Friday Flashback #145

Curtis Blake died the other day.

You may not have known him. But if you grew up in Westport during the 1970s, ’80s or ’90s, he was a key figure in your life.

As the New York Times explained, Blake “opened a Massachusetts ice cream store with his brother during the Depression and built it into Friendly’s.” The Times defined Friendly’s as “a homey restaurant chain in the Eastern United States.

For several generations of Westporters, Friendly’s was a home away from home.

There were actually 2 Friendly’ses here. One was in Playhouse Square. The other was just over the border, in Southport.

The Southport Friendly’s.

Depending on where you lived, either one was the place to go to celebrate — after a dance, a play, a game — or just hang out.

It was also an easy place to go with young kids, or grandparents. The food was simple and fine. Hamburgers. Grilled cheese. And — for a special treat — Fribbles!

Service was slow (and not particularly “friendly”). The menu was stodgy. But it was a comfortable place.

Friendly’s is long gone from both locations. The Playhouse Square restaurant turned into Derma Clinic. Today it’s the post office. If that doesn’t say everything about changes in 1) eating habits 2) Westport and 3) the US Postal Service, nothing does.

The former Friendly’s in Playhouse Square.

The Southport Friendly’s is now Wafu.

In fact, it’s hard to find a Friendly’s anywhere. The Blake brothers sold the chain in 1979. In 2011, its owners filed for bankruptcy protection.

But I gotta say, those Fribbles were good.

23 responses to “Friday Flashback #145

  1. David Stalling

    On big, important occasions — such as, say, returning from a successful fishing trip — my dad would take me to Friendly’s for an ice-cream sunday. Great memories!

  2. Harry Smiley

    The old Southport location is actually another restaurant.

  3. Morley Boyd

    Going to Friendly’s – and the Farm Shop – qualified as living large when I was little. While the interiors were a small tragedy of Naugahide and Formica, the smell of french fries and the sound of those big Hamilton Beach milk shake mixers still makes me hungry.

    • I remember going to the Farm Shop– can’t remember where it was. Can someone tell me the location back in the day? Thank you!

      • Morley Boyd

        I seem to recall that the Farm Shop was on the south side of the Post Road immediately after crossing the Sasco River heading into Southport. They had this appalling ice cream creation with some name like Monster Bowl that basically amounted to a giant bucket-o-ice cream and stuff. I think the deal was that, if you, by yourself, could eat it all, it was free. Or something like that. So naturally kids would go in there and order this thing to see if they could kick the bucket without barfing. Or going into shock. I knew one kid that, after a few aborted attempts, finally made it to the promised land. And he rode his bike home afterwards. Good times.

        • Oh yes, now I remember that ice cream bowl. Never tried it but is was intriguing to consider. The days before massive diabetes cases — we never worried about that stuff. I remember the “dagwood” sandwiches there with fries and pickle on the side and a chocolate shake — that was my most clear memory of The Farm Shop. Can never find those sandwiches these days.

      • Peter Dunham

        Farm Shop morphed into Friendly’s. Same address.

        • Morley Boyd

          Thanks for confirming that, Peter. I was thinking this was the case but then I wasn’t totally sure of my own memory. Do you know if there were any other Farm Shops?

  4. The closest Friendly’s apparently is in Milford, unless it’s also closed.

  5. Susan Huppi

    We still have two on Concord NH. I always had the fish a ma jig ssndwich and a fribble!

  6. Diane Bosch

    There is still a Friendly’s in Saratoga Springs, NY.

  7. Kathryn Coster

    Coffee fribbles…best thing the next morning after too much fun at the Black Duck with your MaxiTaxi coworkers:)…oh the 70’s !!!!!

  8. Seth Sholes

    A place where all Junior High kids could hang out in the 70’s. Fishamajig, patty melt and Skip Lane eating Peppermint hot fudge sundaes. What could be better?

  9. Worked there for three years, all my friends worked there, we had fun
    Crowning moment was accidentally dumping a Fribblle in Ann Richards purse 🙄
    We also had many folks come over from the Playhouse
    Was hard work but also really fun !!

  10. Well, at least we can still buy their wonderful ice cream. IMHO, it’s the best!

  11. I worked at the Playhouse Square Friendly’s from the day they opened (July 20, 1971), till 1977, after school, breaks, etc. It was hard work, but looking back, a fun time thanks to the other people that worked there. And I see in Dan’s photo above that you can see where the Take Out window used to be on the side of the building.

    Oh, and the stories…
    I hated coming home after work with my forearms crusted with dried ice cream and grease on my face. We hated the Playhouse letting out at 11:55 PM, and we closed at midnight (we had to serve anyone in the door before closing). Hated the dine-and-dashers, because we would chase them down the parking lot (though it was satisfying catching one). And the uniforms, white for the guys and battleship grey for the girls – damn!

    On the other hand, loved the after-work parties (Watermelon coolers with vodka were great!). The people over at Player’s Tavern would come over for change, and they would buy us drinks when we closed for the night. We put a Friendly’s team together for the Great Race (though it would take several more years after I left Friendly’s for us (Beer Money) to win the Great Race!). And since we had the shirts that I made for the race, we turned that into a Friendly’s softball league.

    One of the inevitable discussions came to who did a better job of serving the customers, waiters or waitresses. Since all tips were pooled, we decided to use that as a measure – only waitresses worked one night, and only waiters worked the next. Us guys won, but only because we hit up every male customer who came in for a larger tip, letting them know about the contest! (yes, we cheated!).

    Then there is the story of the streakers (this was the ’70’s, after all). I saw 2 guys head into the bathroom, but only one came out with an armful of clothes. Seeing this, I went and locked the outside door to the foyer. Then this kid comes running out of the bathroom, with only a jacket on his head. I grabbed the jacket as he went running by, then he goes in the glass-walled foyer…and is trapped, buck-naked! I eventually let him out. Cruel, yes, but we didn’t have any streakers after that. The kid actually came back for his jacket, which I gave to the manager. Don’t know what happened from there.

    But looking back, I have no idea how we survived!

    • One more Friendly’s story…being next to the Playhouse, and being in Westport, we got our share of celebrities. Being Westporters, we didn’t care. However, we had this one store manager (not from Westport) who wanted to put up caricatures of the famous who came in the store, a la The Brown Derby. Fortunately, we were able to talk him out of it.

  12. Nancy Powers Conklin

    My husband and I worked at the Friendly’s on Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield for the greatest boss ever!! And, the service was the best! I went from working at Chubby Lane’s to Friendly’s. It was a great job and at that time it served quality food for a good price!

  13. Arthur C Schoeller

    There was a Farm Shop in Norwalk, Route 7, South of the Parkway. A family favorite when I was growing up. There’s a Friendly’s in Greenfield, MA. Exit 26 on I-91. A tradition on our drive home from Vermont for Fribbles! Yeah it’s not exactly around the block, but if you are traveling up on I-91 it’s right off the highway.

    • Thanks, Arthur– that’s where I remember going– the Norwalk direction. Not towards Southport.