Feb 22 1997
1928, a baker named Frank Hunter walked across the street to have
lunch. Munching on his hamburger, he had an epiphany.
was selling buns to the restaurant for four cents a dozen. The
restaurant took the bun, added a slab of ground beef with trimmings
and sold it for 15 cents - a substantially higher profit.
decided he was in the wrong business, so he bought the restaurant.
He renamed it Aristocratic Hamburgers and designed a snazzy logo
featuring Ritsy, a dapper little man in top hat, tuxedo and monocle.
Aristocratic was a huge success, becoming Vancouver's premier
restaurant chain from the 30s to the 60s, with up to a dozen locations.
But times changed, and the once-mighty Aristocratic chain dwindled
to one location, at Broadway and Granville.
Sunday, Ritsy will serve up his last burger and fries. The Broadway
and Granville site is being redeveloped and the Aristocratic is
long -time customers such as Nigel Clifton, it's a sad day. The
Aristocratic may have faded in latter years, but it had a certain
je ne sais quoi you don't get in sushi bars.
I like about this place is that you could sit and look out the
window as you sipped your coffee," says Clifton, sitting
in his favorite booth. "You see a lot of accidents on this
corner. Every now and then the bank gets robbed. During the big
snowstorm (just after Christmas) we crammed in here and watched
people ski down the hill and buses get stuck."
Photo: Artray. VPL special collections,
has been going to the Aristocratic for 30 years: He fondly recalls
the good old days in his youth when "a great big waitress
with tattoos" served java at a horseshoe-shaped counter.
"If she liked you she'd take a drag off your cigarette while
she was running around serving coffee."
if they've never eaten there, generations of Vancouverites know
the the Aristocratic's distinctive neon sign boasting "courteous
service, quality food, all over town."
Oliver bought into the Aristocratic in the '50s and erected the
sign in the early 1960s. It's now regarded as one of the premier
neon signs in the city, but Oliver says it pales beside the more
elaborate flashing signs of Vancouver's neon golden age of the
big deal was the little man, the little Ritsy, with lights going
around and a little arm pointing to the restaurant" he recalls.
"It flicked on and off, the arm going up and down, up and
Photo: Artray, VPL special collections, 82363F.
first Aristocratic was a drive-in at Kingsway and Fraser, near
Bushfield's Feed Store and the Roller Palace Skating Rink. The
Broadway and Granville location opened in 1938, the fifth link
in a chain of modest "family" eateries.
over town' was our motto, says Oliver, now 76. "We were on
the very best corners in town, no doubt about it."
says Hunter sold out in 1947, and the chain went bankrupt in 1959:
"They were in debt about $800,000. That was horrendous in
those days. Nobody could believe it."
had been brought in to "straighten things out" as a
consultant in 1952 and '56, and was given the task of selling
off the bankrupt company's assets. He wound up buying the name
and five of the restaurants for himself and did a thriving
there was plenty of competition, especially at Granville and Smithe.
"I'll tel you something, from the Capitol Theatre to Georgia
Street, which is a block and a quarter, there were 10 bloody restaurants.
Ten restaurants. There was Scott's, there was the Sky Diner, which
was owned by White Lunch, Al Gold's Fish and Oyster Bar, Love's
Cafe, the Devon Cafe and the Peter Pan Cafe.
were seven theatres in two blocks, and everybody got out at the
same time," he continues. "There was a show that came
out at 9 pm, and one that got out at 11:30 pm. Do you know that
in spite of all of those restaurants, we had line up to get in
after every show? That's the kind of business we had. You don't
see that any more."
Photo: Artray,1951. VPL special collections,
one point, Oliver owned 12 restaurants and three local chains
- the Aristocratic, Silk Hats Self-Serve Restaurants and Oliver's.
But over the years he sold them off one by one and, in 1983, sold
off the last Aristocratic. He still owns the Aristocratic name,
but allowed the succeeding owners to keep the sign up.
after he sold out, a pair of beautiful blue neon Aristocratic
signs in elegant script dating from 1938 were accidentally removed
and wrecked. "That was a shame," he says. "That
script neon blown glass would never happen again."
remaining sign was to be trashed when the building comes down
next month (march1997). But quick action by Joan Sidel of the
Vancouver Museum resulted in Neon Products donating the sign to