House of Plenty: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Lubys Cafeterias

Paperback | March 15, 2015

byCarol Dawson, Carol Johnston

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Scarred by the deaths of his mother and sisters and the failure of his father's business, a young man dreamed of making enough money to retire early and retreat into the secure world that his childhood tragedies had torn from him. But Harry Luby refused to be a robber baron. Turning totally against the tide of avaricious capitalism, he determined to make a fortune by doing good. Starting with that unlikely, even naive, ambition in 1911, Harry Luby founded a cafeteria empire that by the 1980s had revenues second only to McDonald's. So successfully did Luby and his heirs satisfy the tastes of America that Luby's became the country's largest cafeteria chain, creating more millionaires per capita among its employees than any other corporation of its size. Even more surprising, the company stayed true to Harry Luby's vision for eight decades, making money by treating its customers and employees exceptionally well.

Written with the sweep and drama of a novel, House of Plenty tells the engrossing story of Luby's founding and phenomenal growth, its long run as America's favorite family restaurant during the post-World War II decades, its financial failure during the greed-driven 1990s when non-family leadership jettisoned the company's proven business model, and its recent struggle back to solvency. Carol Dawson and Carol Johnston draw on insider stories and company records to recapture the forces that propelled the company to its greatest heights, including its unprecedented practices of allowing store managers to keep 40 percent of net profits and issuing stock to all employees, which allowed thousands of Luby's workers to achieve the American dream of honestly earned prosperity. The authors also plumb the depths of the Luby's drama, including a hushed-up theft that split the family for decades; the 1991 mass shooting at the Killeen Luby's, which splattered the company's good name across headlines nationwide; and the rapacious over-expansion that more than doubled the company's size in nine years (1987-1996), pushed it into bankruptcy, and drove president and CEO John Edward Curtis Jr. to violent suicide.

Disproving F. Scott Fitzgerald's adage that "there are no second acts in American lives," House of Plenty tells the epic story of an iconic American institution that has risen, fallen, and found redemption—with no curtain call in sight.

Awards received:
Violet Crown Award, Writers League of Texas
Citation, San Antonio Conservation Society

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Scarred by the deaths of his mother and sisters and the failure of his father's business, a young man dreamed of making enough money to retire early and retreat into the secure world that his childhood tragedies had torn from him. But Harry Luby refused to be a robber baron. Turning totally against the tide of avaricious capitalism, he...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 inPublished:March 15, 2015Publisher:University Of Texas PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0292726015

ISBN - 13:9780292726017

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Blood Sacrifice in TexasChapter 2. Planting SeedsChapter 3. Growing SeasonChapter 4. First Harvest: Portrait of a Budding MagnateChapter 5. Recruiting New Hands for the Second Crop: The Band Begins to GatherChapter 6. The $60,000 IncubatorChapter 7. Salad DaysChapter 8. The Worm in the AppleChapter 9. Cutting the Jell-OChapter 10. Haddock Almondine and Chicken-Fried SteakChapter 11. The Worm Gnaws DeeperChapter 12. Scalloped Squash and Spinach PuddingChapter 13. Yeast Rolls, Biscuits, and Two Kinds of CornbreadChapter 14. Cherry Cobbler and Coconut Cream PieChapter 15. Deviled Eggs and Stuffed JalapeñosChapter 16. Hot Coffee, Iced Tea, Pink Lemonade, or Just Plain WaterChapter 17. Condiments on the SideChapter 18. Dirty DishesChapter 19. Over, Fork OverChapter 20. LeftoversAfterword by Carol JohnstonAcknowledgmentsSourcesIndex

Editorial Reviews

"Who knew that the key to American success and salvation could be found on the cafeteria line? Only Carol Dawson. In crystalline prose, she tells a morality tale that is both as compulsively readable as a mystery novel and as illuminating about the American psyche as anything published in recent years. The death Dawson ultimately investigates is business ethics with a body of evidence that is utterly fascinating and utterly convincing." - Sarah Bird, author of The Flamenco Academy, The Yokota Officers Club, Virgin of the Rodeo, The Mommy Club, The Boyfriend School, and Alamo House