Morrison's Cafeteria was a chain of cafeterias founded in Mobile in 1920 by J. A. Morrison who was inspired by a visit to a cafeteria in Denver, Colorado. The chain was known for cultivating a more refined experience than typical cafeteria-style restaurants, moving the serving line out of sight of the dining areas and employing uniformed wait staff to carry trays to tables. At the same time, planning and preparation was highly managed from central offices with an eye toward effective procurement and minimizing waste.
The business grew into the nation's largest cafeteria chain by the end of the 1940s. After World War II the business expanded with large-scale catering contracts. It provided catering services to Cecil B. DeMille's production of "The Greatest Show on Earth" and signed on to provide food service at universities, hospitals, and large businesses, incorporating as Morrison Cafeterias Consolidated, Inc.
As a Southern institution, Morrison's Cafeterias resisted racial integration during the Civil Rights Movement and was targeted for boycotts in Nashville, Tennessee led by John Rogers.
In the 1960s, Morrisons attempted to diversify into other businesses, such as by acquiring the Memphis, Tennessee-based Admiral Benbow Inn chain. It also bought a a china and small wares facility, an insurance carrier specializing in coverage for strip mines, a distribution company, and a breading plant. Most of those ventures were sold off by the early 1980s under CEO Ernest Bishop. He repositioned the company to take advantage of the trend for casual dining. It acquired the Ruby Tuesday chain in 1982 and promoted its founder, Sandy Beall, to head of a new division which the launched several brands, including L & N Seafood Grill, Silver Spoon Café, and Tia's Tex-Mex. A proposed deal to purchase the "Uno" chain of Italian restaurants fell through in 1990, prompting the company to convert its Silver Spoon locations into a new Mozzarella's concept.
In the mid-1990s, with Beall as CEO, the company split, with Morrison's Fresh Cooking continuing to operate the cafeteria chain, Ruby Tuesday Inc., taking the casual restaurant business, and Morrison Health Care operating hospital contracts that remained after the educational and business contracts were sold to Gardner Merchant Ltd. The latter division was later acquired by the Compass Group of Chertsey, England.
In 1998 the cafeteria division was sold to its former rival Piccadilly Cafeterias. Piccadilly converted most of the cafeterias to its own name, but kept the Morrison's name active for its Mobile location.
Birmingham area locations
- Downtown Birmingham (1953-1965), in the former Royal Theatre at 2014-2016 2nd Avenue North. Demolished in the 1980s for construction of Birmingham Parking Authority Deck 6
- Century Plaza (1975–), a 260-seat location which was open daily from 11 AM to 8:30 PM. The interior, designed by Peter Piolo of Morrison Design Trends, featured warm brick, walnut wood paneling and beamed ceilings with copper, pewter and brass accessories, rust and gray plaid carpeting, and upholstered furniture in brown rust, orange and gold. Foiled wallcoverings and artwork featuring English hunting scenes completed the decor. The kitchen was designed by Eduardo Coalla. The first manager was Lloyd Milton, formerly of Morrison's downtown Savannah, Georgia location, assisted by Robert Morgenstern, who came from the Chattanooga, Tennessee restaurant.
- Palisades Shopping Center
- Vestavia Hills, 1441 Montgomery Highway (1983–)
- "New Morrison's Cafeteria opening in Century Plaza" (August 6, 1975) Birmingham Post-Herald, p. C7
- "Morrison's Cafeteria" (January 5, 2023) Wikipedia - accessed February 25, 2023