William Gruber opened his first Meal-A-Minit restaurant in 1935 at 1239 St. Charles Ave., then opened up six more over the next 24 years, creating one of New Orleans’ first fast-food chains. At the St. Charles location, he built a new, modern-style building to house the restaurant, a look after which most of his subsequent restaurants were styled. The menu was a combination of standard diner fare like hamburgers and pie mixed with complete dinners like steak, “shrimp in shorts” and roast duck, as well as full Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, all served quickly and efficiently, and priced economically for the whole family to enjoy. Food and drinks were served 24-hours a day, and their homemade biscuits were legendary.
The second Meal-A-Minit opened in 1940 at 2411 S. Carrollton Ave. The featured dish was “Chicken in the Hand,” fried chicken served with no silverware, meant to be enjoyed with one’s fingers. The third location, at 1000 Canal St., featured a cocktail lounge called the Prevue, which grew to feature nightly live music, two dance floors and the half-shell oyster and beef bars.
In 1957, the Meal-A-Minit franchise expanded to Jefferson Parish, opening in the brand-new Crescent Airline Shopping Center at 1825 Airline Highway. By 1959, there were seven locations operating. (Two locations, at 3434 Prytania St. and 222 Loyola Ave., were open for less than a year in 1958-1959.)
The Stag Room opened in the summer of 1962 at the 1717 Canal St. location, and was touted as an elegant, exclusive dining room that was still affordable. The menu was “international” with a heavy focus on kosher dishes, seafood and Italian dishes. When they expanded into late-night dining, breakfast items joined the more exotic foods offered.
The fall of 1965 saw the close of the Meal-A-Minit and Prevue Lounge at 1000 Canal St. The restaurant at 1239 St. Charles Ave. closed in 1970, with the 1717 Canal St. location closing soon after, ending the Meal-a-Minit era.