Time Machine

First Black-owned restaurant in Cedar Rapids opened in 1886

Marshall's Restaurant was famous for its oysters

Marshall Perkins (second from left) stands outside one of the restaurants he operated in Cedar Rapids in the early 1900s
Marshall Perkins (second from left) stands outside one of the restaurants he operated in Cedar Rapids in the early 1900s. (The History Center)
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Marshall Perkins opened Marshall’s Restaurant in 1886. The restaurant, made famous by its oysters, was the first Black-owned restaurant in Cedar Rapids. If Perkins’ race caused any stir in the community at either his restaurant opening or his marriage to German-born Louisa in 1886, it was not reported in the newspapers.

After five years of operating from the basement of the Golden Eagle, Perkins needed to expand his restaurant to accommodate the increase in customers. He moved to 43 First Ave., in the previous location of Mr. Floyd’s Candy Factory. The new location opened Dec. 10, 1891. The new front room contained a lunch counter for those wishing to dine more quickly. The menu item of choice at the time was hot cakes. In fact, over 600 people showed up to an open house to drink free coffee and eat free pancakes just three days before the official reopening of Marshall’s Restaurant. The main dining hall could be accessed through the lunch room, but it also had a separate ladies’ entrance. Perkins had a reputation for hiring the best people and serving only the highest-quality meals.

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On May 17, 1920, Marshall’s was listed for sale. The ad simply stated, “FOR SALE- Marshall’s restaurant. After 34 years success, retiring from business. A bargain.” However, Marshall came out of retirement just one year later. In 1921, there was an ad for Perkins’ new restaurant at 112 N. First St. Perkins ran some version of Marshall’s Restaurant for 44 years, until June of 1926. He died 10 years later, on Sept. 25, 1936.

Tara Templeman is curator at The History Center. Comments: curator@historycenter.org

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