Since I have been researching cafeterias recently, I have discovered a reason to visit Indiana. Cafeterias, from the gigantic to the microscale, are alive and well there. Cafeterias have a surprising history. They pioneered new business models like the franchise, they gave employees benefits before the New Deal, and several embraced employee profit sharing. The food at cafeterias, which I think is often thought of as overprocessed steam tray fodder, has usually been prepared from scratch and (as the author of Tray Chic points out) features more vegetables than fast food. For a glossy introduction to the Indiana cafeteria tradition see Sam Stall’s Tray Chic. Also take a look at this readable history of Luby’s, House of Plenty.
Of course Los Angeles has its own famous and very unorthodox cafeteria, Clifton’s, which once served the down and out of the Great Depression in its Caveteria for a penny. The family that had owned it since 1931 recently sold the downtown landmark. It is being renovated and will reportedly reopen soon!