Luby's Cafeterias, with headquarters in San Antonio, is a southwestern cafeteria corporation with the motto "Good food from good people." The company grew out of the New England Dairy Lunch cafeterias founded by Harry Luby in 1911 at Springfield, Missouri. The early restaurants sought to provide low-cost, wholesome meals for working people, and featured New England boiled dinners. Each cafeteria consisted of a room with a twelve-foot counter and tables modeled on those of a Chicago restaurant. Luby opened several New England Cafeterias between 1914 and 1916 and brought the idea to Texas in 1920 with a cafeteria in Waco. He was uncomfortable with managing a large business, however, and chose to retire in his thirties to help others develop cafeterias, accepting in return an interest in the business.
Luby's son, Robert M. Luby, established his first cafeteria at Dallas in 1934, after receiving a degree in business administration from the University of Texas in Austin. After serving in World War II, he returned to Texas and in 1947 established a cafeteria in San Antonio with his cousin, Charles R. Johnston, and George H. Wenglein, John Lee, and Norwood Jones. At the time, San Antonio was filled with servicemen and their families, many of whom lived downtown. The cafeteria had twenty-five employees and seated about 180 people. A second cafeteria opened in Alamo Heights in 1948. By 1959 the company was incorporated as Cafeterias, Incorporated, and was operating nine cafeterias in Texas, each of which was a partnership owned by a group of men brought together by the founders. This group also served as the company's original board of directors, sharing work, risks, and profits. Subsequent presidents of the firm include George Wenglein, John G. Lahourcade and Ralph Erben.
Over time Luby's developed contracts with vendors for supplies, regionalized menus, and cooking in small portions for each meal. Most of its foods were purchased locally by individual cafeterias. Managers trained at a school in San Antonio. The company made its first public offering of stock in 1973, and in 1981 changed its name to Luby's Cafeterias, Incorporated. At that time both Luby and Johnston left the day-to-day operations of the firm. By 1982, when the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Luby's operated sixty-three cafeterias, mostly in Texas. Cafeterias that it opened under the name Romana in Dallas and Houston later took the Luby's name. By 1990 the firm employed 9,500 workers at 175 locations in ten states. Luby's attracted national attention in 1991 when George Hennard killed twenty-three people and injured numerous others at a Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen. The company sponsors the Community Drug Education System, a civic program that provides information to students, parents, and teachers on alcohol and drug abuse and has funded the renovation of part of the San Antonio Zoological Gardens.