Fribbles And Friendly’s

I first heard of Friendly’s at sleepaway camp.

To an 11-year-old, there was no greater thrill than leaving the confines of Robinson Crusoe for the “big city”:  Sturbridge, Massachusetts.  Every once in a while, counselors piled us into a hay truck for an outing to the iconic Bay State ice cream shop.

After weeks of camp food, nothing beat an “Awful Awful”:  a milkshake that was “awful big, awful good.”

Awful Awfuls eventually gave way to Fribbles.  (NOTE:  Two alert readers have written in to correct me.  They say that “Awful Awfuls” were sold by Newport Creamery, and Friendly’s’ shakes have always been Fribbles.)

Friendly’s eventually made its way to Westport.  For a generation of young people, the restaurant in Playhouse Square was the place to go to celebrate — after a dance, a play, a game — or just hang out.

Already an adult during the Westport Friendly’s days, I never got it.  The place always seemed dirty.  The menu was stodgy.  No matter how uncrowded it was, the service was excruciatingly slow.

But Friendly’s was a defining memory for many who grew up here, just as it was for me at summer camp.

Sure, there’s a Friendly’s close by — just over the Southport line.  (It used to be a Farm Shop.)  But it never gained the groove of the Playhouse Square store.

To Westporters today, Friendly’s is just a memory.

That soon may be the case all over New England.

The announcement that the company has filed for bankruptcy protection — and plans to close 63 of its nearly 500 restaurants — revived memories for hundreds of Westporters.  Several emailed me, asking if I planned to write about it.

I hadn’t — not at first.  But the more I heard from former Friendly’s fans, the more I realized I had to say something.

So here it is:

I’m still waiting for the tuna melt I ordered.

During the Carter administration.

26 responses to “Fribbles And Friendly’s

  1. Missing Friendly’s is carrying nostalgia too far.

  2. It was THe hagout for me in 7th grade 1974. The fried clam strips, tuna melt and fribbles were the common order. Their burgers on buttered rolls were good also. But it was our hang out! Where we first hung wirth our “girlfriends. I think of playhouse square often in my mind and miss those days very much.

    • Kim Crowther Manning

      Hey Marc – I have a picture of you and me in my kitchen just before one of my shifts at Friendly’s. I think it might have actually been my first day starting as a waitress there, hence, the photo my mother felt compelled to take, especially in that hideous blue and white checked uniform. It was 1978 I believe. I’m ashamed to admit that I actually got fired from Friendly’s! I would always forget the set-ups and could never quite memorize the menu which was a requirement. Plus my friends used to come in and harass (and distract) me endlessly. I remember my forearms being sore from all the ice cream scooping I had to do. Regardless, my kids and I still enjoy a trip over the town line now and again for some Dippin’ Chicken and whatever that blue poison is they serve in those massive mugs. Although Shake Shack often lures us in instead and we never quite get there. Still, I hope the Southport Friendly’s is not one of the locations slated to close. The bazillion calorie turkey super-melt is really pretty darn tasty once it finally arrives at the table.

  3. Nancy Powers Conklin

    My husband and I, (before we married) both worked at the Friendly’s in Fairfield on Black Rock Turnpike. We busted our butts and the service there was fantastic and the place was spotless. Once Hershey bought out Friendly’s the quality of food and service dropped immediately. Once that happened we never went to Friendly’s again! The store in Southport is one of the worst as far as service is concerned.

  4. Ha! Awful Awful – awful big and awful good! Been ages since I have heard that term! Back in the day there was a promotion that stated if you could drink three of these concoctions within a period of time (an hour?), you got your name engraved onto a plaque and got a certificate for a 4th one free – at a later date when you might feel like eating one again! While I failed at my attempt, I remember that my bigger brother managed it.

  5. Ah, the good ol’ days of “dine and dash”.

  6. Growing up on Long Island we lived at Friendly’s. Where else could you sit for ever with 8 girls in a booth meant for 4 drinking Fribbles and eating french fries smothered in ketchup. Of course you couldn’t get a Coke, just Friendly Cola! We had one right across the street from my Junior High and it was the only place to be after school.
    Thanks for the memory.

  7. For high schoolers in the mid 1970s, weekends meant driving from the Farm Shop to Friendly’s, over and over, to see who was at each. The beverage of choice? A watermelon fribble.

  8. There used to be a Friendlys’ somewhere towards Danbury which catered to the raucous gangs returing from WSA travel games with boundless appetites. Fortunately, the price was right for the coaches and it was a cut above “DQ”.

  9. Slow service has always been the hallmark of Friendly’s. Like Dan, most of us became Friendly’s fans when we were kids and kids always seem to like Friendly’s. My daughter invariably ordered mac and cheese on every visit until one day, when she was about ten, she announced that they had “changed the cheese” and never ordered it again. Getting disillusioned with Friendly’s is a rite of passage and it is sad to think that future generations of children may be denied this formative experience. The good news for Friendly’s is that bankruptcy is an incredibly slow process as well, so they will be in their element.

    From forced observtion I believe the key to their slowness was extending the server’s responsibilities. Often this included the responsibility of making the ice cream desserts. Put a bunch of kids in the room and that is a huge time sink. But as professionals I am sure they found ways to be slow that eluded simple observation.

  10. Boy, this is bringing back memories! I as part of the original crew that opened the Friendly’s at Playhouse Square (so was Larry Pintak, who you wrote about a few days ago). It was a fun place to work, and it did convince me never to work in the food services industry ever again. The worst time to work there was summer nights – they parking lot would be full from people going over the the Playhouse, so there were never spots to park for customers. Then the Playhouse would let out at 5 minutes before closing, and flood us with tired customers who wanted service IMMEDIATELY. Of course we were never fully staffed for such a crowd. And don’t get me started on the “damn New Yorkers” (you know who you are, even 39 years later!). Then I would get home with ice cream caked on my arms and grease spatter from the grill on my face. And people wonder why service was less than stellar.

    On the other side, though, it was fun. We had a team in the Great Race for a few years, put together an inter-Friendly’s softball league, cute waitresses, and impromptu parties after we closed (you think a watermelon cooler tasted good, try one with vodka).

    Friendly’s business model had problems, then and now. It was never designed to be a full-service restaurant, nor a fast-food joint, yet customers expected both. And as ownership changed over the years, the focus changed. Just look at the menu – it was a single-fold menu in 1971, with specialized, but limited offerings (ice cream related items with burgers, fries and soup). Now the menu is complex, like a Denny’s, but the typical Friendly’s is a lot smaller. No wonder service is slow.

    In the end, though, I still remember the clam rolls, clam chowder, the coolers,the hard work, the stories (most which I have not shared here!), and the friends.

    • Ed, what year was this?

      • We opened the store in July of 1972. I worked there thru high school (1974), then came back for a couple of winter and summer breaks. Was it really that many years ago???

  11. Bobbie Herman

    They still make the best ice cream anywhere. My favorite is the mint chocolate chip with hot fudge. Incomparable!

  12. What I find most amazing is that the service is dreadfully slow at EVERY shop, even here in Pennsylvania! Has been for 20 years.
    That said, I still have fond memories of the Payhouse Square shop back in the 70s.

  13. NUMMY!!


    You guys are making me hungry!

    I am going to Friendly’s tonight!!!

    Reese’s Pieces Sundae here I come!!!

  14. Jo and I both remember the Bond’s Ice Cream Store in Upper Montcliar,New Jersey. That store also featured the dread Awfull, Awfull. Consume three at one visit and get a coupon for a free one. She lived in Newark, N.J. while I lived in Glen Rock (near Paterson).

    Partners now after a lot of years and two widowhoods it’s doubtful we could venture beyond one, if that.

    I doubt the Shake Shack our even the Fribble could compare to those killer milk shakes. I guess we are not as young anymore, but the old days had their attractions, too.

  15. Larry Perlstein

    Never a Fribble guy — maybe it was the name. However, I could eat a Pattie Melt, Fries and a Choc Shake everyday of the week. Maybe that’s why I’m trying to lose 40 pounds.Friendly’s jumped the shark many years ago but I suspect it’s name will hang on forever just like Howard Johnson’s if only as an ice cream brand.,

    • Fribbles were made with ice milk, instead of ice cream. Because ice milk was cheaper, they could use more of it to make it thicker. But it never had the richness or flavor of a good, old fashioned mlikshake, in my opinion.

  16. The Friendly’s here in Sarasota announced this morning it was one of 68 stores in the Southeast closing its doors for good. We go to several really fine restaurants down here, but often get the urge for a Friendly grilled cheese sandwich and an immorally thick chocolate malt. And haven’t a complaint about the generally fast and friendly service.

  17. After a tough Saturday morning of pumping $0.39 gas at Westport Getty. Lunch was a Coffee Fribble, Big Beef Cheeseeburger and that funny little bowl of fries. Good stuff.

  18. I was just at Friendly’s tonight! Went with the family to the one in Clifton Park, NY, which is one of the 5 busiest restaurants in the country, so it is not going anywhere. Can’t say I have lost my taste for it, certainly not the ice cream, and the food is a good deal anyway. The service tonight was actually pretty quick, that is the biggest drawback of Friendly’s, we have had plenty of times when it just took too long and spoiled the experience.

    But the chain isn’t going anywhere and there is no need to be nostalgic, it will still be around, like it or not.

  19. 25 comments on Friendly’s and no one mentions the immortal Fishamajig. Crazy!

  20. I remember going to that same Sturbridge Friendly’s (by the way, what’s with the apostrophe?) in the 80s and they called their fribbles ‘frappes.’ If you ordered a milkshake, you got shaken milk. Although at least they served your shaken milk within the hour…