The inventor of the restaurant: an eighteenth century “type”

The bulk of what follows is based on:
Rebecca L. Spang, The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2000), 12-58.

Though Pierre Beaumarchais is best known for writing “the Barber of Seville” and “the Marriage of Figaro”, he began as a brilliant watchmaker. He would later help deliver supplies to the American rebels. Jean-Paul Marat wrote on philosophy, conducted experiments with electricity and was a successful doctor before becoming a revolutionary. A lesser known figure, Simon Henry Linguet, published history and translations before becoming an immensely successful lawyer and then an even more successful journalist. Along the way, he also invented one form of telegraph.

The eighteenth century, with its ferment of knowledge and invention, was full of such polymaths, figures whose restless minds and ambition took them between very different activities. One, Mathurin Roze de Chantoiseau, invented the restaurant.

If Mathurin Roze styled himself “de Chantoiseau”, it was because he came from Chantoiseau, a tiny place near Fontainebleau. His father Armand was a landowner and merchant. When he died in 1774, Armand Roze left his three sons at least comfortable. Two remained in Chantoiseau; Mathurin moved to Paris in the early Sixties, adding (as many non-aristocrats did) a place name to his family name, implying a non-existent nobility.

His first concern from the start seems to have been his system of letters of credit, meant to wipe out the national debt by issuing what were in effect bonds, backed by the King and supposedly to gain value because of their rarity. (For those interested, Spang goes deep into the details of this system.) But he arrived in Paris at a moment when intellectuals of every sort were particularly interested in health and even cookbooks focused on what food could do to improve or restore it. Notably this led to a concern for being “weak-chested” and the idea that “restorants” - typically bouillons distilled from quantities of meat – were the best defense against it. Roze was inspired to open an outlet for these on the rue des Poulies (now part of the rue de Louvre).

Roze himself would state that he founded the first restaurant in 1767 (Spang gives the year as 1766). By his own account, he did this with Pontaillé, who is otherwise unknown. This institution was originally known as a “restorer” (restaurateur); it would be quite some time before the name of its main product – restaurant – was applied to the outlet. By then, few restaurants actually sold these. Within a short time, “restaurateur” was more of a label than a reality. Until the restaurant, refined meals had been served by the traiteurs (cooks-caterers). Soon many of the latter hyphenated their names with the newer one: traiteur-restaurateur. While some may have adopted the bouillons, rice creams and other “restorative” foods of Roze’s original establishment, most served the same substantial food they always had. The biggest change some early ones made was to adapt, as Roze had, the small round tables previously used only in cafes.

Traiteurs sometimes opposed the first restaurants and in fact Roze’s place was raided by them early on. However in January 1768, Roze became a traiteur himself, but of a very special sort – he purchased one of twelve privileges as a traiteur following the Court. This was expensive – 1600 pounds – but spared him having to apprentice in the trade. Not only did this eliminate conflicts with that trades group, it gave his establishment special prestige with upscale customers.

Yet serving food remained a secondary occupation for him. In 1769, he tried to present his financial scheme to the Intendant General of Finances de Boullogne, admitting some would find it fantastic. He circulated a pamphlet on his system. The President of the Paris Parlement, Jean Omer Joly de Fleury, noted that it had caused "much discussion". but the only result was that Roze was arrested and imprisoned for spreading an incendiary text. In subsequent years however he had success in other business ventures, these backed by the Crown.

For centuries, the project most cited by other writers was one Roze may have intended as a way to promote trade, by providing a directory of various businesses. He first published it in 1769, just two years after founding the restaurant. The Almanach général d'indication d'adresse personnelle et domicile fixe des Six Corps, Arts et Métiers remains, with supplemental publications, a valuable source on Paris in the eighteenth century. In this directory, he lists the first restaurant – which he still owned at that point – without pointing out that the publisher of the directory ran it. By now “the Restorer” had moved north from its (unknown) location on the rue de Poulies to the Hôtel d’Aligre on the corner of the rue Saint Honoré:
Only inventor and possessor of the art of making the true Prince’s Consommés, nourishing and refreshing, continues with the same success to give at his place at all hours, and to send into town excellent Capons in coarse salt, rice Creams, and Brittany gruel for meat or meatless days, Macaroni, fresh eggs, fine Preserves, Compotes, and other dishes as healthy as they are fine, served with the most scrupulous taste and cleanliness.
In 1772, he presented a copy of the latest issue to the Dauphin – that is, the future Louis XVI. He would continue to publish the directory into the Revolution.

One supplement to the series – probably from 1786 – names Deslauriers as “successor of the first Restaurateur”, which is to say to Roze himself. Curiously, even as the idea caught fire with others, Roze, willingly or not, abandoned it.

Still, Roze was not shy about noting his role in creating the concept. And in 1770, when a prominent periodical described the prospectus for his pet financial project, it named him as “the first author of the Restaurateurs… celebrated for diverse other inventions which indicate his genius and the fertility of his resources.” Clearly, his contemporaries recognized his seminal role. Yet when the former Jesuit Le Grand d’Aussy published a history of French food in 1782, he named an otherwise unknown Boulanger as having founded the restaurant in 1765. How is it Roze did not contradict him? The most likely answer is that he was unaware of the work, though it was influential enough that soon several other writers had passed on Le Grand’s claim (and in substantially his own words). The result would be that, for centuries, Boulanger was credited with founding the restaurant. Even when later writers cited Chantoiseau’s own claims in the matter, it would only be to dismiss them since it contradicted what was then “well-known”: that Boulanger had founded the restaurant.

It is likely too that by then Roze simply did not care much about the restaurant. This speaks to his single-minded interest in his financial project. Soon, luxurious restaurants were opening and becoming fashionable and yet there is no hint that he decided to try his hand again at a business he himself had founded. In this, he resembles August Zang, the Austrian who would not only introduce the croissant in 1839, but transform French baking methods. Yet as Zang moved on to journalism, banking and mining, he not only had no interest in being acknowledged for his contribution to baking (now widely recognized), but in fact tried to bury his history in that profession.

In April 1789, Roze de Chantoiseau, in his late fifties, presented Louis XVI and early delegates to the Estates General his plan for reducing the French national debt with his special system of letters of credit meant to increase the money supply without causing inflation. But his proposal was no more than politely received. Nor was the Paris government interested the following year. In 1791, he received a patent "for the establishment of a general, subsidiary, social and commercial fund of national credit". In 1799 he tried, with the help of a partner, to privately implement the "United Departmental Bank of Commerce and the Arts",  but had no success.

Meanwhile, in 1800, he was still, at least nominally, running his information bureau, now modestly hosted at a café on the rue Montorgueil.

In 1803, the inventor of food criticism, Grimod de la Reynière, alerted his readers that “Champ d'oiseau” was living in "misery" and suggested that all the restaurateurs who had made their fortunes following up on Chantoiseau's original idea should get together and provide him a pension. It is unlikely that any did so; Roze died in poverty in March 1806.

For over two centuries, his role in inventing the restaurant was barely referenced, much less acknowledged. Then in 2000, Rebecca L. Spang methodically traced his history, barely mentioning Boulanger (who is not documented before Le Grand’s text). Though many writers either resist abandoning the long-standing idea that Boulanger invented the restaurant in 1765, or try to treat Boulanger and Roze as the same person (no evidence supports this), his unique role in that regard is now well-established. The various editions of his directory also remain valuable sources on late eighteenth century Paris. His financial system however, which meant so much to him, has been forgotten by all except, ironically, some students of the restaurant.

Interested in the history of the food of Paris?
Visit the Paris Food History site.


Most popular posts