Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire that Civilized the Wild West by Stephen Fried, Bantam, 518 pages, $27. 00, Hardcover, March 2010, ISBN 9780553804379 I’m a huge believer that history books make for some of the best business books. History books teach and inform through the re-creation of a lost time.
An Englishman who came to America in the 1850s, he built a family and a career and then, in his early forties, started a revolutionary business feeding train passengers in the Wild West along the Santa Fe railroad. While he died famous and wealthy, he was also a curiosity—a man out of time—because at the height of the Gilded Age, he became something much better understood today: the founding father of the American service industry.The book not only retells the tale of creating and sustaining the first true restaurant chain, but also the history of the railroads, the migration of people during the Depression and Dust Bowl, and the true Wild West. Learning from the experience of others is always the best way to learn, I find. Like Rockefeller and Kroc, Fred Harvey was in the right place at the right time to establish that which the American people needed most. Harvey identified this need and capitalized on that situation. It's not only a fascinating and engrossing history; it's a business lesson we all can learn from.