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.