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Oct. 27 show

Cafeterias across Indiana

Shapiro’s Delicatessen and Cafeteria, on South Meridian Street in Indianapolis, is pictured in the early 1970s. IUPUI Digital Collection. Caption research by Heritage Photo & Research and Historic Indianapolis.As we enter the season known at least in part for its focus on food, Hoosier History Live! will chow down. Rather than feast on Halloween candy or Thanksgiving turkey, though, we will dig in to our state's cafeteria culture.

Unaware that Indiana was famous for its cafeterias?

Well, think how many have flourished for generations of hungry Hoosiers. Gray Brothers Cafeteria in Mooresville has received national acclaim for its fresh-made rolls, fried chicken and old-fashioned pies. Indiana-based MCL Cafeterias is described in Tray Chic: Celebrating Indiana's Cafeteria Culture (Emmis Books, 2004) as "arguably the largest family-owned cafeteria chain in the nation." Poe's Cafeteria in Martinsville is cherished by devotees of its persimmon pudding, gooseberry pie and other scrumptious fare.

And Shapiro's Delicatessen has been a landmark in downtown Indy for more than 100 years, although fourth-generation owner Brian Shapiro has been quoted as saying he dislikes the term "cafeteria."

Tray Chic book cover. By Sam Stall.Even so, all of those beloved cafeterias (and a platter of others) are featured in Tray Chic, and its author will be among Nelson's in-studio guests. He is Indianapolis-based writer Sam Stall, who also pens a question-and-answer column in Indianapolis Monthly magazine called "The Hoosierist". A native of Goshen, Sam is the author or co-author of about 20 books, many focusing on aspects of pop culture.

In addition to Sam, Nelson will be joined on our exploration of cafeteria culture by a culinary queen who is well-known among Hoosier foodies. Daina Chamness of Greenwood has carved out a long career thanks to her work both in broadcasting and in the kitchen. Now known for her wine cake mixes, Daina formerly specialized in single-serving pies of all varieties.

Speaking of pies: As part of our cafeteria conversation, Nelson and his guests will discuss sugar cream pie, which was the focus of our show (with ever-delightful Daina as a guest) four years ago. At that point, legislators were debating whether to anoint sugar cream pie as Indiana's "official state pie". Not only did the lawmakers end up doing so by a vote of 99-to-1 (Nelson will share details), but sugar cream pie also is the official pie of the Indianapolis Colts.

A piece of sugar cream pie. Mmm, delicious!Sugar cream pie is relevant to our topic because Jonathan Byrd's in Greenwood and other cafeterias are among the few eateries that regularly serve it. (Sugar cream pie also was the focus of a "Hoosierist" column by Sam awhile back.) In Tray Chic, Sam describes the sprawling Jonathan Byrd's as the cafeteria version of an "epic, Cecil B. De Mille-style scale" production.

Noting that Hoosier cafeterias long have been hailed for their comfort food, Sam writes: "Some would say that the long view down the tray line is what heaven looks like."

According to Tray Chic, though, cafeterias are vanishing in many parts of the country.

"Today, they're as state-of-the-art as a brontosaurus, and almost as rare - unless you live in Indiana," Sam writes. In the Hoosier state, he explains, cafeterias are "culinary landmarks."

Sam Stall.The former Laughner's Cafeterias chain, which traced its beginnings to a storefront restaurant in 1900 in downtown Indy, opened the state's first cafeteria and was on the cutting edge then of "food service technology," according to Tray Chic.

Expansion of the Laughner's chain included the 1964 opening in Southern Plaza shopping center of a cafeteria in a structure that, as Tray Chic puts it, resembled a "big, Tudor-style house." In 1987, the chain opened a Laughner's Super Cafeteria on the far northside of Indy. After about 100 years in operation, though, the last Laughner's closed in 2000.

The MCL chain, however, has survived with signature fare, including cloverleaf rolls, carved roast beef, Swiss steak and Irani iced tea. According to Reid Duffy's Guide to Indiana's Favorite Restaurants(IU Press, 2006), the chain resulted from a business relationship between co-founder Charles McGaughey and George Laughner, a son of the Laughner's founder. (The "L" in MCL stands for Laughner.)

Ann’s Cafeteria is an old-style cafeteria in Jeffersonville, Ind., serving food that “tastes like grandma made it.”By 2006, the MCL chain had more than 20 cafeterias, including restaurants in Anderson, Bloomington, Muncie, Richmond, Speedway, Terre Haute and West Lafayette.

In Mooresville, Gray Brothers seats 500 and often feeds 3,000 patrons per day, according to Tray Chic. With homemade dishes that have won praise from national food critics, Gray Brothers has been a landmark on State Road 67 since the late 1960s.

Shapiro's roots go back much farther. In 1905, two years after immigrating from Russia because of anti-Jewish pogroms, Louis and Rebecca Shapiro opened a kosher grocery shop on what's now the south side of downtown Indy, according to Reid Duffy's book. Daina Chamness holds a package of her wine cake mix.  The transition to a restaurant - with cafeteria-style service lines - began in the 1930s when Louis delegated the store to his sons Abe, Izzy and Max.

And about 120 years before that, hundreds of Quakers from North Carolina traveled to Indiana to settle. Our guest Daina Chamness noted during our previous show that sugar cream pie may have its origins in a dessert made by Quaker farm wives.

In any case, food historians say sugar cream pie became a favorite on Hoosier farms because its ingredients consisted of staples (including flour, cream and sugar) available year-round in farm kitchens. Wick's Pies,, a multi-generational business in Winchester in far-eastern Indiana, is the country's largest maker of sugar cream pies.

Speaking of farms: In Tray Chic, Sam write that, for Hoosiers, cafeterias often conjure up "ancestral memories of old-fashioned farm dinners, or fond reflections of Sunday after-church suppers at Grandma's." Typically, he notes, cafeterias serve fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, pecan pies and "pretty much anything else that farm wives set out for their families 150 years ago."

Some fun facts:

  • The word "cafeteria" is derived for a Spanish term for coffee shop, according to Tray Chic.
  • According to Reid Duffy's book, Louis Shapiro's grandfather had been a primary food supplier for the czar of Russia's naval fleet.
  • At Jonathan Byrd's in Greenwood, Sam Stall writes, the serving line is about as long as a tennis court.

Roadtrip: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Poster detail from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.Roadtripper Chris Gahl of Visit Indy suggests that we scare ourselves with a couple of classic vintage film this Halloween night! The 1920s German Expressionist fright movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, will be screened at Indiana Landmarks Center at 1201 Central Ave. in Indianapolis from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Halloween night, Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Also on the bill will be the 1921 Buster Keaton comedy The Haunted House. Film historian Eric Grayson will introduce the films.

As an added bonus, along with flashing lights, you'll hear the restored 1892 pipe organ in Cook Hall playing scary music to accompany the silent films with organist Mark Herman. Cree-ee-py! Cost is $10 for Indiana Landmarks members, $12 for non-members, and a cash bar will be available.

History Mystery

During the 1960s and '70s, a family-owned chain of restaurants flourished in the Indianapolis area. Frequently patronized by families with young children, the restaurants were not cafeterias. They specialized in char-broiled hamburgers, baked potatoes, tossed salads, steaks and other traditional American food.

Locations of the restaurants included 56th and Illinois streets, the Nora area and the Devington shopping center at East 46th and Arlington.

The chain, which also included a restaurant on East Washington Street, had a family-ownership relationship with an Indianapolis-founded drug store chain.

Question: What was the once-popular Indy-based restaurant chain?

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

This week's prize is a pair of tickets to the Indiana Experience at the Indiana History Center, and a gift certificate to Ram Restaurant and Brewery in downtown Indianapolis.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


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Nov. 3 show - encore presentation of two classic shows

Street names in Indy + Trees, trees, trees

Note: There will be no newsletter next Friday, as the Nov. 3 show will be an encore presentation.

Ever wonder how streets throughout Indianapolis got their names? And why some have been changed over the years?

Prior to any streets, of course, there were towering trees on the site of the Hoosier capital, as well as across the state, most of which was a dense woodland forest. How has our tree canopy evolved, and what's the latest on an array of aspects about our towering friends?

These topics - Street names history in Indy and Trees, trees and trees - will be the focus of "encore" broadcasts of two popular Hoosier History Live! shows. Instead of a one-hour broadcast, you will be able to enjoy two back-to-back shows from our archives.

Street names history in Indy

For the first classic show (original air date: Oct. 15, 2011), which focuses on the heritage of street names, Nelson is joined in studio by two experts. They are historian Joan Hostetler, who initiated the crusade last year to keep the 190-year-old name on Georgia Street in downtown Indy, and Steve Campbell, a former Indy deputy mayor who has been working on a book about street names.

Sprinkled throughout the older neighborhoods of Indianapolis are a few remaining old blue sidewalk tiles naming the nearby streets. This Brookside Parkway marker was photographed by Joan Hostetler in 2006.Some were changed because of landmarks such as the Indiana Statehouse. Its construction resulted in Tennessee Street being renamed Capitol Avenue in the 1890s, according to Joan. She is co-owner of Heritage Photo & Research Services, which specializes in local history research and preserving, digitizing and archiving historic photographs.

According to Steve, the founder of Campbell Strategies, an Indy-based consulting firm, the street naming process in Indy can be divided into two categories: Names in the "old city" (pre-Unigov city limits), and then names in the suburban neighborhoods that were developed later.

During the show, Steve explains that Hague Road on the far-northeast side was named after a farmer who owned large tracts of land in the area.

According to Joan, some street names were changed because of anti-German sentiment after World War I. They include two streets on the west side: Bismarck Avenue, which became Pershing Avenue, and Belleview Place, which once was called Germania.

In the 1890s, an African-American city councilman pushed to change the name of Mississippi Street. It was renamed Senate Avenue in 1895.

Tune in to our "encore" show to hear more insights about the naming - and re-naming - process involving Indy streets.

Trees, trees and trees

For the second classic show (original air date: Oct. 29, 2011), which focuses on all things trees, Nelson will be joined in studio by David Forsell, president of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc. During the show, David identifies the tree in Indy that he considers "the most beautiful tree I've ever seen."

The Kile oak in Irvington on the eastside is the oldest tree in Indianapolis.David and Nelson also share details about the city's oldest tree, a bur oak in Irvington that may be about 400 years old. David's organization, which is known as KIB and headquartered in a renovated warehouse in Fountain Square, has planted hundreds of trees in that neighborhood alone by partnering with various community groups. KIB has a goal of eventually planting 100,000 trees across Indy.

During the show, David shares details about how his volunteer-based organization decides where to plant trees - and which species to plant.

To top it off, David and Nelson share insights about Indiana's official state tree. It's the tulip tree, sometimes called the yellow poplar.

They also explore a tree native to Indiana that's praised for its fall coloration, the sugar maple. Its dense crowns are known for turning brilliant shades of orange and red.

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Hoosier History Live!
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