Boy, if there is one thing true to be said about Owensboro – we love our restaurants.
Whether it’s a fast food chain or a greasy spoon joint or fine dining, we’ve all got our favorites.
Although most of us have done a lot more cooking at home throughout the current pandemic, we’ve also done our best to support our local eateries, too.
And they’ve done their part to make sure they can keep serving us. Things like staff wearing masks, limiting the number of patrons allowed inside at any given time, increasing space between tables, providing disposable menus …
It’s all part of their commitment to not only serving good food, but serving it safely.
Well, 100 years ago, there were also some concerns about restaurant safety.
The Owensboro Inquirer newspaper – which proudly proclaimed “Nothing to Serve but the Public Interest” under its banner – reported on the front page of its Aug. 29, 1920, edition that “Local eat shops are ordered to stage clean-up.”
The story went on to say that 14 hotel, restaurant and lunch wagon owners in Owensboro were ordered to obey sanitation laws, claiming that an inspection by the Daviess County Department of Health discovered that all rules had been broken.
Among the infractions: “Kitchens unclean and infested with flies and keeping chickens on the premises.” It was also noted that there should be no toilets in the kitchen.
Hopefully those standards continue to stand today.
Earlier in the year (June 15, 1920), the Owensboro Messenger had casually reported that four new restaurant licenses had been granted: To J.D. Carlin at 1623 W. Ninth St.; Martha Pryor at 613 Plum; Birdie Allen at 206 E. Second St.; and Kitty Galligher at 400 W. Second. The first two of those addresses are now residential areas; the latter are in the midst of downtown Owensboro.
None are restaurants now.
But later in the year, it appeared that getting a license to open a restaurant might not have been quite as easy as it may have appeared.
The Nov. 2, 1920, edition of The Messenger stated that Mike Callis had sought a permit to build a brick and marble structure on Frederica between Fourth and Fifth streets at a cost of $7,000. His permit was denied – at least temporarily – because he failed to comply with a new city ordinance requiring that building plans and specifications had to be filed before a permit could be granted.
And in the meantime, Frank Velotta had opened a $200 lunch stand on South Frederica Street – at Little’s Court, opposite the Union Station – but that opening was met with “a storm of protest.”
What was all the fuss about? Well, one must turn to the Oct. 22 edition of The Messenger to find out.
Mr. Little – no first name given, but he was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and presumably the namesake of Little Court – had complained that “it would be foolish to attempt to beautify the city as long as permits were granted for cheap, wooden lunch houses on the most beautiful site in the city.”
Fire Chief E. E. Cureton had inspected the building, however, and could find no violations.
As for his part, Mr. Velotta took the high road. “I am going to have a shop that will be a credit to South Frederica Street,” he said. “The little shop will be artistically painted. It will have a glass front and will be brilliantly illuminated at night. It will be a great advertisement for Owensboro. Persons passing through on the trains at night will see the novel little lunch house and will admire its attractiveness. If my little building is not more attractive and cleanly than any other building in that neighborhood, I will tear it down.”
The matter was turned over to City Attorney George Wilson; it was up to him to decide whether the permit would be granted or refused.
That judgment was announced in the Nov. 23 issue of the Owensboro Inquirer. George Wilson submitted his opinion that city commissioners had the right to refuse or revoke a restaurant license only if its location was, or might, become a nuisance. “A restaurant is not in itself a nuisance,” the article stated.
And so Frank Velotta’s license was granted, and he kept his promise about ensuring the attractiveness of his restaurant. In fact, years later – 1937 – he was worried about the appearance of a damaged plaster wall. So he took up his paints and created a beautiful ocean scene from his native Italy.
It was only one of many such works of art Velotta created and displayed at his restaurant. Others were displayed on the walls, and still others were nailed flat against the ceiling.
Time passes, political fusses are forgotten, paint fades.
But we all still have our favorite restaurants … and that becomes part of our own personal histories.