File this under: How did we not know this? Hoxsie grew up hard by Schenectady in the 1970s and was perhaps more tuned than your average teenager to both politics and local history. And yet, until this week, we had no idea that the father of Vice President Spiro Agnew, one Theodore Agnew (originally Theofraste Anagnostopolous), was once the proprietor of a couple of lunch joints in Schenectady and Troy. That seems like the kind of information that would have been floating around the zeitgeist, particularly given that Spiro (whose middle name was Theodore) was a controversial, polarizing figure who ended up resigning from the Nixon administration in a bit of a scandal.
Information on this is scant, and the timeline isn’t entirely clear. One Agnew biography says that Theodore arrived from Greece in 1902, settled in Schenectady, spent six years here and then moved to Baltimore. That timeline doesn’t quite work, as we know he was in Schenectady and Troy in 1911 and 1912.
His restaurant was called Hygienic Lunch, at a time when many restaurants, diners, and cafeterias were anything but. We first find it mentioned in Schenectady in 1911, located at 412 State Street, just below the (trolley) waiting room. (This was the old trolley waiting room at 420 State, east of the Witbeck Building. The Hygienic, we believe, was in the Hough Block, torn down to make room for the Bowtie Cinemas.)
In the Troy Times Record of March 25, 1911, we find this notice with regard to the Troy location of the Hygienic Lunch:
“The Hygienic Lunch to-day became one of the convenient eating places for shoppers and business people. Located at 319 River Street, the new lunch room is in the centre of the business district. In its equipment the Hygienic is thoroughly modern, having tiled floors and marble walls, with a kitchen equipment on which no expense or care has been spared. Small marble tables take the place of the usual wide arm chairs. The Hygienic will cater particularly to busy people, and is prepared to serve quickly a lunch or dinner, simple or elaborate. In addition to the usual sandwiches and short-order courses, patrons of the Hygienic can order a steak or portion of roast. The place is managed by the President of the company himself, Mr. Theodore S. Agnew of Schenectady, and James W. Donnan of this city. Mr. Agnew is an experienced restaurant manager, and is one of the founders of the Hygienic Lunch system, which was inaugurated in this state a few years ago.”
At the time, Agnew is found in the Troy City Directory, listed as president and manager of 319 River Street (the business was not named), and boarding at The Rensselaer (later called The Troy House).
A notice in the Schenectady Gazette from June 15, 1911, promises improvements at the Schenectady location:
“Theodore Agnew, president of the Hygienic Lunch Company is in this city after having spent some time in Troy launching a new business in that city. Mr. Agnew stated yesterday that it was his intention to as soon as possible to remodel the place of business in Schenectady and enlarge it to a certain extent. This lunch room is now capable of accommodating a large number of people, several tables have recently been installed which will seat four persons each, these replace the chairs along one entire side and a portion of the other.”
Not much else is said of the Hygienic in either location (and it’s not clear that a contemporaneous Ballston Spa operation by the same name was necessarily connected). A very brief article in the Troy Times on January 5, 1912, says that the proprietors of the Waldorf lunch system, a cafeteria style lunch joint that then had branches in eight cities from Boston to Buffalo, “to-day purchased the Hygienic Lunch from The Hygienic Lunch Company, Incorporated. George R. Donnan of Schenectady was proprietor. The new establishment will be called the Waldorf Lunch.”
That may have been the end of Theodore Agnew’s association with the Hygienic Lunch, and perhaps it was at this time that he lit out for the Charm City. It was not, however, the end of the Hygienic Lunch, for in 1914, Mr. Andrew Kansas announced the new Hygienic Lunch would be opening:
We know from the advertisements of a menswear salesman named Joe Green (and we’ll get to old Joe) that this Hygienic Lunch was also at 412 State Street, and that it continued by that name at least through 1922.
The only mention of the Spiro Agnew connection we find, other than in some biographies and birther sites (apparently there was some controversy), was an article in the Troy Times Record from October 11, 1973, after Agnew had already resigned. It was headlined “Agnew’s Father Ran Restaurant in Troy, and was filled out with just a little less information than we’ve provided above. “Agnew’s father also owned a restaurant in Schenectady but both failed to support him and his brothers. A check of the city directory of 1912 reveals Theodore Agnew moved to New York City. He eventually ended up in Baltimore, Md.”