Tag Archives: Junior Bieling

Jr’s: No Place To Meet, But Meeting The Challenge

It’s “Cheers” without the beer.

Since 1976, Jr’s Deli & Grille has welcomed everyone in the neighborhood — and beyond — with its good food and friendly vibe.

Founded on Riverside Avenue by Saugatuck native Junior Bieling as a hot dog stand, it grew under his nephew Jeff Arciola into a full-scale deli, plus catering and a food truck.

Owned for the last 6 years by Eric Johnson, Jr’s is legendary for its diverse crowd. CEOs and hedge fund titans share the tables and — especially — the counter with teachers, masons, plumbers and working moms.

There’s plenty of banter, on both sides of that counter. It truly is “where everyone knows your name” (and a lot more about you).

Jr’s owner Eric Johnson (left), and loyal employee Staples High School student Sam Seideman.

Earlier this month, Johnson was planning his next project: an outdoor patio in back, along the Saugatuck River.

He’s still working on it. When people will get to enjoy it is anyone’s guess.

Jr’s is one of hundreds of small business in Westport slammed by the coronavirus. There are millions more across the country.

Each is special. But the Jr’s experience — scary and ongoing — opens a window into all.

Heeding a statewide order, Johnson can no longer serve inside. Jr’s offers curbside pickup and delivery owner only. They’re still in business — and sanitizing like crazy.

The Jr’s window says it all.

“It’s so much quieter than usual,” Johnson says. “But the locals have been fantastic. They’re buying lots of gift certificate. Whoever had that idea, it’s great.”

More than that, regulars call to check in. They ask how he and his staff are doing. They order takeout and delivery. They promise to be back as soon as they can. Their words and deeds lift the owners and employees’ spirits.

They do other things too. Someone ordered a 6-foot sub — and asked that it be delivered to the Gillespie Center.

That’s a win-win. It helps Jr’s stay alive — and feeds some of Westport’s most vulnerable citizens.

Jr’s is giving back too. Several part-time employees are Staples High School rugby players. (Johnson is an assistant coach for the Wreckers.) He knows how hard it is for students who are quarantined.

So he’s offering 15% off all deliveries for any youngsters stuck at home.

Johnson speaks for all small business owners when he tells Westporters, “It doesn’t matter who. Pick your favorite place. Buy a gift certificate. Buy a pizza. Let them know you’re there for them.”

“As long as the community keeps helping, I think we can make it,” he says.

(Click here for Jr’s’ website. The phone number is 203-227-9803. For the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce list of restaurants with curbside takeout and delivery, click here.)

A Holiday Toast To (And From) Jr’s

John Brandt has been in Westport long enough to see a lot of changes. But some things never do. That’s why the Staples Class of 1961 grad was glad to send this report along:

From time to time, a vestige of the old Westport bubbles to the surface. Tonight was one of those times.

Jr’s Deli and Grill on Riverside Avenue has been a Westport fixture since the 1970s. That’s when Junior Bieling and his wife, Bedford Junior High School teacher, the former Carol Digisi, opened a great little breakfast and lunch spot.

Jrs - sign

Their nephew, Jeff Arciola, took over the business when they retired. He’s now handed it off to the current “chef,” Eric Johnson, and his “sous chef,” Joe. The ambiance hasn’t changed, nor has the clientele. It remains one of the warmest places in town.

Last night Eric invited his regulars, their families and friends, and anyone who loves great food and company to a holiday open house to celebrate the season and the continuation of a Westport tradition. We gathered to renew our commitment to one another and to the town we love.

The air was festive, the food and drink were terrific, but the company — commuters and contractors, lawyers and landscapers, retirees and working stiffs of every stripe — was a cross-section of what Westport was, is and will be. It’s friends and neighbors supporting one of the great places on Earth: our town.

Big Switch In Saugatuck: Jr’s Hot Dog Stand Changes Hands

Jr’s Hot Dog Stand is a special Westport place — for 2 reasons.

Sitting on the banks of the Saugatuck, it offers the best view of any deli in town.

And for nearly 40 years, it’s provided a “Cheers”-like home for hundreds of regulars.

Jrs - sign

Junior Bieling and his wife — the former Carol Digisi — opened the breakfast-and-lunch spot in 1976. Their nephew Jeff Arciola took over 10 years ago. He added a few items to the menu, put “Deli & Grill” on the sign so people would know he served more than hot dogs, and added a mobile “Weeniemobile.”

But Jr’s has remained pretty much the same, since the Ford administration.

A while ago Jeff and his wife Kathi made a momentous decision. They and their kids will move to North Carolina. Kathi — herself a 4th-generation Westporter — is pursuing a nursing career. “It’s time for the 2nd part of our lives,” Jeff says.

Jeff Arciola, at his familiar spot behind Jr's counter.

Jeff Arciola, at his familiar spot behind Jr’s counter.

So — at the end of April — a non-family member will take over Jr’s. He’s Lou Promuto, a restaurateur who owns Sunset Grille and Valentino’s in Norwalk. Eric Johnson, the new manager will come in soon, to get to know the place, its people and their routines.

There’s no need to tinker with Jr’s winning formula. The plumbers, masons and electricians will still arrive at 6 a.m., before work. Workers from nearby Riverside Avenue office buildings will stop by from 8 to 10. A mixed crowd will be in at lunch, for burgers, chili and meatball parm.

John Brandt, in his familiar corner seat.

John Brandt, in his familiar corner seat.

Whoever is there will continue to talk, argue and — in the words of longtime regular (and self-professed token liberal) John Brandt — “solve world problems.”

Jeff is confident the traditional hangout is in good hands. “I think Junior and Carol would be happy,” he says of his uncle and aunt who died within weeks of each other 2 years ago.

About the only thing that will change is that Jeff’s 2 kids won’t stop by on their way to pre-school. “They’re the show,” John says, of the attention they get from the crowd.

Otherwise, Jr’s will remain the same.

The new owner bought the Weeniemobile, too.

Remembering Junior Bieling

Another piece of old Staples, old Saugatuck, and old Westport is gone.

Junior Bieling died yesterday at Bridgeport Hospital. He was 80, and had been ill for several years.

Junior Bieling

A celebrated athlete at Staples, Junior — no one, then or now, ever called him “John” — returned to Westport after earning a Silver Star in the Korean War. He played football with the legendary local Advertisers team, and semi-pro softball for the Raybestos Cardinals. He is a member of the Connecticut Fast Pitch Hall of Fame.

Long-ago Westporters knew him as the owner and operator of the Jockey Club restaurant/bar in Saugatuck. He served as a bartender at the VFW, then opened Jr.’s Hot Dog Stand on Riverside Avenue — not far from the original Staples, where he had starred. He sold the restaurant in 2004.

Junior was also known as an avid Staples sports fan. For decades he was a fixture at football and basketball games. Though confined to a wheelchair in recent years, he seldom missed a game.

Junior’s wife — well-known Bedford teacher Carol Digisi Bieling — died this past November.

Friends are invited to the Harding Funeral Home (210 Post Road East) on Monday (April 2, 4-8 p.m.). A funeral will be held Tuesday at Assumption Church (10 a.m.). Interment with full military honors will follow.

To leave an online condolence note, click here. Contributions in Junior’s name may be sent to the Staples High School Athletic Department, c/0 Marty Lisevick, 70 North Avenue, Westport CT 06880.