. At home, the wealthy
had their own wine cellars -- as often as not stocked from the cellars
of their favorite restaurants, which had been forced to dispose of their
The emerging middle class dealt with the war and prohibition by
changing their entertainment habits away from restaurants and toward
private clubs, dance halls, burlesque houses, and (soon) the movies.
Jazz and gin ruled the age.
In April, 1921, Delmonico's Restaurant was raided by "Dry Agents",
who arrested a waiter and manager for serving vodka and gin, in
violation of Prohibition. It was another sign of the coming demise
of the institution of Delmonico's Restaurant.
On May 21, 1923, a final dinner was held at Delmonico's Restaurant.
The new owner realized the impossibility of continuing the business.
The irony is that the last banquet at the 44th Street restaurant
featured mineral water with dinner.
At eleven o'clock the last guest departed, George McLean, the
watchman, switched off the lights and locked the doors. Four
years less than one century after the first Delmonico door was opened
in New York, the institution died. . . .
Prohibition, the deterioration of dining habits, upward spiraling
costs, a hurried, oblivious generation, the breakup of social
distinctions, the disintegration of society as it had once flourished
-- all these, aggravated by internal decay, had contributed to the
ending. But principally, the enormous expansion of the city and
changing customs had outmoded Delmonico's. There was random talk
of reopening, but the time had gone by when that could be done:
Delmonico's had disappeared, and that was the end of it, and the
Times, like all contemporary commentators, could only do its
memory the justice to state that "to the end, Delmonico's maintained
it high culinary standards unchanged." . . .
In New York today [the year 1967] two establishments endeavor to
uphold the tradition -- the Delmonico Hotel, uptown on Park Avenue,
and Delmonico's Restaurant, downtown, in the building at Beaver and
South William Streets. Neither of these has any connection with
the Delmonico family or the original business. The hotel was
erected in 1929, well after the last real Delmonico's had vanished,
while the restaurant, formerly known as "Oscar's Delmonico's," has as
its only link with the founders of the historic institution the
Pompeiian pillars in the portico, that were brought from Italy by John
and Peter more than a century ago. . . .
Delmonico descendants attempted to prevent the unauthorized use of
the family name commercially; but the court decided that once
the Delmonicos themselves abandoned the use of their name in business,
it might be employed by others. "Delmonico," the court ruled in
effect, had become so synonymous with excellence in food and service
that for practical purposes it had passed into general currency and
had been absorbed into the language.
After Delmonico's Restaurant closed in 1923, the last authentic
Delmonico's Restaurant was laid to rest. However, since 1923 and
continuing to today there have been a series of restaurants that have
named themselves Delmonico's but lack any legitimacy or connection with
the Delmonico family which build and maintained the institution, with
the chefs who maintained unparalleled excellence in food, with the front
staff of managers and waiters, who defined excellence in service.
These imposters can offer none of these.
In 1929, shortly before the Wall Street Crash, Oscar Tucci opened the
South William Street building as a restaurant, which he called
Delmonico's Restaurant but which the public knew as "Oscar's
In July, 1977, the Huber Family acquired the premises and opened a
restaurant which the family called "Delmonico's Restaurant". It
closed in 1992, and the building remained vacant for six years.
In 1998, the Bice Group, which operated a chain of restaurants,
opened a restaurant on the South William Street property which it called
"Delmonico's Restaurant". The new owners, Robert Ruggeri and
Stefano Frittella, spent $1.5 million to recreate the Old World feel.
The new Delmonico's featured executive chef Gian Pietro Branchi, from
the Bice Restaurant in New York.
ABC. In 1999 ownership changed hands again.
The restaurant at South William Street continues today under the name
"Delmonico's Restaurant", and it maintains a
Delmonico's Restaurants became fixtures for almost a century in New
York. The keys to the Delmonico success were simply these:
- The customer must be pleased;
- The quality of the ingredients must be absolutely the best
obtainable and of the highest quality;
- Pay little heed to (and indeed, even relish) complaints about
the steepness of the prices; but
- Let the least hint of criticism about your food or service bring
instant, personal and complete attention.
With these simple precepts, Delmonico built a reputation that stands
alone to this day.