Kolb's Restaurant (Western Canada's Most Sanitary Building)
Postcards from the Past, PC 987
This year, once again, we were thrilled to be asked to prepare a presentation for Historic Calgary Week. We love to be a part of this great celebration of our city’s history for many reasons, not the least of which is the chance we get to use some of our great photo collections to tell stories of the history of the city and province. This year we presented a history of immigration and settlement in Alberta and we included a brief history of postcards in that presentation.
One of the aspects of postcards that we looked at was their use as advertising tools. We picked the one in this entry because we thought it was kind of funny that a restaurant would advertise itself as having the most “sanitary restaurant building.” What we didn’t know at the time was the fascinating history of the man who owned that restaurant, Eddie Kolb.
Edward William “Eddie” Kolb was born in 1880 in Cincinnati. He was a baseball fanatic but his team, the Cleveland Spiders, was widely acknowledged to be the worst team in baseball (a title they still hold.)
The story goes that the last game of the season, the 2nd game of a doubleheader after a season where they had lost 134 games, a hotel cigar boy named Eddie Kolb was given a shot at pitching for his team in exchange for a box of cigars. He gave up 19 runs. Thus began and ended the major league baseball career of Eddie Kolb.
It didn’t dampen his enthusiasm, however, and he continued his involvement in baseball. Eventually, though, Eddie ended up in Calgary and opened a successful restaurant two doors down from the Palace Theatre. He ran this restaurant for 22 years until the Great Depression. Jeffrey Williams, in his book Far From Home: A Memoir of a 20th Century Soldier“ tells the rest of the story:
“The staff at Eaton’s included several who would not have been there but for the Depression. To me at the time, the most tragic was Mr. Kolb. When I was a small boy, I w as taken to his elegant restaurant for dinner with my mother, but in the 1930s people could no longer afford to eat in places like his and it had closed. Now, in his fifties, he was working as a salesman in the shoe department.
One morning I went into the cafeteria in the basement for coffee. Mr. Kolb was behind the counter, peering into urns, sniffing at Danish pastries and tasting the cream in a dispenser. Here was a different man from the quiet shoe salesman.
Eaton’s cafeteria had been losing in popularity to Picardy’s across the street and Mr. Swann had asked Kolb to advise. Within a week, a remarkable change had taken place. At the end of the month the cafeteria was making a useful profit and Mr. Kolb was back to the shoe department. I knew that Eaton’s were not exploiting him…His salary as a shoe salesman was higher than that of the manageress of the cafeteria. Even if it had not been, I doubt that he could ever have reconciled the clatter and breezy service of the coffee shop with the memory of the crystal-chandeliered restaurant which had once been his” (p. 102)
Mr. Kolb would eventually become involved in the development of the Turner Valley oilfields and became the first secretary of the Alberta Petroleum Association. He died in Calgary in 1949.