Guest post by Jerry A. McCoy
When Washington, D.C. residents Olive Blanche Kreuzburg and her husband Harvey opened Mrs. K’s Toll House Tavern on April 1, 1930, their cozy, country restaurant located out in the “wilds” of Montgomery County, there were probably those who thought that the April Fool’s Day opening was a commentary on the nature of starting such a business.
Located on the old Ashton, Colesville and Sligo Turnpike (today’s Colesville Road), the structure had been known during the 1920s simply as the Toll House Tavern. The name acknowledged that a portion of the tavern had been used as a tollhouse to collect funds from travelers who used the privately owned and maintained road from the mid 1860s to the mid 1910s.
With the Great Depression underway and sparse development found on the then-named Laurel-Baltimore Boulevard (Colesville Road), locals probably doubted that folks from the city would drive out for a meal in the country. Dale Drive, the side street upon which Mrs. K’s sits today, had yet to be cut thru to Piney Branch Road, then named Blair Road. Customers coming up from D.C. had no choice but to travel north on Georgia Avenue (or 16th St. to Alaska Avenue to Georgia) through downtown Silver Spring and then right onto Colesville Road.
Mrs. K had supreme confidence, though, that diners from DC would drive out to the country.
Four years earlier in 1926, the Kreuzburgs had arrived in D.C. from Cincinnati, Ohio and opened the original Mrs. K’s on the ground floor of 1721 K Street, NW (coincidence?). This address happened to be the headquarters of the National Society of Daughters of Founders and Patriots of America. Incorporated in 1898 at the start of the Spanish-American War, the society’s mission was “to preserve colonial and Revolutionary history, to inculcate patriotism in the present generation, and in time of war to obtain and forward supplies for field hospitals.”
Mrs. K’s close proximity to, and appreciation of, a clientele who probably exhibited a more than normal appreciation of the “finer things in life” was evident in her newspaper advertisements that proclaimed, “Finest foods…carefully selected, daintily prepared, efficiently served.” A July 20, 1927, Washington Post classified ad for Mrs. K’s read, “WAITRESS WANTED – Experienced; refinement necessary.”
Business flourished and within a year of opening, Mrs. K rolled out a second, more moderately priced “tea house” located two blocks east at 1905 K Street, NW. Named the Brick Wall Inn an October 11, 1932, Washington Post display ad proclaimed the latter’s ”Greatest Price Reduction Yet!” Lunches were priced at 35 cents and dinners 50 cents (as opposed to Mrs. K’s where lunch cost 50 cents and dinner 75 cents). Meals at both locations were provided “with service” and the guarantee that neither location “knows no can opener nor soup stock pots” and that “everything is actually cooked as within the home.”
Whereas Mrs. K’s quality, service, price and décor appealed to the women it was probably the portions of the meals served that attracted the guys. Another advertisement stated, “That we are Tea Houses of plenty as well as daintiness is attested by our great number of men patrons.”
The last documented newspaper advertisements for Mrs. K’s two K Street locations appeared in 1933, the height of the Great Depression when 25% of the civilian work force was unemployed. Possibly for this reason the Kreuzburgs decided to focus on their Silver Spring location, which they had quietly opened three years earlier, and trust that their clientele would follow.
Within weeks of opening, Mrs. K’s had a mention in the April 20, 1930, Washington Post feature, “Shopping with Bab,” the print version of the late 1920s local radio program. Babs proclaimed, “Toll House Tavern beyond Silver Spring has been taken over by Mrs. K., whose places in town are justly famous for their fried chicken and juicy steaks and other delicacies.”
Two week later, Babs used her column to invite Sunday golfers from DC who were going to “motor…through the cool fresh morning” to play at the nearby Indian Spring Golf Club to partake in a hearty breakfast at Mrs. K’s either before teeing off or after the game. The non-early risers could partake in “real Maryland country-cured ham dinners” from noon to 8:30.
In 1934, mention of Mrs. K’s along with twenty other nation-wide restaurants in food critic Duncan Hines’ first edition of Adventures in Good Eating firmly placed the business on the culinary map. The restaurant’s reputation for food was soon joined by its extensive antique collection, developed over the years by Mrs. K. who every Monday, when the restaurant was closed, would go antique hunting. Her extensive Lutz glass collection graced the cover of the June, 1948 “Hobbies Magazine” and her Old Blue Staffordshire collection, consisting of scores of plates, pitchers and cups, can still be found gracing the dining rooms.
Mrs. K oversaw day-to-day operations of the restaurant until around 1950 when she retired due to illness. After her death in 1960, management of the restaurant was continued by two succeeding generations of the Kreuzburg family. In 1996 new ownership took place and today this landmark restaurant is named Mrs. K’s Restaurant and Barrel Bar and is located at 9201 Colesville Road.
Jerry A. McCoy is the president of the Silver Spring Historical Society.
Photo: Collection of Silver Spring Historical Society.