Edwin A. Maccannon first published “Commanders of the Dining Room” in 1904, following a career in the American restaurant industry. Now, in 2021, this collection of biographies is being re-published with a foreword and introduction by Maurice Carlos Ruffin and Danya Pilgrim, respectively.
This collection, meant to give insight into the traditions and personalities of the late 19th century culinary institutions, features more than 50 biographies of African American head waiters and front-of-house staff. Many stories included in the collection come from members of the Head and Second Waiters’ National Benefit Association (HSWNBA) which unionized African American hotel workers.
Maccannon intended to increase the visibility and acceptance of Black waiters, establish trust in members of the HSWNBA, and to showcase African American manhood. Maccannon himself was a head waiter working in the New York City restaurant circuit before owning and operating his own publishing company, Gwendolyn Publishing Company. By sharing the stories of successful waiters, Maccannon hoped to show young, Black men that they could achieve success through education, a strong work ethic and connections through organizations such as the HSWNBA.