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Good food, great atmosphere, spectacular location. Even if you have all three, opening and running an eatery remains an exceedingly risky venture. Indeed, by most accounts, 9 out of 10 new restaurants fail during their first year of operation.
And yet there are many restaurants that have stood the test of time—some that have been running without interruption for 50, 60, even 100 years or more. They are considered institutions, and in some instances landmarks. Their walls are filled with history, and in some cases their menus have made history, too.
What does it take to operate for decades? To find out, BusinessWeek took a look at some of the oldest continuously run restaurants that remain in business today. Many have survived economic meltdowns, natural disasters, changes in locations, and new ownership. And many have pioneered a new dish that caused a sensation or were otherwise innovators in cooking or dining. Some brought authentic Old World culinary palates to New World tables. While nearly all have remained true to their foundations, many have reinvented themselves for modern times.
At 183 years old, Union Oyster House in Boston claims the title of America's oldest continuously run establishment. A favorite of the Kennedy clan, the restaurant, with its legendary semicircular oyster bar, is a National Historic Landmark. In New York, Delmonico's introduced fine dining, as well as a number of new dishes, such as Lobster Newburg and Baked Alaska. In Tucson, Monica Flin, the daughter of a French immigrant, opened what is now considered the country's oldest Mexican restaurant—El Charro CafÉ—after perfecting her cooking skills while living in Mexico in the 1910s. In 1981, Richard Riordan, later the mayor of Los Angeles, bought downtown institution The Original Pantry CafÉ, then 57 years old, saving it from the wrecking ball. Today the restaurant says it serves 2,500 to 3,000 customers daily.
While it's not an exhaustive list, flip through this slide show for a taste of the longest-running restaurants in America. Be sure to leave your suggestions of others in the comments section below.
Perman is a staff writer for BusinessWeek in New York.