Read how Jim Smith helped reunite a number of historical documents with the descendents of The Poodle Dog Restaurant.
France offered San Francisco some of her best. The restaurant industry there brutalized
aspiring chefs with too many top chefs competing for a stagnant number of restaurants given
their somewhat stable population. New York grew slowly, attracting primarily poor
immigrants. Bustling New Orleans offered better opportunities as the stepping off and
return port for Panama and California but that also made it easy to get from there to
San Francisco where the real money lay. The French chefs quickly found themselves a home
that appreciated and lauded their skills. Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers,
wrote, "After Paris, the city with the most restaurants is San Francisco. It has
restaurants from every country, even China." Dumas died in 1870, his comment finally
published in his Le Grand Dictionaire de Cuisine in 1873. By 1912, San Francisco listed 438
restaurants in operation.
The Poodle Dog restaurant opened in 1849; one of San Francisco s first, certainly its most
famous French restaurant. The origin of the name remains obscure. One legend claims the
restaurant gained its name from the owner s longhaired pet poodle because the locals just
wouldn't attempt the French name. An old Frenchwoman ran the Rotisserie-style restaurant. She
offered the comforts of a civilized meal and returning miners quickly opened their pouches of
gold dust to sit at her table. Diners would suggest, "Let s go to the Poodle Dog," and
the name fell into popular use. Another story suggested the poodle was a stray that hung around
the establishment soon to be adopted as the restaurant s mascot. A third story put forth that a
Frenchman who arrived from New Orleans in 1849 managed the restaurant of this tale, Le Poulet d'
Or. Since many of the miners were only semi-literate, sounding out the name produced Poodle Dog.
At the turn of the century, the owners published a brochure in celebration of the Poodle
Dog's fiftieth anniversary. They stated that a couple of Frenchmen, Messrs. Peguillan and
Langsman opened the restaurant. The dog, a small, white poodle owned by the wife of Francois
Peguillan was a rarity, drawing almost as much attention to the restaurant as its cuisine. Named
Ami, the poodle assumed the position of host, greeting all with friendship and hospitality. Indeed,
some considered Ami the proprietor, thus exclaiming, "Let s eat at the Poodle Dog!"
Located in what would later become Chinatown at Washington and Dupont Street (now Grant Avenue),
Le Poulet D'or restaurant, commonly called the Poodle Dog. That first restaurant, housed in a
wooden shanty with sanded floors, rough wooden table covered in oilcloth, a rudimentary bar at
one end, offered a menu and price list that belied its fine cuisine; a fine dinner cost just
fifteen cents. The meal began with a rich peasant soup, soon followed by a fish course of local
catch, freshest sole, rock cod, flounder or smelt, served with a tasty French sauce. The meat
course, served en bloc allowed each guest to slice their own portion from a large roast or
boiled joint, served with a pot of mustard and two large dishes of vegetables. The chef
followed that course with a big bowl of his own mixed salad, served with ceremony. The
final course was "fruit in season," all each guest could eat. A pint of the
owner's new, watered claret accompanied the meal, the wine pressed and fermented from
local mission grapes. The restaurant offered a large beer stein full of coffee for an
additional five cents.
By the middle of the 1850s, food prices had dipped dramatically, providing an enviable level
of quality. Californians pressed the finest olive oil, grew luscious fruit just below the
city's borders, and raised healthy sheep and cattle on the grassy hills. They raised
fat, healthy pigs and chickens within the city limits. The gold miners found they could
make a better living tapping the state s other natural resources. In less than a decade, the
state economy hinged more on agriculture and trade than it did on gold.