At the start of the beach season, our Friday Flashback featured Chubby Lane’s — the long-time, much loved Compo Beach concession located where the volleyball courts are now.
It drew (of course) dozens of comments.
But Chubby’s was hardly the first food service at the beach.
Jim Gray made a collage of concession stand postcards that predate Chubby’s by decades.
They were way before my time. I don’t know the back story for any of them. The buildings changed over the years — but you can tell it’s the same spot, by the distinctive small turret at the top of each one.
(Photo collage courtesy of Jim Gray)
If you have any information on any of these iterations, click “Comments” below.
Today, there are plenty of places in Westport to buy great hamburgers. From Matt Storch’s Burger Lobster in Saugatuck to Shake Shack near Southport, we’re awash in meat.
Once upon a time, there were 2 places to go: Big Top, and Chubby Lane’s.
Big Top — which drew a great lunchtime crowd ranging from lawyers to bikers — was at the corner of the Post Road and Roseville. Today it’s McDonald’s, which basically says everything you need to know about America.
Chubby’s, meanwhile, was more of a dinner place. It was located next to the New Englander Motel (now the Westport Inn). Across the street was Charpentier’s (now Border Grill), a butcher shop that was the reason Chubby’s burgers were so good. (They were also the first place in town that charged the astronomical price of $1 for one.)
I don’t have any photos of Chubby Lane’s. Long ago, it was replaced by the Willows Pediatrics Group. But its predecessor was called the Bantam. And it looked like this:
As summer winds down — admit it, with school starting yesterday it’s over — let’s look back at the original Compo Beach concessions stand.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrisman)
This 1933 photo shows the forerunner of what many longtime Westporters remember as “Chubby Lane’s.” The food stand was located where the volleyball courts are now. Beach stickers were not needed for parking.
For the past 20 years, Joey Romeo has taken Compo (and Longshore’s) food service to new levels. But if you recall Chubby’s — or “Louis Stone’s Compo Beach Pavilion” — click “Comments” below, and share memories.
Once upon a time, the Compo concession stand was located where the volleyball courts are now.
Run by Chubby Lane, it was staffed by high school and college kids. Though it was cool to work at the beach, the grills and fryolators were hot as hell. Lines were long, customers pushy, and no one wanted to be seen wiping down the tables outside or (worse) picking up garbage.
I know, because I was one of Chubby’s workers. It was my 1st job, the summer after 10th grade.
And don’t get me started on the navy blue shorts and knee socks we had to wear.
I thought of all that the other day, as I stood in line at Joey’s, the current (and longtime) Compo concessionaire.
The menu is a lot more varied than back in my day. (It was a big deal when Chubby added fried chicken to the burgers and dogs.) Today’s cooks have much more work. And even though a computer screen has replaced our high-tech method of yelling orders over our shoulders, no one has yet devised a way to cool a grill or de-grease a deep fryer.
It was hot. The lines were long. But the teenagers and 20-somethings working at Joey’s were unfailingly polite. They did not snap (as I used to) at people who had 10 minutes to figure out what they wanted but just started deciding the moment they reached the register!!!!!!
They made sure little kids didn’t drop their ice cream cones or their change. They smiled at everyone, and (unlike my era) actually cared about getting the orders right.
Plus, there was always someone wiping down the tables, and picking up garbage.
Joey Romeo, by the shore.
We tend to take Joey’s for granted. It takes an out-of-towner to make us realize how good we’ve got it.
The other day, a friend-of-a-friend was visiting from DC. I sat on the beach; she went off in search of food.
She came back awed.
“You wouldn’t believe it — they have everything there!” she raved. “And sweatshirts. And pails and shovels!
“And it’s so clean! And the people are so nice! I couldn’t believe I was at a beach stand!”
Next year, Joey Romeo celebrates his 25th anniversary as Compo’s concessionaire extraordinaire.
I’ve been accused of glorifying the Remarkable Book Shop — making the Main Street store (now Talbot’s) into a symbol for a long-ago unique, mom-and-pop downtown now replaced by faceless, corporate chain stores.
But whether you think I’m a starry-eyed, stuck-in-the-past romantic or a long-time Westporter recalling a funkier community, I dare you to look at this picture and tell me that what’s there now is an improvement.
That was the Big Top, sitting coolly at the corner of the Post Road and Roseville.
Today it’s McDonald’s.
Through the 1960s and ’70s, the Big Top was the place to go for burgers, dogs, fries, onion rings, ribs, chicken and shakes.
An enormous range of people went — teenagers, lawyers, local workers, college kids. Pretty much anyone except mommies with little kids. They hung more at Chubby Lane’s. If burger places were music, Chubby’s was the Beatles. Big Top: the Stones.
It was the dream summer job: working at the Compo Beach concession stand. Back in the day, it was run by Chubby Lane — an outpost of his Post Road hamburger restaurant.
The ramshackle shed — located where the volleyball courts are now — was the place to see and be seen. (You didn’t even need a sticker; you parked right in front.)
I flipped burgers, fried fries and poured sodas for a couple of teenage summers. Like I said, it was a dream job — except when Chubby’s kids wandered in at 7:59 p.m., seconds before closing, and ordered food as soon as we’d cleaned the grill.
It’s now a few several many years later. Chubby’s gave way to Arcudi’s, then another concessionaire no one remembers. Since 1989, Joey Romeo has run the place. He upgraded it from a stand to a restaurant. He added menu items, lengthened the hours, stretched out the calendar.
But some things never change. Something about eating at the beach still makes food taste special. It’s still an insanely weather-dependent business.
And it’s still a great job for high school and college students.
Joey Romeo, by the shore.
Joey comes by his burger chops naturally. His father ran the food concessions at Cummings Beach and Cole Island in Stamford; his uncle spent many years as the concessionaire at Greenwich’s Tod’s Point.
Growing up, Joey worked at the beaches — and loved it.
He became the 1st tenant after the town of Westport renovated the old bathhouses, and moved the concession stand to its present location. So far, he’s the only one.
What’s kept him here? “I love the water. I love being here in the summer. I love Compo Beach!” he says.
And beach-goers love Joey.
For one thing, he’s got great food.
For another, he listens to those customers. Lobster rolls (now one of his most popular items), fish and chips, Boar’s Head cold cuts, portobello mozzarella sandwiches — those and many more selections resulted directly from requests.
To serve those customers, Joey’s now opens earlier (9 a.m.) and closes later (9 p.m.) each summer. He fires up the grill in late March, and is there on weekends through November — sometimes beyond.
Kelly Petropulos, Paul Van Zanten and Sam Reiner carry on the Compo concession tradition.
The concessionaire is a firm believer in “buy local.” When area resident Adrian Pace brought over Forte — a new healthy, high-protein gelato — Joey snapped it up.
There’s local art and photography on the walls, local T-shirts and postcards at the counter.
My 1st job — as soon as I turned 16 — was at Chubby Lane’s.
I wore dorky blue shorts and knee socks. I got french fry grease all over my already-greasy teenage face.
I learned that when Chubby’s kids wanted a cheeseburger at 8 p.m. — right after we cleaned the grill — they got it.
I thought of my days at Chubby’s — and other jobs I had in high school and college, like working at Longshore, and Singing Oaks day camp — the other day.
The reason I thought of that long-ago employment was because I saw a Westport teenager working in a downtown store.
Suddenly it hit me: Most kids around here don’t have jobs these days.
The reasons are many. Some legitimate; others, well…
A sight you won't see in Westport.
For example, school is far tougher than when I was at Staples. Classes are harder, and there are more of them. Homework is more intensive. Grades count for more.
Colleges demand more in terms of extracurricular activities and community service. Athletes play their sports out of season, as well as in it. Artists and musicians have many more outlets for their creativity.
With fewer teenagers working, there’s less peer pressure to get a job. If you don’t see your friends — or older siblings — working, there’s less chance you’ll want to yourself.
Parents no longer ask their kids to pay for movies, gas, clothes, whatever.
Our economic implosion has put top-down pressure on the workforce. Men and women now fill jobs once held by boys and girls (even if those youngsters came from Norwalk and Bridgeport, not Westport).
There are many more options for teenagers’ leisure time. They can play video games, watch movies on their laptops, texttexttexttexttext.
And hey, let’s face it: Work is work.
I can’t remember why my 16-year-old self was so excited to get that job at Chubby’s. I don’t recall wondering whether I should work or not; it was simply a rite of passage. I do remember how independent I felt getting my “working papers,” my training, my 1st paycheck.
Today’s teenagers work, for sure. They work incredibly hard — and I am a huge fan of Westport’s youth.
Besides all they do in school, after school and volunteering in the community, they babysit, tutor and give computer lessons. Others help out in offices.
But very, very few work in stores and restaurants. Westport kids don’t work at places like CVS, Planet Pizza or gas stations. Which is why seeing one behind a counter downtown was remarkable enough that I could write an entire story about it.
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