Business and Commerce

Food and Food Service Industries

What were some early success stories for African Americans in the food service industry?

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the work of African Americans in the food service industry was largely in catering and hotel restaurants. Some who operated catering businesses, particularly in the North, became quite wealthy, such as Thomas Downing and his son George; they also had a restaurant business. The most successful nineteenth-century black food service businesses were in Philadelphia. In the South, however, few hotel and restaurant businesses were successful because of social and legal barriers. One successful entrepreneur was Jehu Jones Sr., who, in 1816, established a hotel and restaurant business in Charleston, South Carolina.

One of the most highly successful food service industries run by African Americans in the nineteenth century was operated in Washington, D.C., by James Wormley (1819–1884). His hotel and restaurant business made him a comfortable fortune; later he added a catering business that was renowned in local black and white communities.


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