Friday, November 3, 2023
Ivy Johnson, summer 2023 archives and special collections practicum intern

Founded in 1840 by Italian-born chef Antoine Alciatore and run by his family for over 180 years, Antoine’s Restaurant is the oldest continually family-owned and -operated restaurant in the US. 

 Antoine’s Restaurant’s exterior from a 1960 drawing (THNOC, 1974.25.29.142)

In the nearly two centuries since Antoine’s opened its doors, its proprietors have collected a massive number of objects related to the history of the restaurant and the family that runs it. Many of those objects were stored in the attic of a back building at the restaurant’s French Quarter location. Hurricane Katrina damaged the structure, and the items were exposed to the elements. Over the next dozen years many of them succumbed to water damage, mold, and pests. Rick Blount, Antoine’s current proprietor, and his mother, Lisa Blount, were advised by culinary legend Poppy Tooker to donate everything salvageable to THNOC. Heavily damaged artifacts and duplicates were discarded; still, seventy linear feet of materials were saved and now constitute the Antoine’s Restaurant Collection. Its invaluable objects document the history of the restaurant and of the Alciatore family. THNOC is currently processing these materials, and over time they will be accessible to the public. In the meantime, here is a taste of the items uncovered while digging through the collection: 

(THNOC, 2019.0439.208)

The Office of War Information in Washington, DC, distributed posters like the one above during World War II to bolster support for US troops and deter gossip about military operations. This poster is one of many of its type distributed to libraries and other public institutions. The poster’s stunning red background, bold text, and lack of adhesive marks or tack holes suggest it was never displayed, perhaps because the family wanted to preserve the restaurant’s upscale aesthetic. Other propaganda posters in the Antoine’s Collection also show no evidence they were ever displayed. 

(THNOC, 2019.0439.151)

Roy L. Alciatore represented the third generation of the family to run the restaurant and carried the establishment through Prohibition and World War II. Roy was an avid book collector, and his personal library includes hundreds of culinary publications signed by prominent figures from the food and restaurant industry. Others, like this ninth edition of Elizabeth Raffald’s 1784 cookery book The Experienced English Housekeeper, are rarer treasures. The book holds original recipes, including the first known recipe for wedding cake with marzipan and royal icing. 

(THNOC, 2019.0439.151)

Thirteen editions were published and provided readers with instructions for food preparation and proper English dining etiquette. Roy acquired multiple editions of this book because of its significance in culinary history, including this one, which includes, a foldout of dining table layouts (above).

(THNOC, 2019.0439.207)

This note, written sometime in the 1950s or ’60s, was given to Roy F. Guste Jr. by his mother. The note reads, “Dear Roy, found a place for your picture. Happy Birthday. Love, Mom.” The note is written on letterhead introduced around the restaurant’s 100th anniversary. It features the family-owned and -operated restaurant’s previous proprietors. You can imagine a young Roy Jr.’s satisfaction at being included alongside his forefathers. With so many who came before him, where would Roy Jr. fit in Antoine’s history? In this tender moment we get a glimpse of the pride running through the family’s veins.  

(THNOC, 2019.0439.208)

Many notable guests have visited Antoine’s over its storied history. Presidents Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, actor Judy Garland, baseball player Babe Ruth, and Russia’s Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanov had their names recorded in this scrapbook from the collection. A closer look reveals other notable authors, athletes, actors, directors, and executives.   

About The Historic New Orleans Collection

Founded in 1966, The Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to the stewardship of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Follow THNOC on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.