The famous McDonald Tea Room brought thousands of people to Gallatin, MO, over many years before fire consumed its contents …and its future. But for several decades, on a typical weekend, one could find cars bearing license plates from many states parked in front of a unique, white, one-of-a-kind building on Highway 6, a block west of the Gallatin square.
Virginia McDonald, a native of Texas, faced with mounting bills due to illness, opened a small lunch counter in 1931 in what had been a blacksmith shop. What followed made history.
The late Duncan Hines ranked Virginia’s tea room as “one of the ten best places to eat in America,” and her cookbook, now out of print, was the first and only cookbook to be featured as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. This was in 1950. That book is now a collector’s item.
Virginia was the tea room in its prime. She was a colorful personality who wanted to get acquainted with everyone who came in her door. Her recipe for success was that “everything I serve will be delicious to the taste and beautiful to look at.” From a simple beginning she rose to the heights in her field — quite an achievement in a town of 2,000 souls.
During this period, Virginia was much in demand. She flew all over the nation making public appearances. Better Homes and Gardens spent over $3,000 to prepare a story about her. She received her “Oscar” in 1962 when she was honored by the Duncan Hines Institute for 25 years of food preparation achievement.
During her lifetime Virginia hosted many notable and nationally prominent figures. Former Governor Arthur M. Hyde was one of her staunchest supporters. In talking about her black raspberry ice he said, “it should be held reverently in the hands and inhaled as you would a fragrant rose.”
Virginia was always ready to personally entertain her guests, whether they were traveling salesmen or such notables as Missouri Gov. Arthur M. Hyde. The late J.C. Penney, the chain store founder, was another steady patron. His weakness was Virginia’s corn muffins. She always said Mr. Penney never requested that she bake corn muffins especially for him, “but he would always call to tell me he was coming and I would have muffins on his table.”
Many people savored the flavor of a McDonald’s — Gallatin style! Luncheon menus featured Virginia’s favorites. People dined in the Crystal Room or in Maple Shade, the original family home.