Clam Box (2nd Helping)

Last month, “06880” wandered back to the Clam Box — the much-loved restaurant on the site of the current Bertucci’s.

Plenty of readers commented on the post, and passed it along to friends.  It worked its way to Doris Gross Nussbaum.  She’s the daughter of the original owner, and now lives all the way in Wilton.

Earlier this week, Doris emailed:

Back pre-1938 my Dad, George Gross, had a restaurant in New York City:  Cooper’s Fish & Chips, on 44th and Lexington.

In 1939 he couldn’t take the commute from Port Chester.  He opened the 1st Clam Box in Cos Cob.  The name was easily picked because the front window flaps opened upwards and looked like a Chinese take out box.

My copy of the original menu has Fish & Chips for 25 cents.  The place was successful, and a year later Dad opened in Westport.  He made head chef Steve Zakos his 50% partner.

Integrity was big in those days, and Dad felt that Steve — who came from the coal fields of Pennsylvania, and had worked with him in New York City — deserved the “gift.”

Because they worked 12 to 14-hour days, 7 days a week, that was a gift with strings!

Both restaurants were successful, although Westport had to close during World War II.  Steve became a chief petty officer and head cook on a Navy battleship.

After the war, when Steve opened again, it was a charm.  Times were right, and business was very good.  Eventually Steve married Claire Fitch, and had 3 children.  They still live in the area.  In those days every family member worked the same long hours in Cos Cob and Westport.

Maps showed how easy it was to reach all 3 Clam Boxes.

In 1965 a 3rd Clam Box opened in Wethersfield.  My husband and I ran it for 15 years.  The 10 Gross grandchildren and 3 Zakos kids all said “no more!”  They had been to college, and found there were activities other young people did on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays besides work.

In 1985, the Westport and Cos Cob Clam Boxes were sold to the Marketing Corporation of America, and we all retired.  We had a good run for sure — 48 years.

One of the comments you received asked why it was sold.  I guess that person had never been in the restaurant business, with all its long hours .

70 responses to “Clam Box (2nd Helping)

  1. I am quite sure the Westport Clam Box closed before 1985, the restaurant was Tanglewoods at least by 1982.

  2. The Dude Abides

    I was once asked to invest in a restaurant in Houston. I asked an informed friend what he thought: “If you want to duplicate the experience, go into a closed dark closest with a soaking wet dog and start tearing up 100 dollar bills.” No thanks.
    But the Clam Box was truly a landmark here, much like the Ice Cream Parlor, for visitors afar. I was unaware of its two other locations. Thanks for the information from the insider Doris. Nice.

  3. I’ve heard that it takes a very special type of person to start and maintain a successful restaurant as a sole proprietor. The fact that your father accomplished this, did it not once but many times and was shrewd enough to offer his head chef an equal piece of the action speaks volumes about his ability, his sense of empathy, work ethic and his business acumen that was rare back then and is unheard of today. The detail about the Westport location being closed during WWII so that Mr. Zakos could serve his country and then was there for him when he returned makes this all the more a special Westport story. This is by far the neatest thing I’ve seen on this site from a personal perspective. Thanks for telling it.

  4. The Dude Abides

    Indeed, nice point(s) Buck52. I would like to see some of that “shared sacrifice” in today’s America.

  5. I loved the Westport Clam Box, and when I moved to Cos Cob (luckily before the bridge broke), I ‘discovered’ the Cos Cob Clam Box and loved it too. Why, do you suppose, MCA (of all companies) bought the Clam Boxes? For the properties? (They have continued to be used as restaurants.) Did they intend to branch out into the restaurant business? An odd combination. Any Marketing Corp alums out there have any answers?
    Thanks, Ms. Nussbaum, for this wonderful history of a Westport (and Cos Cob) landmark.

    • As I recall, MCA developed the Westport Tanglewoods as a propotype for a national chain they wanted to develop. I guess nothing came of that idea!

  6. Thanks for the memories and the history. In 50’s it was a family tradition on Sunday to go “out to dinner” at The Clam Box, and any and all visitors from “the city” were automatically feted at The Clam Box. We lived up the road at 75 Long Lots. I am very grateful for the opportunity to revisit these memories of a far better time. I am lucky to have lived them.

    • I think, though I am not 100% positive, our family lived at 72 Long Lots Road in the ’50s. Jack and Dez Hand were our neighbors on one side. They had four children, AJ, Judy, Jeff, and John. Me and Jeff were the same age.

  7. Dude, the way things are going with the congress and the two party system you might be getting your wish for “shared sacrifice in today’s America” pretty soon. But not from the congress, from all of us who are victims of them. As the Chinese say: “Be careful what you wish for, Dude!”

  8. Indeed, Buck, we may all be sheltered under the I-95 underpass in cardboard containers delivering Chinese restaurant menus for substinance. The country is ripe for a third party. Congress has become as dysfunctional as a Red Sox-Yankee playoff series.

  9. The 50s were hardly a better time if you were anything but white in this country, or a woman wanting to do something other than keep house, and forget it if you were not heterosexual. Please, everyone always thinks the past is better, that has been going on since the time of the ancient Greeks. Can’t we stop it already?

    • Do you honestly think that much has changed??? Who are the 1% who have 90% of the wealth?? Fat white guys. We have put some window dressing on the issues but many are still deep seated in this country including sexism, racism and discrimination. At least we had a balanced budget in the 50’s.

  10. Hey Dave,
    Get a life. We’re all over 50 and were children in the 50’s. We had no control over our race or sex any more than anyone else. You trying to make us feel bad because we have happy memories of the 50’s? What kind of masochistic rock did you crawl out from under?

  11. Hey Buck, I have a life thanks. And I have no problem with you having happy memories, why don’t you reread what I said? False glorification of the past is nothing new, but that doesn’t make it right. In the 50s there were very serious problems with racism, sexism, and all other kinds of ingrained attitudes, and I suppose it was just wonderful that Jack Parr was banned from the Tonight Show for saying “water closet.” Those times were not far better than the present. Neither were the 60s or 70s or any other times people remember as being better. Your extreme reaction is way out of line.

  12. I take it David you are all of the above? You want racism? Turn on your TV and listen the offal coming out of WH and AG offices TODAY. We didn’t even come close to that. I’m with you Buck.

    • You want racism, turn on BET. White and black preachers preying on disadvantaged Blacks. You are caught in the Westport bubble if you think we have made such great strides. I wish you were correct but you need a reality check or a road trip across America.

  13. Dave,
    I moved away from Westport in 1978 but my family has lived there since 1936. I have relatives buried in Willowbrook some of whom died in WWII and never made it to the racist, homophobic, sexist 50’s of your weltanschauung. The memories are getting hazy of the great old Westport restaurants but the Clam Box was one of the nicer ones that have lasted. Along with the Arrow, Manero’s and many of the others I can’t put my finger on. But I’ll never forget the wrestling team banquets upstairs at the CB. I think Westport was a pretty good place in the 50’s and I’m stickin’ to it.

  14. I hear you David Schaffer.

  15. Whoa! The Wonder Years were special but Westport ain’t all that shabby today. Still a good place to grow up. Just attended my Staples 45th reunion where someone mentioned that some don’t attend because they want to remember things as they were. But change is good and many of those attending had many of the same attributtes and characteristics as they did back then. So easy fellows. Let’s not the duplicate the outrageous stalemate and divison in our Capitol.

  16. I didn’t know there was any other kind of “black” other than ‘disadvantaged.’ Is there?

    • Not all. Our President for one and many of our sports figures/entertainers are hardly disadvantaged but I am sure face racism.

    • WTF?

      • The Dude Abides

        World Trade Federation? Many Blacks do not feel disadvantaged nor want any helping hand. Education is the key.

  17. How does a lovely story about the Clam Box end up with comments on racism?

  18. Read the thread Holly and you will see where it started and by whom. The difference these days is that us old white guys no longer slink into the corner when individuals lacking facts start hurling the word “racism” around. It is called “push back” and it is long overdue. Other than that you are 100% right in my opinion. Clam Box for me is a wonderful memory of a time gone by that I respect and miss terribly. And so far as that fugitive from the Bill Maher Show is concerned… WAS better. Much better. Have a pleasant evening.

  19. In the vanilla white bread world of Westport, it is nice to see some discussion of race. I wonder if the Clam Box served Blacks?

  20. Having known the owners personally I can assure you they would have welcomed anybody, black, white or even misplaced guilt-ridden masochists. It was a great place. Wish you’d been there so you could know what you were talking about.

    • There was a bar several feet away that welcomed non-straight people. Westport was pretty much open-minded, even during the pristine 50s.

    • The Dude Abides

      I was there and don’t remember a black soul in the place. Considering that you seem to use the Maher words freely, perhaps you should stand back and take a strong look at your own views. Mr. Shaffer made a point. You shouted him down like yahoo at a gay soldier’s funeral. You want the 50’s? Try 72% income tax, a draft, women out of the workplace and a President that really didn’t do much for 8 years with the exception of signing a treaty that got us into Vietnam. Live in the moment. Nicely, please.

      • The poverty rate was lower in the 1950’s, the high school drop out rate was lower in the 1950’s, Ike ended the fighting in Korea, but the highest marginal federal income tax rate was 92%. I don’t think it helps to judge the actions of the past based upon a current knowledge base.

        • The Dude Abides

          Perhaps it teaches us that if we want better schools and less poverty, we have to pay for it. I had dinner with a gentleman this past weekend that insisted that a family in trouble needs to cut spending. I agreed but also told him that the first thing I told potential bankruptcy clients was to get a second job. I believe government spending is on the same ratio to GDP now as it was under Clinton. Taxes are not. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Of course, I am challenged.

  21. i can assure you the gross/nussbaum family served all – especially since our large extended family includes members of different races and sexual orientation.

    • and thank you dave, the article was great! as one of doris’ grandchildren, i have been amazed to meet many people from connecticut who still to this day remember the clam box and the memories they had there. : )

  22. Frankie Zakos-Smith

    You are correct!!! The Clam Box closed in July 1981 and Mr. and Mrs. Steve Zakos had 4 children not 3!

    Thank you from one of the 3 but 4 Zakos children.

    P.S. Thank you for the article Dan! It was a great place and the Zakos children miss it but not as much as they miss their mom and dad.

    • Anybody remember a manager who worked there Ralph “Mitch” Mitchell, I believe it was the Westport Clam Box, he worked there for many years with Mr Zakos?

  23. My parents remembered the Cos Cob location fondly; my in-laws still remember the Westport one. I think the only other restaurant that is no longer around to evoke such fond memories is the Cafe de la Plage. Thanks for the story and the years of service.

  24. ahhh, I forgot about Cafe de la Plage (a favorite of my mother’s). And then there was Allen’s (where my father bought quarts of steamers). And, of course, The Arrow (which was the only restaurant within my budget at the time).

  25. What a great picture of the Clam Box, we used to go all time, I can still smell and taste the Fillet of soul. The Clam Box may be long gone but it still li
    ves on in this native Westporter.

  26. Government spending as a percentage of GDP is at the highest level since WW II (25%). If spending as a percentage of GDP was at the same level as the average for the past 50 years (about 20%) the deficit would be much smaller. Tax receipts as a percentage of GDP have fallen in a fairly narrow range ( 18% to 20%) no matter the highest marginal tax rate. Real expenditures (adjusted for inflation) per student have more than tripled since the snd of the 1950’s. Money may not be the answer.

    • The Dude Abides

      I swear Krugman was spouting the GDP ratio rhetoric the other night. He is an odd man but shall take everything with a grain of salt. For an issue that really has not been significant at any time, we seem to be at a Mexican impasse with the GOP and the President and even some Democrats. Not sure this is time for such stalemate when 20 million are unemployed? What do you think about lowering the import taxes of corporate America foreign investments?? Finder’s theory. Suppose to be at least 1 trillion. Watching the President last night, I couldn’t help but think of how LBJ would have handled such a hassle. It would not be at a podium appealing to the citizens to call their Congressperson. Jacked up and I like Obama.

      • To your point; Clinton and Reagan had a Congress controlled by the opposition and still managed to do bidness. LBJ was in a class by himself when it came to friendly pursuasion.

        • The Dude Abides

          I just wish he would tell the Congress what he wants in no uncertain terms and then if they don’t, go the route of the 14th amendment. He seems to be just turning to them and asking them to do something. Do we actually need a debt ceiling in the first place????

          • Most constitutional scholars would say “yes” we do need a debt ceiling. He won’t try the 14th Amendment gambit for the same reason that no one wants to test the War Powers Act. Remember, he sent up a budget in February; it was voted down in the senate 97-0.

  27. Off topic. Again. This is about the late and great Clam Box.

    • We love your focus, Holly but you can’t control the blog. If you try, they will treat you like a red haired stepchild

  28. You kidding? This is obummer you guys are talking about – he doesn’t have a clue about ANYTHING.

  29. You kidding “Dude”? This is obummer you guys are talking about here – he doesn’t have a clue – about ANYTHING. ‘If you voted for him in 2008 to prove you were not a racist…..then vote for someone else in 2012 to prove you are not an idiot.’

    • The Dude Abides

      I didn’t vote for the President in 2008 because of his color. He was the best candidate and succeeded an idiot who left a mess. I will vote for him in 2012 unless you can show me someone on the GOP side better. Romney? Another Texas Governor? Michelle Batwoman? $$$$ Palin. No thank you. Please pronounce your choice of a replacement instead of using whimsical subquotes that are not only condescending and bigoted but moronic.

  30. You’d be an idiot to vote for any of the Republican candidates now running

    • Talk about the good old days. Jimmy Carter tried that approach in 1980; turned out he was the idiot. Unfortunately for incumbents, they have a record. Before you cast you vote you might want to at least glance at the record of your chosen candidate.

      • Do you have someone in mind?

        • Not really. Reagan was not on the top of the list in 1979.

          • Hell, when was the last time we had a good Prez??? I liked Papa Bush but
            only cuz he was good for Houston. Did you like Harry?

            • Harry was OK, but in 1952 his JARs were as low or lower than W’s. The Korean war, police action, was not popular and neither was Harry. I liked Ronnie, but then he was the only one with whom I had any real personal contact. HHH would have been a good president, but the riots in ’68 along with Vietnam did him in.

              • The Dude Abides

                Yep, road out of DC alone. Ike didn’t even want him around at any festivities. Would have been interesting if RFK had not been shot and he/HHH banging heads. Messy year, ’68. Lost my virginity though.

                • That was the year I enlisted. Almost as significant as your right of passage.

                  • The Dude Abides

                    Seems to me I remember that LBJ wouldn’t endorse HHH and he had second thoughts of even running? Bending over in the shower is not on equal footing with a lovely Penn Hall gal in Bermuda on spring break. The market falls as the debt ceiling debacle continues. I think that means the GOP loses along with the rest of us???

                    • Depends on which side of the trade you have taken. The shorts did well yesterday. I think incumbents lose; the Dems have more incumbents.

                  • The Dude Abides

                    Not sure if Ears loses though. Considering he
                    had 4.8 trillion on the table with some taxes, Reid
                    and Boner’s plan are far right. You money guys
                    make $$$ no matter what. The rest of us 90 million
                    take a hickey. We may say goodbye to Hines though
                    on the incumbent issue.

                    • Back to the post above; if Reagan and Clinton could cut deals with a Congress run by the opposition, why can’t Ears? He looks either weak of inept. BTW the whole thing is a charade; there will be no cuts. The “cuts” fall in the out years, the taxes start now.

                  • The Dude Resides

                    Yep, you are right. A big dog and pony show. The bobbleheads
                    are saying it goes to the principle of spending with the Tea Partiers
                    holding firm. But if you are right about incumbents and I think USA
                    is sick of Washington, 2012 could be very interesting. What is the
                    shaft strength of your golf irons??? Regular graphite??? I seriously
                    need a new driver too after yesterday.

                    • I use stiff or firm right now, but I am thinking of shifting to regular. I have 8 drivers, not one of which is satifactory. Hit your 3 wood.

                  • The Dude Resides

                    Don’t have one. Carry hybrid 3 iron and 4-9 irons.
                    Used to love a 4 wood but had a Calloway. Piece
                    of dog poop. Didn’t even sit right. I like your Taylor
                    Made irons but may need a senior shaft?

                  • The Dude Abides

                    Thanks but I am a weakie. Plus I have enough blue pills.

  31. The Dude Abides

    Agreed. I think Sarah is going to go “rogue” and go third party. More money in it that way. Maybe they will film her campaign on her reality show? My money is on Romney for the GOP. Nice job with Obamacare I in Massachusetts and did clear up Salt Lake Olympics but sorry, this Mormon underwear thing bothers me.

  32. I’m with you bRA on so many issues (including Hillary).
    But I’m signing off of this “Clam Box” discussion. I’m certain that poor Ms. Nussbaum is appalled at the direction her lovely memory has gone.

    • I disagree. I bet their were some pretty lively discussions at the Clam Box too and sounds like they were very open minded individuals. Respect your 10-4 though.