I realize that we won World War II, but for many people it was a rather horrific period for our country. After all, quite a lot of "our boys" didn't come back home to enjoy the peacetime that followed. Even so, certain people must have felt that it was actually loads of fun, because they came out with all sorts of war-related entertainment.
I don't even like to think about the lunatic that conceived Hogan's Heroes, a comedy set in a German P.O.W. camp, but there were also movies, games, and even restaurants.
And the somewhat awkwardly named 91st Bomb Group (H) Restaurant was just part of that WW2 nostalgia — a cozy establishment designed to resemble a bombed-out French (or was it English?) farmhouse. Of course, it presented a very sanitized version of the war, omitting such depressing elements as dead civilians, wounded soldiers, and any mention whatsoever of Nazis. Instead, developers constructed a rambling building that was surrounded by (and filled with) all sorts of World War II memorabilia — guns, jeeps, photos, maps, flags, posters, and more.
At one time, even the famous Memphis Belle was parked outside.
The restaurant, located at Democrat and Airways, was originally going to be based on the first World War. It was the brainchild of a national chain called Specialty Restaurants, headquartered in Long Beach, California. An early press release announced that the place would be called the "94th Aerosquadron Restaurant." Featuring a nice lounge and dance floor, "the plan is to use a central theme of an old World War I vintage farmhouse, decorated with artifacts from the period."
Well, the owners must have realized it would be a heck of a lot easier to incorporate a World War II theme, so they changed the name to the 91st Bomb Group (H), which had included the Memphis Belle.
For years and years, I have searched for a decent photograph of this unusual establishment, but have found nothing. I did, however, locate an old menu, shown here, which includes a rather crude drawing of the "farmhouse." As you might imagine, the fare was also war-themed, with such offerings as "Officer's Club Specialties," a "Commander's Dinner," and even "Captain Morgan Steak" (honoring the pilot of the Memphis Belle) and "Veal Memphis Belle," a name that makes absolutely no sense to me.
The restaurant opened in early 1980 and was a tremendous success, serving some 170,000 patrons that first year, according to a newspaper story. (The number seems hard to believe, doesn't it?) But on June 22, 1981, it suffered a disaster. An outbreak of salmonella sent more than 50 diners to the hospital and forced the local health department to close the place. The Commercial Appeal reported that it finally reopened on July 3rd with a "sparse crowd."
"This was a one-in-a-million occurrence, just one of those things that can happen," the manager told reporters. "It's going to take some time to overcome this. The damage done to a restaurant that closes for 10 days is immense, especially when it's because of food poisoning."
The damage was, in fact, permanent. The restaurant locked its doors a few months later and never reopened. I don't even remember when it was torn down, but if you drive by that corner today, no trace remains of the "old farmhouse" that once attracted thousands of diners.