Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

Early Wayside Eateries

Augusta Bucholz Food Stand
located at 200 East
Racine in Jefferson, Jefferson
County, c.1979. The stand
has been in operation since
1919 and continues to
operate seasonally. Courtesy
of Jim Draeger,
personal collection.

The precursor to the roadside eatery was the lunch wagon.  The earliest lunch wagons filled a niche not addressed by restaurants.  They catered to the worker who had money, but not time to sit down and eat.  Lunch wagons became a popular American institution.  They were portable, had a low start-up cost, and therefore a lower failure rate than the traditional restaurant.  The lunch wagon was not intended to be permanent and few examples remain.

Fresh Produce roadside food
stand, located on USH 12
in the town of Delton.

Nettland's Roll Inn on
Highway 16 in Wisconsin
Dells gave early automobile
tourists a place to
stop and enjoy a meal.
Courtesy of the Wisconsin
Historical Society,
Jim Draeger.

The food stand began as a modest spot for highway travelers to pause for a quick meal.  They were likely based on the roadside produce stands that exploited travelers and allowed for direct marketing of farm goods to automobile travelers.  As the number of travelers grew, entrepreneurs began selling goods other than produce.  The earliest roadside stands were simple and utilitarian in form; they only required visibility, shelter, and a place to pull over or turn off the road.  After World War I, an assortment of entrepreneurs began setting up shop, selling food to travelers along the nation's highways.  As competition grew, some operators created stands that mimed the name or function of the restaurant, such as a hot dog stand shaped as a hot dog, to attract attention and customers.  Others adopted the quaint little house format in an attempt to appeal to women and families.  Eventually the food stand developed into a multibillion-dollar corporate extravaganza: the fast-food restaurant.

  • Questions about this page? Email us
  • Email this page to a friend
select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text