Toss in a dining landmark once adored by foodies across the region. Pepper it with a lot of research. And finish it off with some yellowing photos that capture a simpler time. So what’s cooking? A new project by Mason’s University Libraries documenting the rise and fall of the local restaurant chain Hot Shoppes.
Founded by J. Willard and Alice Marriott (before they got into the hotel business) in Washington, D.C., in 1927, Hot Shoppes eventually numbered more than 70 locations up and down the East Coast, including one in Tysons Corner and another not far from Mason’s Fairfax Campus (though the exact location is still being determined). They offered soul-satisfying comfort food like chicken noodle soup and its famous Mighty Mo burger.
However, never a significant money maker for Marriott, the last Hot Shoppes was shuttered in 1999.
“There is really nothing today we can compare it to,” says Rebecca Forrest, external relations and development assistant with Mason’s library system, explaining the chain came in three forms: a cafeteria, a drive in, and a sit-down restaurant.
As part of its Special Collections and Archives, Mason has numerous photos of Hot Shoppes. Some were taken by famed White House photographer Oliver Atkins in 1948 while he worked for the Saturday Evening Post. Others were snapped by Charles Baptie, a former photographer for defunct Capital Airlines.
To put context to the photos, library staff has also been scouring the Internet, finding a community still keeping Hot Shoppes alive online. Several sites, including eHow.com, reveal the recipe of the Mighty Mo. There are also online photos, numerous mentions in food blogs, and a Facebook page dedicated to the chain.
“Almost everyone in this area who is old enough,” says Forrest, “has some sort of memory of Hot Shoppes,” before adding, “From what I heard, the onion rings were to die for.”