Friday, July 1, 2016


Every generation has its after-school hangouts - places where young people can sit and talk, gossip, or even sometimes do homework (ha ha).  In the 1940s and 1950s the hangout for the young people of Evanston, Illinois was a place called Cooley's Cupboard.  At the height of its popularity there were actually three separate Cooley's Cupboard locations but the one on Orrington was a popular hangout for students from Northwestern University just a few blocks away.

So place your order for two Cooley's specialities, curly fries and a cherry Coke, and let's see what we can "dig up" about Cooley's Cupboard and it's founder, Roy W. Cooley. 

Roy William Cooley was born February 2, 1895 in Niagara Falls, New York, to Fred Horace Cooley (1859-1943) and his wife Anna (1863-????).  Fred and Anna were native New Yorkers, and they had married in New York in 1882.  Fred had started his career as an Express Messinger, but ended his working years as the Superintendent of the Niagara Falls park system.

Fred and Anna Cooley had three sons:  Carl Merritt Cooley (1883-1973), Claude Robert Cooley (1886-1963), and Roy William Cooley (1895-1974).

The 1900 US Census has the Fred Cooley family living at 917 Fairfield Avenue in Niagara Falls, New York.  Unfortunately that site is now a vacant lot.  Young Roy is five years old, and according to the census "at school."

The 1910 Census shows the Cooleys at 2115 Tenth Street in Niagara Falls:

2115 Tenth Street, Niagara Falls, New York

The house had just been built in 1910 and it was a great place to raise a family:  3,900 square feet with 5 bedrooms and a big yard.  I'm sure fifteen year old Roy loved his new home.  Fred was working as a messenger for the express company; Anna kept house, Claude was a bookkeeper for a bank, and Roy was in school.  Carl had already moved out on his own, but the Cooleys had a boarder:  twenty-five year old Frank D. Hibbard, who worked for the Railway Express.

Roy Cooley registered for the draft on May 31, 1917.  We learn some interesting things about Roy from his registration card.  He was attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois where he was a medical student.  Under the section "Do you claim exemption from the Draft?" He wrote "Yes - physical disability - Conscientious Objections." I can imagine how that was received by the Draft Board.

On March 9, 1918 Roy W. Cooley married Henrietta D. Catlow (1897-1968)  in Evanston, Illinois.  The groom was 23 - the bride was 20.  Henrietta came from an old Evanston family.  Her father, Thomas Catlow (1857-1919) was a railway engineer.  Her mother was Sarah E., nee Schierding (1857-1946).  Henrietta had a half brother - Joseph Raymond Catlow (1879-1961).

Roy and Henrietta were blessed with two daughters:  Jane Gray Cooley (1919-1990) and Lois Ann Cooley (b. 1928).

Sometime between 1918 and 1920 Roy Cooley made the decision to quit medical school and remain in Chicagoland. 

The 1920 US Census shows the Roy Cooley family renting an apartment at 617 Michigan Avenue in Evanston,  Roy was twenty-four and chief clerk for a wholesaler.  Henrietta was twenty-two and baby Jane was four months old.

617 Michigan Avenue, Evanston, Illinois

By 1925 the young Cooley family was living at 2304 Grey Avenue in Evanston:

2304 Grey Avenue, Evanston, Illinois

But Roy Cooley was itching to go out on his own.  First as a Northwestern student and then living and working in Evanston he saw a need that he thought he could fill.  Not for another formal dining room - Evanston was full of those - and not another hamburger/hot dog stand - Evanston had those too - but something in between.  In 1925 Roy Cooley opened the first of his "Cooley's Cupboards" at 1630-32 Orrington in Evanston which advertised that they were open for "Luncheons, Dinners, Afternoon Teas and Fountain  Specialities."

Shortly after that Roy Cooley opened his second Cooley's Cupboard - this one at 505 Main Street that he called the "Rendezvous Moderne." Finally, in 1927 he opened the third Cooley's Cupboard, this one at 1511 Chicago Avenue that he called the "Picardy Room."  This was during the boom times of the 1920s and all three Cooley's Cupboards were successful almost from the moment they first opened.

The 1930 US Census shows the Cooley family living at 2230 Lincolnwood Drive in Evanston:

2230 Lincolnwood Drive, Evanston

They told the census taker that they owned this house, and it was worth $20,000.00. Living here were 35 year old Roy - a "proprietor of a restaurant", 33 year old Henrietta, 11 year old Jane, 2 1/2 year old Lois, and live in maid Gertrude Flanagan.

Life was good for the Cooley family, evidenced by the fact that in the mid-1930's they bought another house - this one at 3045 Normandy Place in Evanston:

3045 Normandy Place, Evanston, Illinois

And what a house it was:  5 bedrooms, 3 full bathrooms, a finished basement, and a slate roof.  3,045 square feet of living space on a lot that is almost 1/3 of an acre.  In the 1940 US Census, Roy Cooley estimated that his house was worth $27,000.00, today its estimated worth is $1,519,000.00.

Roy Cooley always believed that local advertising was a great way to let his customers know what he was offering them.  Here's an ad from October 6, 1935:

and an ad from July 14, 1940:

Here's a Cooley's Cupboard menu from the 1940s:

The 1940 US Census showed the Cooley family living at 3045 Normandy Place in Evanston.  There was forty-four year old Roy, "Owner of Restaurants", forty-two year old Henrietta, twenty year old Jane, and eleven year old Lois.  No live-servants this time around, but Henrietta's eighty-two year old mother Sarah Catlow was living with the Cooleys.

When Roy Cooley registered for the draft in 1942 he no longer claimed Conscientious Objector status.

In the mid 1940's, Roy Cooley expanded his restaurant empire by opening the Tally-Ho Restaurant at 1513 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, and its sister, the Tally-Ho Restaurant at 19 S. Northwest Highway in Park Ridge.

Here's the Tally-Ho in Evanston:

and the one in Park Ridge:

These restaurants were more upscale than the Cooley's Cupboards and offered more formal dining in an English countryside atmosphere.

Here's a menu from the Tally-Ho in Evanston:

But for most Evanstonians, Cooley's Cupboard was still the place to be. Roy Cooley continued to advertise in all the local newspapers, but he found a way to get his share of free advertising as well.  Here's an article from the Chicago Tribune in 1949 that mentioned that a local group was ending their outing "with a late snack at Cooley's Cupboard":

Roy Cooley was also one of the first restaurateurs to recognize the importance of nutrition in the food he sold.  Here's an ad where he advertised the services of a dietician he kept on staff:

Cooley's food was so tasty and so nutricious they were often asked for their recipies.  Here's one included in a cookbook published in 1950:

Roy Cooley continued to advertise the holiday dinners he offered to people without a place to go, or those who just didn't want to bother cooking:

Roy Cooley worked long and hard to put his restaurant empire together but by 1950 it was starting to take its toll on him.  The 5 restaurants (3 Cooley's Cupboards and 2 Tally-Ho) were open seven days a week, plus all holidays.  Cooley was smart enough to put good people in charge but the bottom line was that it was his name on the door.  By 1951 he decided that he had had enough and quietly put out some feelers to people he felt might be interested in buying his restaurants. He was 55 years old and had been in the restaurant business non-stop since 1925.

The Chicago Daily Tribune from December 11, 1951 carried the news:


George D. Hanby, former Walgreen Company executive, yesterday announced the purchase of Cooley's Cupboards, Inc., Evanston restaurant chain for an undisclosed sum.  The sellers were Roy W. Cooley, president of the company, and Raymond H. Keeler, vice president.

The sale covers all five restaurants in the Cooley chain - three Cupboards and one Tally-Ho restaurant in Evanston and another Tally-Ho restaurant in Park Ridge.  The five restaurants have a total seating capacity of 900.

Hanby started his career as a counterman in a Walgreen company store in downtown Chicago in 1925.  By 1945 he had worked his way up to the post of director of food operations for the company.  In 1948 he became president of Nedick's, Inc., an eastern chain of snack shops.  He recently disposed of his interests in that company.

Hanby said the Cooley's name would be retained.  Keeler will remain temporarily with the organization.  Cooley said his plans for the future are uncertain, but that he will retire from the restaurant chain.     

With that, Roy Cooley began to enjoy his well-deserved retirement. 

Roy and Henrietta Cooley spent the 1950s and 1960s traveling and enjoying life.  Jane and Lois were both married, and grandchildren began to join the extended Cooley clan.  Roy toyed with the idea of getting into politics, but that never seemed to go anywhere.  He was often approached by potential partners, both in the restaurant business and out of it, but Roy had worked too hard for too long and was not interested in joining the rat race again.

Henrietta Catlow Cooley died January 21, 1968 from complications from cancer.  She was 70 years old.  Several years before, Roy and Henrietta had purchased two crypts in the mausoleum at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois, and that is where Henrietta is interred:

Having been happily married for so many years, Roy didn't like life alone.  In 1969 Roy married Helen Matthews Ashenden, the widow of Cook County Commissioner James F. Ashenden.    

Helen and Roy Cooley

Roy Cooley had long ago given up the big house in Evanston - the newlyweds rented an apartment at 2061 Farwell Avenue in Chicago.

2061 W. Farwell, Chicago

At the beginning of 1973, Roy Cooley suffered a debilitating stroke. After spending some time in the hospital, Roy was transferred to the Normandy House Nursing Home in Wilmette, Illinois, at that time said to be the finest nursing home facility in Chicagoland.  Roy Cooley remained in the Normandy House for almost eighteen months.

Roy W. Cooley died July 1, 1974 at the Normandy House.  He was 79 years old and never recovered from the stroke he suffered eighteen months prior.  

Here is his Obituary and Death Notice both from the Chicago Tribune of July 3, 1974:


Roy Cooley was interred next to his first wife Henrietta in the mausoleum at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois:

The Cooley's Cupboard restaurants survived to the 1960s, the Tally-Ho restaurants were around until the 1970s but all are gone today.

Roy Cooley was a successful restaurateur because he learned early that people love to go out to eat.  They always have and they always will.  Even if it's just for a snack, people love to get out and let someone else to the cooking - and the dishes!

Like Fanny Lazaar, Roy Cooley knew that if you consistently offered people good food at a fair price they would beat a path to your door - and for years Chicagoland beat a path to Roy Cooley's doors - all five of them!

Roy Cooley - restaurateur par excellence - may he rest in peace. 


  1. Thanks for the memories! I remember the double chocolate cake was rich and delicious with pecan bits and a chocolate glaze frosting. Any way I could find that recipe?

    1. Not if you post as "Unknown" and have denied anyone access to your Profile.