Called St. Andrew’s One Cent Coffee Stand, it served a half-pint of coffee (plus milk, sugar, and a slice of bread) for a penny.
Within months, four more one-cent coffee stands appeared on busy downtown intersections.
The menu included hearty fare like beef soup, pork and beans, fish cakes, and fish chowder—with no item costing more than a cent.
The concept sounds like a 19th century version of today’s sidewalk coffee and donut cart. But St. Andrew’s wasn’t catering to busy commuters.
The clientele was the city’s down and out—the “newsboys, emigrants, poor families, and street waifs,” as one writer put it in Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine.
Founded by Clementine Lamadrid, the stands helped feed struggling residents who might be too proud to accept free meals.
“Meal tickets are sold at the booths and the headquarters for one cent each, so that every charity disposed person may carry a supply,” explained the Frank Leslie’s article.
In a city that offered almost no public relief of any kind, one-cent coffee and food was a pretty good deal for a street kid or jobless adult.
Not everyone agreed. The Charity Organization Society, a proponent of aiding the poor in exchange for work, charged that St. Andrew’s “encourage idleness and make industry unnecessary. They draw into the city crowds of tramps and beggars,” reported the New York Sun.
Lamadrid was also accused of using the stands to enrich herself, which she denied.
The stands only appear to have survived through the 1930s—but not before making a small bit of difference for thousands of hungry New Yorkers.
[Top photo: 1933, Getty Images; middle: Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives; bottom photo: Bain Collection/Library of Congress]