Posts Tagged ‘Coffee in New York City’

How New York did coffee in the 1950s and 1960s

December 3, 2018

If you’re craving coffee in the contemporary city, you’ve got options: your local Starbucks, a mini-chain like Birch or Gregorys, even a corner no-frills bagel cart.

But in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s—before ordering coffee meant navigating a dizzying array of blends and milk options—New Yorkers sipped a simple cup of joe at one humble coffee house: Chock Full o’Nuts.

By the 1960s, about 30 Chock Full o’Nuts restaurants dotted the city. They were so ubiquitous, I wonder if any patrons questioned the name and what nuts had to do with it.

Turns out the chain actually began as a shelled nut shop in 1926.

That’s when a Russian immigrant named William Black opened his first nut store in Times Square, according to Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City.

By 1932, Black’s original store under a staircase at Broadway and 43rd Street expanded, and he eventually owned 18 nut shops.

But with the Depression still raging, Black “converted his nut shops into inexpensive cafes where a nickel would buy a cup of quality coffee and a ‘nutted cheese’ sandwich—cream cheese with chopped walnuts on lightly toasted whole wheat raisin bread,” states Savoring Gotham.

The famously delicious cream cheese sandwich would eventually be made with date bread, and the menu expanded to donuts, soup, and pie.

When Chock Full o’Nuts reigned as the number one coffee shop in New York City in 1955, the price of a cup came in at just 15 cents.

Customers appreciated the low price, no-tipping policy, and also the cleanliness. Employees prepared the food using tongs, not their hands.

By then, the chain had introduced their own brand of coffee in supermarkets. The catchy TV jingle about the “heavenly coffee” is forever burned into the brains of every native New Yorker born before 1980.

So what happened, and how did Chock Full o’Nuts fall?

After Black died in 1983, the company didn’t adapt to changing consumer tastes, according to a 1990 Washington Post article. In 1988, the 18 remaining Chock Full o’Nuts restaurants were sold to the management chain Riese Brothers.

The last Chock Full o’Nuts hung on in the 1990s at Madison Avenue and 41st Street. In 2010, the name was revived at a new coffee house on 23rd Street, but it closed two years later.

Chock Full o’Nuts ground coffee can still be purchased in stores, its yellow, green, and black coffee can marked by an image of the New York skyline—a reminder of the restaurant’s place in Gotham’s culinary history.

[Top photo: Chock Full o’Nuts website; second photo: MCNY, 1932, 35.165.49; third photo: Chock Full o’Nuts print by Ken Keeley; fourth photo: Chock Full O’Nuts on Cedar Street, New York Times; fifth photo: Chock Full o’Nuts on Canal Street, MCNY, 1980, 2013.3.2.864]

The one-cent coffee stands for poor New Yorkers

December 28, 2015

StAndrewsonecentcoffee1933The first booth opened on Ann Street off Broadway in 1887, close to City Hall and the high-octane newspaper offices of Park Row.

Called St. Andrew’s One Cent Coffee Stand, it served a half-pint of coffee (plus milk, sugar, and a slice of bread) for a penny.

Within months, four more one-cent coffee stands appeared on busy downtown intersections.

The menu included hearty fare like beef soup, pork and beans, fish cakes, and fish chowder—with no item costing more than a cent.

The concept sounds like a 19th century version of today’s sidewalk coffee and donut cart. But St. Andrew’s wasn’t catering to busy commuters.

StAndrewscoffeejacobriisThe clientele was the city’s down and out—the “newsboys, emigrants, poor families, and street waifs,” as one writer put it in Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine.

Founded by Clementine Lamadrid, the stands helped feed struggling residents who might be too proud to accept free meals.

“Meal tickets are sold at the booths and the headquarters for one cent each, so that every charity disposed person may carry a supply,” explained the Frank Leslie’s article.

In a city that offered almost no public relief of any kind, one-cent coffee and food was a pretty good deal for a street kid or jobless adult.

StAndrewsonecentcoffeebainNot everyone agreed. The Charity Organization Society, a proponent of aiding the poor in exchange for work, charged that St. Andrew’s “encourage idleness and make industry unnecessary. They draw into the city crowds of tramps and beggars,” reported the New York Sun.

Lamadrid was also accused of using the stands to enrich herself, which she denied.

The stands only appear to have survived through the 1930s—but not before making a small bit of difference for thousands of hungry New Yorkers.

[Top photo: 1933, Getty Images; middle: Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives; bottom photo: Bain Collection/Library of Congress]