"I would like to be food dictator of the U.S.A. just long enough to padlock two thirds of the places that call themselves cafes or restaurants."
Before Fodor's and Zagat, there was Hines. A native of Bowling Green, Kentucky, Duncan Hines would go from traveling salesman to renowned restaurant critic on his way to becoming a household name across the U.S. First known for his pioneering restaurant reviews, Hines would later lend his name to a wide range of food products, most notably today Hines Cake Mixes, which solidified his name as a trusted brand for millions of Americans.
Hines was born March 26, 1880 as the youngest of six children. After his mother died when he was just four years old, Hines spent much of his time at his grandparents' farm in the countryside. It was there that Hines would gain his first insights into the world of cooking and cleanliness.
In 1905, Hines decided to enter the printing and advertising business. He became a traveling salesman for a Chicago printing company, touring across the country with his creative printing ideas and selling them to industrial firms.
Traveling cross-country at that time was much different than it is today. There were few chain restaurants that Hines could rely on for a quick meal, and there was no interstate highway system. Travelers like Hines who were making long distance treks would have to rely purely on chance in trying to get a good meal at a local restaurant. Quite often, Hinesâ€� luck had run out. "I've run less risk driving my way across country than eating my way across it," he once said.
Hines achieved modest success as a salesman, but he was quickly about to discover another passion. Thanks to his years of traveling, Hines had become familiar with many of the restaurants in even the smallest hamlets of the U.S., and had begun taking notes on which ones were good places to dine at. The poor quality of food he was frequently eating forced Hines to take action. "The library paste served as gravy in some short order places was a personal insult," he said.
One year, Hines passed on a list of 167 good restaurants to some of his friends in lieu of Christmas presents. After several of them found his recommendations handy, he began assembling a list of several hundred restaurants across the country for wider distribution.
Along with his wife, Florence, the two began traveling expressly for the purpose of finding and trying out new restaurants. In 1935, when Hines was 55 years old, he compiled their lists into a paperback book called "Adventures in Good Eating". The book highlighted both restaurants and featured dishes that Hines and his wife had personally enjoyed on their travels.
At a time when there was no such thing as restaurant critics and ratings, Hines was on to something new. Soon, four little words would come to have a significant importance to restaurants all across the country: "Recommended by Duncan Hines."