Penny Restaurants of the 1930s

Even during the lean years of the 1930s with the Great Depression, no jobs, weather disasters, and poor living conditions, a decent meal in a diner might cost 15 to 40 cents, depending on what was ordered. However, another type of restaurant or diner developed, known as the ‘Penny Restaurant’. This was no a new idea, in other times of a down economy such as the early 1890s, similar types of diner opened, charging a penny. Owners restarted the idea, offering various dishes at 1 cent each. Many of these opened in former businesses where items were just not selling, especially liquor or household items.

At 1 cent, a person could get a half-pound of cooked potatoes and a cup of coffee for 2 cents total. Other such restaurants served healthier foods, with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, what was available at low prices in the area.

Most of these restaurants were meatless, using beans instead of meat and very simple like a bowl of pea soup.

Many such establishments across the country during the 1930s would also provide the couple meal items free to a customer rather than charge them if they had no money. This Penny Restaurant helped many individuals from going hungry.

With the population back to work with American’s entrance into World War 2, the Penny Restaurants closed down.

This might be very hard to know or find out if any of your ancestors ate at the Penny Restaurant, but it would be interesting to find out.

Photo: 1930s sign with prices of one cent.

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Photos from the 1930s

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Leftovers – Common Foods of the 1930s

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