April 8, 2010
Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - Appetite for America
Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire that Civilized the Wild West by Stephen Fried, Bantam, 518 pages, $27.00, Hardcover, March 2010, ISBN 9780553804379 I’m a huge believer that history books make for some of the best business books. History books teach and inform through the re-creation of a lost time. We’re able to learn from the actions and reactions of real people over the span of their lifetimes. Appetite for America is the perfect example. To quote from the blurb on the cover, Stephan Fried’s Appetite for America is “Part business story, part social history, part family saga …” I would add that the book also excels as a chronicle of one of the most interesting times in America. Appetite for America tells the story of Fred Harvey and his creation of the Fred Harvey restaurant chain. While that bit of information might not make you run to your local book emporium to buy this tome, it should once you learn who Fred Harvey was.
An Englishman who came to America in the 1850s, he built a family and a career and then, in his early forties, started a revolutionary business feeding train passengers in the Wild West along the Santa Fe railroad. While he died famous and wealthy, he was also a curiosity—a man out of time—because at the height of the Gilded Age, he became something much better understood today: the founding father of the American service industry.The book not only retells the tale of creating and sustaining the first true restaurant chain, but also the history of the railroads, the migration of people during the Depression and Dust Bowl, and the true Wild West. Learning from the experience of others is always the best way to learn, I find. Like Rockefeller and Kroc, Fred Harvey was in the right place at the right time to establish that which the American people needed most. Harvey identified this need and capitalized on that situation. It’s not only a fascinating and engrossing history; it’s a business lesson we all can learn from.