Sunday, January 1, 2012

Opening a Friendly Door

After opening his first Los Angeles cafeteria on Olive Street in 1931, Clifford Clinton kept a poem on his desk he believed encapsulated his feelings about his new business venture. It was called, "Doors":

Some doors have hearts, it seems to me,
They open so invitingly;
You feel they are quite kind -- akin
To all the warmth you find within.

Some doors, so weather-beaten, gray
Swing open in a listless way,
As if they wish you had not come;
Their stony silence leaves you dumb.

Some classic doors stand closed and barred,
As if their beauty might be marred
If any sought admittance there,
Save king or prince or millionaire.

Oh, may mine be a friendly door;
May all who cross the threshold o'er,
Within find sweet content and rest,
And know each was a welcome guest.

The poem reflected Clifford's belief that a business should exist not only to generate profit, but to serve its customers and to enrich their lives. This philosophy emerged from Clifford's experiences as a missionary's son in China and while working in the San Francisco cafeteria started by his father Edmond "E.J." Clinton.

In 1929, Clifford had started scouting downtown Los Angeles locations to start a new cafeteria with the help of noted architect Charles Plummer. Clifford has taken over as the president of the Clinton Cafeteria Company, which operated a dining room on Powell Street, a year earlier in a three-way partnership. A year of bickering over operational policies had pushed him to the breaking point.

One day, he received a phone call from Plummer with the opportunity to take over a defunct Boos Brothers' cafeteria at 618 S. Olive St. During his trip to Los Angeles to sign the lease, he received a telegram from his two partners terminating him from the company. He then returned to Berkeley to gather up wife Nelda and brother Joe. With $2,000 in his pocket, 2,500 recipe file cards, and his Operation Manual, Clifford drove south.

To differentiate himself from his father's cafeteria and cut ties with the past, Clifford decided to come up with a distinctive name for the new venture. The result was an amalgamation of his first and last names, Clifton's.

Clifton's opened for business on July 1, 1931, and became known as the Cafeteria of the Golden Rule.

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting, there is a lot in here that I never knew about how Clifford started out in the Cafeteria business. I am curious if you have more about the Clinton Cafeteria corporation and how he got started in that company.