Like me, you may never have heard of the Delmonico Cafe. It was on the south side of Robson Street ‘just a whisper [west of] Granville’ (to borrow from one of their slogans) for scarcely six years. In its brief life, it had its own taxi service, it offered an only-Chinese-food menu in an upstairs dining room, and there were rumours (this was never advertised) of Del’s catering to those who wanted a helping of jailhouse dress-up with their ‘meat, spuds, and veg’!
Del’s opened in 1915 with two owners: Harry D. Reckner and Ervin “Cy” Switzer. Within a year of opening, however, Reckner sold his interest in the cafe. Reckner was originally from California. He’d settled in Vancouver for about three years, but by 1916 had been offered a job in Los Angeles that appealed to him (Sun. 1 Feb 1916). Whether the job in L.A. materialized or not isn’t clear. In any event, in 1918 he died.
It isn’t clear whether Reckner sold his interest to Switzer or to someone else. But Switzer did his best to imply that he’d bought Reckner’s share in the business; before long, there were references in cafe ads to Switzer being the ‘sole owner and manager’ and to the cafe being ‘Cy Switzer’s place’. It’s unclear whether Switzer was telling ‘porkies’ pertaining to the ownership of Del’s in the immediate post-Reckner period. But when the business was ultimately sold in the early ’20s, there were apparently two partners: Cy Switzer’s business partner at that time, it turned out, was also his life partner, wife Jessie Switzer (nee Allard).
In April 1917, Switzer got a building permit from the City so that work could be done on the cafe. Changes included, according to an ad in the Sun, a larger kitchen and new appliances.
Within two months of the announcement of the overhaul of Del’s, an ad appeared in local papers that surprised me and may well have surprised some of Switzer’s contemporaries:
The Orpheum Cafe
Takes pleasure in announcing to the Cafe-going public that Mr. E. (Si) Switzer (formerly of the Delmonico Cafe) has taken charge as floor manager of this cafe and will be pleased to meet his many friends and regular patrons. Si promises you the highest speed consistent with first-class service.
Meet me face-to-face at Vancouver’s Leading Cafe — THE ORPHEUM — Si.
Sun. 7 June 1917.
This announcement was odd.
It created the impression that Switzer abandoned his ownership of the Delmonico Cafe to assume the ‘floor managership’ of the Orpheum Cafe on a permanent basis. There are a couple of hints at this in the ad’s language: (1) that Switzer was “formerly of the Delmonico”; and (2) that the Orpheum was described in this ad as “Vancouver’s Leading Cafe” – a slogan which formerly had been associated with the Delmonico.
And yet, the April news of Switzer’s renovation work on the Delmonico created a strong impression that the Del would be out of commission for only a relatively brief time. And so it was. Two months, in fact.
By 18 June 1917, the Delmonico was advertising that “All the Old Help is Back: Old-Time Service. Old-Time Eats. ‘Cy’ Switzer, Sole Owner and Manager.”
1917 at the Del remains a head-scratcher for me!
By 1919, the print ads published by the Delmonico in local newspapers had changed. In the cafe’s early years, the ads typically had only the barest, sparest language — just the minimum required to entice hungry stomachs into his shop. With the physical renovation behind him, Switzer seemed to give himself permission to create (or have created by a professional copywriter) more wordy ads. Ads that told a story. The one shown at left seems to me to be one of the first of this more prosaic type. This one has a very ‘folksy’ feel to me. I don’t know if you remember the TV ads in which the spokesman for Woodward’s Food Floors used to be featured. To me, if ‘Delmonico’s’ was replaced with ‘Woodward’s Food Floor’, this ad might well have served as copy for him to read in his TV spots. The Save-on-Foods ‘Darrell’ ads, today, are much the same.
In 1920, Cy Switzer, established a taxi service called “Delmonico’s Taxi” that was based at the cafe. Switzer was the owner of the taxi company for its first year in business. However, by 1921, presumably having found running a cafe and a taxi service to be a bit taxing, he sold the taxi biz to a chap called Earl Morrison. Delmonico Taxi survived the demise of Delmonico Cafe, but only just. By 1926, the taxi service ‘faded to black’.
In 1920, Switzer launched one of his most ambitious changes to the cafe: the creation of a Chinese food dining room upstairs from the main dining area. He called the new sub-restaurant Delmonico Topside (a bit of word-play; the pidgin English word for ‘upstairs’ is ‘topside’). I’ve included two of the Topside ads in the PDF document showing samples of Del’s ads over the years. I didn’t include the ad shown below in that document, however.
The ‘voice’ in this ad isn’t folksy (nor is it Wodehouse-Woosterish, as is at least one of the Topside ads included in the attached PDF). To my ear, this ad generates the impression of a genial, sophisticated friend who wants to let you (the reader) in on some of his worldly, cultural knowledge. My 21st century eyes are offended by reference to the Chinese chef, Sun Fong, as being an “honest-to-joss Chinaman” and to the so-called ‘Chinese idiom’. But it’s unlikely that those aspects of the ad would have troubled many readers in the ’20s.
I wasn’t sure where to put this next Delmonico’s feature in this roughly chronological history of the cafe because I don’t know when it was established. Indeed, if it weren’t for a sentence in a somewhat gossipy column in the Province in 1963, I’d be unlikely to know anything about it. So here goes:
….[d]o you recall the old Delmonico Cabaret upstairs where the booths were made like cells and the waiters wore prison uniforms?
Province. 2 Nov 1963.
Yup, that’s it! I have nothing to add to the above!
In January, 1922, many of the cooks and waiters at the Delmonico downed tools and smocks and walked away. They brought suit (and won) against Cy and Jessie Switzer for back-wages. The Del’s furniture was ordered sold at auction to help recover the wages.
A “New Delmonico Cafe” was established shortly after. It was owned by A. Marano, A. Ritenti and H. Christen¹ and managed by Alfonso ‘Frenchy’ Moreno (Sun. 10 Dec 1921), a former waiter at the ‘old’ cafe. The NDC lasted longer than many may have anticipated. It was still serving meals into the late ’30s. It seems not to have survived the second world war, however.
This post relies almost exclusively on information mined from ads published in local newspapers by the Delmonico Cafe. So I’ve published a supplemental PDF along with this post to show a few of those ads. I think that, for the most part, they make ‘jolly good’ reading (if you’ll pardon the lapse into Woosterism)!
Delmonico Cafe Advertisements
¹Thanks to Robert Moen of WestEndVancouver for identifying the proprietors of the New Delmonico and his correction of an image shown initially in this post which I thought showed the (SW) corner where the Delmonico Cafe once was, but which actually showed the NE corner of Robson at Granville. The mistaken image has now been removed.