Toddle House

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Toddle House was a national quick service restaurant chain in the United States, which specialized in breakfast, but was open 24/7. Much of their business was takeout.

History[edit]

The precursor to Toddle House was started in the late 1920s, by J.C. Stedman, a lumberman from Houston, Texas seeking to utilize leftover building supplies.[1] Stedman persuaded the owners of Britling Cafeteria, a Memphis, Tennessee based restaurant that started a few years earlier, to build his restaurants. Shortly thereafter, Stedman was approached by a successful Memphis businessman named James Frederick "Fred" Smith, who was looking for a new investment since The Greyhound Corporation had bought a controlling interest in the Smith Motor Coach Company he founded 1931, and was renamed as the Dixie Greyhound Lines. (Smith was the father of Frederick Wallace Smith, who would eventually found Federal Express.)

In 1932, Smith became the president of the National Toddle House System, Inc. By the 1950s, Toddle House had more than 200 locations in almost 90 cities.

In 1962, Toddle House was purchased by Dobbs Houses, a competitor that also operated Steak 'n Egg Kitchen,[2] and the franchise was allowed to decline.[3] In 1980, Carson Pirie Scott borrowed $108 million to buy Dobbs Houses. In January 1988, Carson Pirie Scott sold Steak 'n Egg Kitchen and Toddle House to Diversified Hospitality Group of Milford, Connecticut.[4][5] The chain has since been liquidated.

Business model overview[edit]

Original restaurant[edit]

Each outlet was built to the same plan, and contained no tables, but merely a short counter with a row of ten stools. Payment was on the honor system: customers deposited their checks with the correct amount in a glass box by the door on the way out.[6]

The menu featured breakfast all day. Lunch and dinner entrées included soups and salads, various sandwiches, such as toasted cheese and roast beef. The cheeseburger was billed on the menu as the "world's best hamburger."[7] Desserts included various pies, pecan roll and black-bottom pie.

The chain's distinctive sign, consisting of "toddling" characters, was created by Balton & Sons Sign Company (now Balton Sign Company) who also did the iconic "great sign" for the Holiday Inns of America, the motel chain also based in Memphis. In house sketch artists at the time were Rowland Alexander and Gene Barber.

At its peak, there were more than 300 of the first version,[8] however, they disappeared in 1962 when they were converted to Dobbs Houses and then Steak N' Eggs. (Note that is at least one news report that puts the total over 1,000.)[9]

Joe Rogers Sr., a regional manager of the Toddle House chain, left Toddle House to found the similar Waffle House.

During the segregation era, the company also operated a parallel chain of similar restaurants for African-Americans called "Harlem House."[10]

Second iteration[edit]

In 1981, Carson Pirie Scott, the retail/food giant, sold Steak N' Eggs and began to build a "new" Toddle House chain. By 1987, there were 40 Toddle Houses open, with five of them in Tampa and at least one in Orlando. There were ambitious plans that called for 500 by 1991, with 50 of them in Florida.[9]

The "new" Toddle Houses were bigger, with 64 seats, although still situated around a counter. The menu still featured breakfast along with old standbys of burgers and black-bottom pie, but was modestly updated, adding pork chops and country-fried steak and fajitas.

However, Carson came on hard times and sold its restaurants in 1988.

After life[edit]

Although tiny by modern standards, many defunct Toddle House locations lived on for decades as other quick service restaurants, such as hot dog stands and other short-order formats.[6]

Cultural references[edit]

Bob Greene wrote about eating chocolate pie with his friends at an Ohio Toddle House in his book And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship (William Morrow, 2006).

References[edit]

External links[edit]