Here's how Woolworth's—yes, Woolworth's—democratized dining out

The dining counters of the budget-priced retailer were a stage for history and the introduction of dining out for many.

To people of a certain vintage, the mention of Woolworth’s lunch counters pulls up strong memories.

Children of the early '60s might recall them as the setting for a crucial step forward in the fight for equal rights. A group of college-aged youngsters galvanized the nation by trying to order a meal and refusing to leave when they were denied service. The youths were violently attacked because they were Black and in the South.

Those a little younger may remember how that battle solidified the outlets’ distinction as a dining option for everyone, affordable by most and, at least in the North, eventually blind to color. Indeed, that openness to diners of all races and ethnicities was part of the appeal for a hardcore fan living in a melting pot community outside New York City.

He would grow up to cover the restaurant industry for 40 years and become the host of a podcast that delves into the business’ often-controversial past. It started, he says, with those early trips to a Woolworth’s counter, the introduction for him and countless other children of the '60s and '70s to the pleasures of dining out.

Join host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo as he focuses this week’s edition of his Restaurant Rewind on the unique role Woolworth’s restaurants played in democratizing dining out.

Download the episode and all installments of the retro-focused Restaurant Rewind wherever you get your podcasts.

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