Celebrating Baltimore's Culinary Traditions: The Woman's Industrial Exchange

Carrie Murphy

Did you know that there are not one, but TWO restaurants inside of Baltimore's historic Woman's Industrial Exchange? This Baltimore landmark was without a restaurant since the historic lunchroom closed in 2002, but the recently reopened Women's Industrial Kitchen and Jack and Zach Food are bringing back a 100+ year tradition in Baltimore.

The Woman's Industrial Exchange originally began as a means for Baltimore women to generate an income in the years after the Civil War. Started in the home of Mrs. G. Harmon Brown, women could bring their needlework or other handicrafts to the Industrial Exchange to sell to the public. It became a nonprofit institution in 1880 and has existed at its current location at 333 North Charles Street since 1889, featuring a lunchroom (the original one closed in the early 2000s) and shop. The Woman's Industrial Exchange still serves as a place where Baltimore women (and men, too!) can sell their handmade goods. These days, the Exchange offers craft classes, consignment goods from popular local Etsy sellers, and even an online marketplace. 

I have fond memories of visiting the original Woman's Industrial Exchange lunchroom as a little girl. My dad worked over on Saratoga Street and occasionally we would drive down from Towson to join him for lunch. The old restaurant was famous for its tomato aspic and chicken salad, but my mom always ordered a tuna sandwich for my sister and me to split. I remember the tiny triangles of toasted bread and the bustling atmosphere of the dining room. All of the waitresses were ancient white-haired ladies who exclaimed over how cute my sister and I were in our matching outfits. My parents usually bought us some trinket, a hand-crocheted doll or a painted wooden toy, on the way out. 

Food truck owner Irene Smith opened the Women's Industrial Kitchen inside of the Exchange in Fall 2011, serving up good old-fashioned comfort food like broccoli and cheese casserole, meatloaf, chicken pot pie, and yellow cake with chocolate icing. She kept the famous black-and-white checkerboard floor, but painted the walls a very modern hot pink. It's open 11 am to 3 pm Monday through Friday, so stop by for some homemade chicken soup that will taste just like your grandma's. If comfort food isn't your thing, you don't even have to leave the historic building to try Jack and Zach's famous veggie patty or hummus sandwich. The two friends behind this breakfast and lunch spot in the Exchange building are committed to using local Maryland ingredients. We haven't tried their pickled veggies yet, but we're sure happy to hear they were grown on farms in the Baltimore area. It's great to see Baltimore culinary traditions continue at the Woman's Industrial Exchange, and it's also terrific to see new ones being made.

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