Joseph Lyons (1847-1917) was a caterer who created a chain of well-loved teashops.
Born in London he was educated at the Borough Jewish school in the East End. He had worked in various roles before being approached by some distance relatives to run a tea pavilion at the Newcastle Jubilee Exhibition in 1887. The Gluckstein brothers and their business partner Barnett Salmon had noticed that the refreshments on offer at this type of big exhibition were poor. They thought that they could do better and invited Joseph Lyons to front the business.
Catering at exhibitions proved so successful that a public company was founded, J. Lyons & Co, and, in 1894, the first Lyon’s teashop opened at 213 Piccadilly, London. By 1914 there were 180 Lyons teashops in city centres across England, more than any other company.
The teashops popularity was due to the fact that they served simple food in clean surroundings at affordable prices. Joseph Lyon’s sense of showmanship also contributed to their success. The teashops were beautifully decorated (red wallpaper, gas chandeliers and a fair amount of gold paint) and the waitresses (who became known as “nippies”) wore smart uniforms.
In 1909 the first of the larger Lyon’s Corner Houses appeared. These were fancier establishments designed in an Art Deco style and included mini-food halls as well as several types of restaurant.
The last Lyons teashop closed in 1981.