The History of Bolton & Hay

Lewis M. Bolton and Harry 0. Hay founded Bolton & Hay in 1920. The two were first associated with the restaurant business in Springfield, Illinois, but came to Des Moines on October 2, 1920 to establish a restaurant in Iowa. Their first location opened on Saturday, November 13, 1920, and defying any superstitions, the restaurant contained 13 bar stools. On this opening day they decided to serve free coffee and doughnuts from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., after which food was served. The free coffee and doughnuts on opening day became a custom for every Bolton & Hay restaurant, serving as an incentive for customers to stop by the restaurant with the hope that they would return and become regular customers. The restaurant business proved to be successful, so in 1921 Harry Hays brother-in-law, James Speicher Sr., came to Iowa from Pennsylvania to work for Bolton & Hay. Lewis, Harry, and James all grew and worked together to advance the company. There were eventually eight Bolton & Hay restaurants in the Des Moines area.

Because Bolton & Hay restaurants offered 24 hour service, there were never any locks on the doors. The only time they ever closed was to honor the national observance of respect during the burial of President Harding in 1923. At this time the doors were simply tied shut and the cashiers remained inside of the restaurants.

In addition to operating the restaurants, Bolton and Hay also started an equipment and supplies dealership with a showroom, cabinet shop, sheet metal shop, bakery, and butcher shop. This enabled them to supply their own equipment for their restaurants. They also purchased three farms and were able to produce all of their own milk needed for the restaurants from five herds of Holstein cows. Bolton & Hay restaurants were operated with the goal to always serve good food at moderate prices with quick, courteous service. Slogans for the restaurants included Hungry? Come In and They Have no Equal, yet the one that stuck was Tis the Taste that Tells the Tale.

During the touch economic times of 1932-1933, business shrunk nearly 40%. Bolton & Hay reduced prices at their restaurants by about 20%, featuring a 25¢ noon meal and 5¢ egg sandwiches. However, they made it through this difficult time and eventually rebounded, continuing to be successful. An interesting fact about the company is during 1939, they served 38,650 pounds of sausage, 304,494 pounds of beef, 89,242 pounds of pork, 78,195 gallons of milk, 24,000 bottles of catsup, 78,544 pies, and 40,434 pounds of coffee. After a long and thriving run in the restaurant business, Harry Hay died in 1947.

The second generation stepped in shortly after when Lewis Boltons son, Bob Bolton, joined the company in 1948 upon graduating from Iowa State University with a degree in engineering and serving as an Air Force pilot instructor. Lewis Bolton retired from Bolton & Hay later that year, leaving James Speicher Sr. and Bob Bolton in charge. James Speicher Sr.s son, James (Jim) Speicher Jr., joined the company in 1954 after graduating from Iowa State University with a degree in industrial economics and a tour of duty in the Air Force.

In 1957 James Speicher Sr. died and in 1959 Lewis M. Bolton died, making Bob Bolton and Jim Speicher the active operators of Bolton & Hay. Both already had some knowledge of the business, having worked at Bolton & Hay throughout high school and college. Although the two were pretty young when they officially took over Bolton & Hay, together they learned how to run the business. Bob and Jim helped shape the company for years to come, helping create a reputable name for Bolton & Hay. They were known to use a company airplane to visit customers throughout the state of Iowa and the Midwest and in order to maintain strong customer relations.

At that time, some of the Bolton & Hay restaurants were still in operation. However, due to the expansion of the downtown Des Moines area, all of the Bolton & Hay restaurants were sold by the late 1960s. Over 50 million customers were served over the lifetime of the restaurants. Upon their closing, the focus shifted to the foodservice supply and equipment part of the business.

With full concentration on the foodservice equipment aspect of the company came a complicated decision. In 1962 the Federal Government chose the location of Bolton & Hay headquarters in downtown Des Moines to build a new office building. The company had to move, but the question was whether to simply relocate to a different location or build an entirely new facility.

Due to their sheet metal shop and cabinet shop operations Bolton & Hay was classified under industrial zoning, limiting the amount of possible locations. After examining many buildings, the decision was made to build a new Bolton & Hay building at 2701 Delaware Avenue. This new 30,000 square foot building featured a showroom, warehouse, offices, cabinet shop, sheet metal shop, and butcher shop, and was very modern for its time.

Bolton & Hay soon became a leading supplier of foodservice equipment. Their location has remained at 2701 Delaware for over 45 years now, complete with showroom and warehouse, although the butcher shop no longer exists. Bolton & Hay continued to be a family business, as Jim Speicher Jr.s son, John Speicher, joined the company in 1979 after graduating from Drake University with a degree in management. Bob Boltons son, Lew Bolton, joined the company in 1982 after graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in communications. This third generation, like their fathers before them, had both worked at the company throughout high school and college.

They have made many changes to the company, enhancing the reputation that their fathers and grandfathers had built for Bolton & Hay. Lew and John integrated technology into the company, introduced a used equipment department, and divided duties between the two of them. They also created a business plan, an employee handbook, and an organizational chart. Due to decreased use, the company airplane was sold in 1989. Fathers and sons continued to work side by side until Jim Speicher Jr. retired in 1994, and Bob Bolton semi-retired in 1998.

At that time, Lew Bolton became president and John Speicher was vice president. Bolton & Hay has now been in operation for 89 years, starting as a chain of restaurants and developing into a foodservice equipment and supplies company. The fourth generation has recently joined Bolton & Hay, continuing the family legacy. The company plans to celebrate its 90th anniversary next year.