• David W. Gutzke


Nothing demonstrated Pearce’s resiliency better than his capacity for remaking himself as a principal caterer at the age of fifty-eight on resigning from the BTT. While other leading catering companies in the City endured crises of management, lost substantial share value and declared lower or, worse, no dividends whatsoever in the decade from 1905, Pearce had by far the most productive, creative and in many ways most satisfying period in his entire career, an apt testament to his superb skills as a masterful caterer.

Within a decade of founding JP Restaurants, Pearce had fashioned a company with a reconceptualised business philosophy, and wider clientele transcending both class as well as gender boundaries, together with a new hierarchy of four tiers catering to distinct social classes. Symbolically, he detached himself from his former City working-class base and all for which it stood, and established his company in Holborn, centre of his catering firm, more geographically dispersed and more representative of a cross-section of London’s class and gender composition. Core of his clientele and mainspring of his prosperity for so many years, working-class patrons shrank in importance, as he grafted other groups of patrons onto the base. Whether he was responding to the new freedom of being chairman of his own company or fundamental changes in the catering market remains uncertain. Where he derived insight into evolving a vibrant business culture is unclear, for as an un-introspective individual, he could reveal nothing about the process in interviews, personal testimony to a royal commission or even conversations with future biographers.

As the pre-eminent caterer of the working class, Pearce acquired and sustained his business prowess in part through three of his sons, a theme wholly ignored by contemporaries (including his biographers) and scholars alike. All three had gained experience under John’s watchful tutelage.

Trained under John’s supervision, experienced in widely ranging jobs and promoted to positions of leadership with London’s major catering companies, his three sons assumed key positions with JP Restaurants in the immediate years before World War I.

Here was the nucleus of talent, knowledge and acumen that, with father John at the helm, guided JP Restaurants into becoming the most dynamic catering company from the eve of World War I until well into the 1920s. This influx of Pearce’s sons displayed itself quickly in the new company’s dynamic approach to wooing new customers. Women now became integral to the clientele, clerks, typists and tradesmen forming the backbone of the JPs, the sector of the company which underwent its most explosive growth in Edwardian England. With just one restaurant in 1905, the firm reached thirty-two by the war. This chain’s spanning of classes and catering to dissimilar clienteles throughout the day became two critical factors in the firm’s remarkable development. That these outlets were designated restaurants, not depots, likewise underlined their departure from the pre-1905 model.

During his long life, John Pearce had an enormous impact on those with limited funds who wanted nutritious, tasty, fast food. Of all the testimonials, the best by far came from his old friend, Joseph Bentley, editor of the Temperance Caterer, who thought that Pearce’s companies “were practically the pioneers in London of the movement for feeding the mass of people on moderate terms, and in this way helped forward Temperance Reform.”

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • David W. Gutzke
    • 1
  1. 1.Missouri State UniversitySpringfieldUSA

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