Buy a Meal, Win a Car

Richi Ugai, the proprietor of the Palace Café and Hotel in North Platte, was an innovator when it came to advertising. In 1914, the June 26 issue of the North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune explained the guidelines for the Palace Café’s Auto Contest. The prize: a Saxon automobile. The contest: spend money on meals or merchandise at the Palace Café—the more you spend, the more votes you receive in the contest. This innovative approach to marketing set Richi Ugai apart from his fellow café owners in North Platte. He was not afraid to spend money to make money.

This ad for a Saxon ran in the Omaha Daily Bee on August 16, 1914.

Richi repeatedly showed his willingness to improve the dining experience of his patrons by refurbishing the Palace Café almost every year and adding improvements on a continuing basis. He added a new ceiling for $1,000 in 1912 as well as a $250 Colombia Grafanola in 1916, a new $400 dollar range in 1913 and a $900 dollar electric mission piano from the Hershey Co. in Omaha. These improvements and items were all for the benefit of his patrons who continued to flock in droves to the Café to enjoy its quality food and atmosphere.

North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune, June 26, 1914. To view in context, click here.

The auto contest was a success as it continued to draw people to the café. There were few rules, although current employees and their families were ineligible and there was a purchase limit on how much any one patron could earn in the course of a week. As the contest began drawing to a close, the North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune gave a listing of the highest standing patrons. As of October 20, 1914, a man named John Lincoln had the most votes, with 878,425. The contest had ten more days until the wrap-up and the judges were not to disclose the final tallies until the end to ensure fairness.

Although it is unknown if John Lincoln ended up winning the contest, the next highest vote holder, F. Sandall, only had 693,300 as of October 20. The amount of business drawn to the Palace Café helped make Richi Ugai enough money to purchase the land on which the café was located. He then owned both the real estate and the Palace Café itself, which would continue an impressive advertising strategy for many years to come.

– Griffen Farrar, Research Intern, Historic Preservation

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