This image is the cover for the book House of Plenty

House of Plenty

The epic story of the rise, fall, and redemption of an iconic American restaurant, one of only five in the Fortune 500.

Scarred by the deaths of his mother and sisters and the failure of his father’s business, a young man dreamed of making enough money to retire early and retreat into the secure world that his childhood tragedies had torn from him. But Harry Luby refused to be a robber baron. Turning totally against the tide of avaricious capitalism, he determined to make a fortune by doing good. Starting with that unlikely, even naive, ambition in 1911, Harry Luby founded a cafeteria empire that by the 1980s had revenues second only to McDonald’s. So successfully did Luby and his heirs satisfy the tastes of America that Luby’s became the country’s largest cafeteria chain, creating more millionaires per capita among its employees than any other corporation of its size. Even more surprising, the company stayed true to Harry Luby’s vision for eight decades, making money by treating its customers and employees exceptionally well.

Written with the sweep and drama of a novel, House of Plenty tells the engrossing story of Luby’s founding and phenomenal growth, its long run as America's favorite family restaurant during the post-World War II decades, its financial failure during the greed-driven 1990s when non-family leadership jettisoned the company’s proven business model, and its recent struggle back to solvency. Carol Dawson and Carol Johnston draw on insider stories and company records to recapture the forces that propelled the company to its greatest heights, including its unprecedented practices of allowing store managers to keep 40 percent of net profits and issuing stock to all employees, which allowed thousands of Luby’s workers to achieve the American dream of honestly earned prosperity. The authors also plumb the depths of the Luby’s drama, including a hushed-up theft that split the family for decades; the 1991 mass shooting at the Killeen Luby’s, which splattered the company’s good name across headlines nationwide; and the rapacious over-expansion that more than doubled the company’s size in nine years (1987-1996), pushed it into bankruptcy, and drove president and CEO John Edward Curtis Jr. to violent suicide.

Disproving F. Scott Fitzgerald’s adage that “there are no second acts in American lives,” House of Plenty tells the epic story of an iconic American institution that has risen, fallen, and found redemption—with no curtain call in sight.

“Intrigue, mystery, and strategy—all in a historical profile of Luby’s Cafeterias. This is a book about an institution we all knew as home—never thinking that the foundation was a business plan destined to work for fifty years. What went wrong? Read on! A “must” for business schools everywhere, and a fun read for everyone.”—Jon Brumley, Forbes Entrepreneur of the Year, cofounder and chairman of the Board of Encore Acquisitions Company

Carol Dawson, Carol Johnston

Carol Dawson is a writer in Austin, Texas. She is the author of the novels The Mother-in-Law Diaries, Meeting the Minotaur, Body of Knowledge, and The Waking Spell. She has also written for Texas Monthly, Southern Living, Oxford American, and a number of other publications.Carol Johnston is the only granddaughter of Lola Luby Johnston and the only child of Luby’s cofounder and corporate executive Charles R. Johnston and Gertrude Johnston. Carol grew up in the cafeteria business. Today, she is a professional designer in San Antonio, Texas.

University of Texas Press