Food, space, and mobility : the railroad, chili stands, and chophouses in San Antonio and El Paso, 1870-1905




Bendele, Marvin Charles, Jr.

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As the railroad changed the urban landscape of Texas cities after the Civil War, it offered new economic opportunities for restaurateurs in both public and private spaces. This dissertation illustrates the ways chili stands owners working in San Antonio plazas and Chinese restaurateurs working in El Paso chophouses at the end of the nineteenth century negotiated the use of space in the growing cities. While chili-stand owners subverted the prevailing narrative definition of the restaurant by performing with success another version outside of that narrative, the Chinese chophouses negotiated stories about their uncleanliness and vice by adopting some of those same prevailing, dominant ideas and definitions regarding the American restaurant. These two stories offer both a glimpse into contests over food space at the end of the nineteenth century and complicate the history of the American restaurant industry as it has been told over the last century. The railroad is very much an actor in this story as its presence brought attention to the nightlife of the plazas and the downtown areas of each city as well as increased the real and imagined values of spaces throughout both cities, which only heightened the contests over those spaces.


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