Tag Archives: Friendly’s

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.

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.