Photo of Schrafft’s at 2285 Broadway circa 1940 via Library of Congress.
Editor’s Note: After our story last weekend about Schrafft’s, a popular chain of restaurants, Lyla Ward sent us the following excerpt from her forthcoming book of essays, “Broadway, Schrafft’s and Jewish Rye.” Lyla grew up in the neighborhood in the 1930’s and 40’s.
By Lyla Ward
For many transported New Yorkers, the memory of corned beef or hot pastrami sandwiches on Jewish rye lingers years after they’ve moved to less ethnically oriented locations. I, on the other hand, eschewing the food of my people, think longingly of a chopped egg (celery never added) sandwich on toasted cheese bread (crusts removed), a hot butterscotch sundae, vanilla ice cream, topped with a just a soupcon of whole salted almonds or that paragon of fizzy drinks — a Broadway soda, chocolate with coffee ice cream.
This Waspy fare, that set my taste buds aflutter, was served at a restaurant called Schrafft’s at 82nd street and Broadway, around the corner from where I lived. There were more than thirty Schrafft’s located throughout the City. The menu was the same in all and only varied slightly from day to day: Monday might be creamed chicken on toast; Tuesday—Pan browned lamb hash. They offered the comfort food of the day: well-prepared, simple and totally American cuisine.
In the early years, the Schrafft’s closest to my home was closest to my heart. That’s where my love affair with this purveyor of all things sweet began. In the high school years, things got serious. Hunter College High School, where I began my secondary school experience, was located between 67th and 68th Streets on Lexington Avenue. During the war years (need I specify World War II?), the army used our building in the afternoons for training purposes.
To accommodate their needs, our school day began at 8 A.M. and ended at 1 P.M. We were on our own for lunch.
Luckily for us, there was a small, counter-only Schrafft’s at the corner of 68th Street and Madison Avenue where, for less than a dollar we could have a crustless sandwich (35 cents) and ice cream (20 cents) served in a small metal pedestal dish just large enough to hold the single well-trimmed scoop carefully meted out by Eric, our friendly counterman. Schrafft’s was known for its dainty, precise portions — all servers were trained not to leave any jagged edges that might provide an extra spoonful for the customer. Although we were well aware of the odds against us, each day we watched intently, hoping against hope this would be the day Eric’s hand would slip and we would end up with just a little more of our cherished dessert.. It never happened.
By the time I emerged from my teens, Schrafft’s and I were going steady–. aside from an occasional Chock Full O’ Nuts dated-nut-cream cheese sandwich, lunch out meant eating at Schrafft’s. Because they were scattered throughout the city, the restaurants were not hard to find. If we were shopping midtown, we ate at the one on Madison and 58th Street. If we were further uptown on the East Side we ate at the one on E 79th Street. My husband, then boyfriend, worked downtown, and, because he was so secure and didn’t mind being the only male customer on the premises, we would often meet at the Schrafft’s on 13th Street and Fifth Avenue near his office. Unlike the others that had strictly vintage tearoom décor, this building with its rounded exterior and chrome interior, was pretty “modern”. The food was the same, but the bar in this particular location was quite active.Here Manhattans and Old Fashions were almost as popular as the ice cream sodas.
In the summer of 1949, when I was a Guest Editor at Mademoiselle Magazine, and engaged in a whirlwind of arranged activities, I was so happy to slip away occasionally for lunch at Schrafft;s a block away from the Chanin Building, on east 42nd Street, where I was working..A little chubby from my college days, I eschewed the delights of my youth and instead, every day ate a hot vegetable plate accompanied by a glass of buttermilk. I might have lost weight even if I had opted for a less wholesome main dish– Schrafft’s serving portions would have done today’s Weight Watchers proud. How many points are there in 1 loin lamb chop?
Schrafft’s held my heart until the last recognizable restaurant closed in the 1970’s,.Although the ice cream continued to be sold in supermarkets and some ice cream stores, just seeing the familiar logo didn’t do it for me. This creamy confection was not meant to be piled two or three scoops high, dripping at the edges, on a sugar cone. It was meant to be served in its little metal dish, one clean scoop– just the way Eric served it.
To read another column by Lyla about her childhood on the UWS and the “Marble Season,” click here.