Weekend History: A Girl’s Love Affair With Schrafft’s In The 1940’s

Candy counter at Schrafft’s, 2786 Broadway (107th-108th).

Editor’s Note: Lyla Ward sent us the following excerpt from her book of essays, “Broadway, Schrafft’s and Jewish Rye.” Lyla grew up in the neighborhood in the 1930’s and 40’s. Schrafft’s was a chain with a prominent Upper West Side presence.

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.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 10.59.24 PMThis 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. To buy her book, click here.

FOOD, HISTORY | 35 comments | permalink
    1. Dinah heller says:

      From on of your other remembrances – What about Indian Walk and Rappaports?

    2. M. Taylor says:

      Ditto! I especially miss their oatmeal raisin cookies – the BEST in taste, texture, and “chew”. Would love to find the recipe.

      Thanks for your lovely article.

    3. lauren lese says:

      Absolutely lovely. When I was growing up in the 1970’s, I remember my grandmother, who escaped to NYC from Nazi Germany in 1941, talking about Schrafft’s. She loved it. In retrospect I think something about it reminded her of own home and childhood in the Black Forest. I don’t remember Schraffts but Thank you Lyla Ward for bringing back memories of my grandmother.

      • UWSHebrew says:

        are you sure about 1941? how could a Jew leave Germany two years into the war? maybe she arrived in NYC in 1941 after being in another country in the late 1930’s, perhaps somewhere in South America?

    4. Bronna says:

      Your articles are so important. They keep the culture of the UWS alive! Keep them coming!!

    5. NativeNYer says:

      Your lovely memories,inspired me to perform a little research. Young and struggling actor Kirk Douglas was a waiter at the Fifth Avenue and 13th Street restaurant. John Forsythe made ends meet as a waiter at Schraftt’s. Also, Schraftt’s was a pioneer in hiring women as managers and cooks. I remember Schraftt’s growing up in the 1960s.

    6. UWS_lifer says:

      This is great! Love it! What a nice little essay to wake up to this morning.

      And I thought I was a long term UWS’er having grown up here in the 70’s and 80’s. I feel silly pining over Big Nick’s and H&H after reading this.:)

      Between these human interest stories and the Pupper West Side series, I am a happy camper. Enough about the fighting and lawsuits and more of the good stuff. This is the good stuff.

    7. When I first moved to the upper west side I ate many meals at the Schrafft’s that was on the corner of 82nd Street & Broadway. That building is now Barnes & Noble. If you walk down 82nd Street a bit & look over at the Barnes & Noble store you can see the outline of the huge windows which is where the dining room was.

      • Zee Perez says:

        I also remember the Shrafft’s on 82nd and Broadway. It was the location where special birthday celebrations took place in our family. This certainly brings back memories of happy times shared by family and friends.

    8. Emma Loo says:

      Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s my grandfather would take me to lunch by ourselves to the Schrafft’s near the downtown courthouse where he worked. Schrafft’s was so popular as a luncheon spot for women (and this location was near A&S Department Store and EJ Korvette)that the restaurant actually had a separate room for men only that was frequented by the borough’s political players. It was exciting for a nine year old! And the ice cream was delicious! I missed out on Schrafft’s legendary vanilla; as a child I only ate chocolate. 🙂

    9. Carol Jackson says:

      I,too, loved Schrafft’s. My favorite was a chocolate hot fudge sundae with chocolate ice cream and salted almonds no cherry.

    10. lila says:

      Thank you for your memory filled story. We are of the same generation. The interiors and the delicious food and ice cream served was an important part of growing up. The unspoken message was learning how to become integrated in the adult world in NYC.You described it so well.

    11. Margaret says:

      Thank you so much for the lovely memories. I remember eating at Schrafft’s in the 50s, 60s, and very early 70s, every time my family and I came to Manhattan as tourists. When I moved to the upper west side permanently after college, Schraffts was sadly no more.

    12. Linda says:

      The soda fountain with itt’s high chairs is across from the candy counter. Remember same layout at 82nd street. Stopped there often with my mother in the forties and with friends in the fifties, my teen years.
      My mother loved the individually, green tissue wrapped, thin mints from the candy counter. Delicious!

    13. Miggie Warms says:

      Did HCHS move between the 1940s and the 1960s? When I attended, it was located between 68th and 69th Streets on Lexington Avenue, NOT between 67th and 68th Streets (where, I believe, the Lexington School for the Deaf may have then been located.) The iconic Gothic building has now reverted back to Hunter College, but it is still there – still between 68th and 69th Streets on Lexington.

    14. Leah says:

      Hi! I was also in love with Schraffts. I went to school at PS 9 and lived a little distance away, so my older sister & I could frequently eat there. We used to share chicken salad. Yes, I remember the sundaes!!! and the sodas!!! Now I live in London.

    15. Whyse Guy says:

      Re: “…eschewing the food of my people….”
      Unlike most of us, who do not ESchew but do CHEW the food of our people….🤪

      Re: “…Monday might be creamed chicken on toast….”
      Ask any former soldier about the un-official (AND unprintable–this IS a family-friendly site) name for creamed-chikkun-on-toast. 🤪 🤪

      • Bill says:

        Guess you were never in the Army. We should have been so lucky to have creamed chicken! I was CREAMED DRIED BEEF and it got the name it deserved.

    16. Lynn says:

      I often ate at the Schrafft’s on Madison and 78th street when I was a graduate student at the Institute of Fine Arts of NYU. It was the fancy place in the neighborhood where we went for special lunches.

      • LEE APT says:

        I WENT TO PS 9 IN THE 40s AND THE 50s. I WAS IN THE LAST 8th GRADE GRADUATING CLASS. AS A SPECIAL TREAT I OCCASIONALLY WAS ALLOWED TO EAT AT SCHRAFFT’S WHERE I INDULGED IN AN EGG SALAD ON WHOLE WHEAT SANDWICH, BECAUSE IT WAS THE LEAST EXPENSIVE SANDWICH ON THE MENU. I LOVED IT – AND THE REAL HOT FUDGE SAUCE WHICH CAN NO LONGER BE FOUND ANYWHERE. FOR ME IT WAS THE ONLY REASON TO EAT ICE CREAM.

    17. Marjorie R says:

      Gentility! Where has it gone? I remember my mother taking me to Schrafft’s on Fordham Road in the Bronx. Waitresses in black and white uniforms. Paper doilies. A silver, footed ice-cream dish, water condensing on the outside. Creamy vanilla ice cream, salted almonds, hot butterscotch sauce. You had to eat it strategically so the sauce wouldn’t melt the ice cream too quickly. Here’s a link to the recipe via the website of Leora Skolkin-Smith: https://www.bookclubcookbook.com/schraffts-butterscotch-sauce-recipe-from-leora-skolkin-smith/. I haven’t tried it, for fear of being disappointed.

      • Musical Maven says:

        Re: “Gentility! Where has it gone?”

        Hah! The great Stephen Sondheim asked the very same question in his brilliant “Liasons” from “A Little Night Music” (Best Musical, 1973).

        The late Hermione Gingold, as Madame Armfeldt, lamented the disappearance of elegance with such lyrics as:

        “What once was a sumptuous feast / Is figs / No–not even figs–raisins! / Ah, liaisons!”

        (Thanx 2 Internet Broadway Data Base)

      • Eve Wallace says:

        My grandmother always took me to the Schrafft’s on Madison behind Best & Co. – across the street from St. Patrick’s. But we had the chicken sandwiches and hot fudge sundaes. The hot fudge recipe is also available online (BTW, I’m HCHS Class of ‘69)

    18. Corinne says:

      Kirk Douglas also worked at the Schraffts on 82nd and Broadway? My aunt used to go there and pick up ice cream for the family. She remembered Kirk.

    19. Lars Larsen says:

      Andy Warhol said, “When a person is the beauty of their day, and their looks are really in style, and then the times change and tastes change, and ten years go by, if they keep exactly their same look and don’t change anything and if they take care of themselves, they’ll still be a beauty.
      “Schrafft’s restaurants were the beauties of their day, and then they tried to keep up with the times and they modified and modified until they lost all their charm and were bought by a big company. But if they could just have kept their same look and style, and held on through the lean years when they weren’t in style, today they’d be the best thing around. You have to hang on in periods when your style isn’t popular, because if it’s good, it’ll come back, and you’ll be a recognized beauty once again.”

    20. Regina Martin says:

      I taught on West 84th Street and on Friday’s we would often stop there for cocktails and a bite to eat. We would review our week, weekend plans and engage in some gossip. We even watched a man drop to his knees and propose.
      Previously, while attending grad school and living on 13 th Street in Greenwich Village, I would meet people at Schraffts. Another time!

    21. Kathleen says:

      When I was a girl growing up in the 1950’s and living on Long Island, my grandmother and great aunt, who lived in Brooklyn, used to treat me to days in Manhattan. We would go to Bests and B. Altman, Radio City and Schraffts! I don’t remember the food but I so fondly remember those times with Grandma and Mary, who I loved so much! Thanks for the memories.

    22. Rozzie Weiss Rothman says:

      Lyla – loved the article I’m also a Hunter High graduate; remember the 82 St Schraffts but frequented the 93rd Bway went to Joan of Arc. While at Syracuse, roommate (from Hunter) and I went to Schraffts there every Sat for egg salad on whole wheat and butterscotch sundae (my mouth still waters!By the way I’m class of 1948!! still friendly with roommate plus several others! Can you and I meet?

    23. Iris Agar says:

      I remember Schrafft’s, Indian Walk, Tip Toe Inn, Rappaport’s & all the other wonderful stores that lined Broadway when I was a child. They were their for years, and generations of kids & families ate & shopped at these wonderful stores. I returned to the UWS in the 1990’s after moving to Greenwich Village in the 70’s, the whole atmosphere is different – it is not really a better place, only alot wealthier, the charm & character that Broadway once had is totally gone.

    24. Aida says:

      I grew up in Brooklyn (Eastern Parkway) and “my” Schrafft’s was in downtown Brooklyn – I remember consuming lots of coffee ice cream there – still my favorite!

    25. Nancy Rosenthal says:

      I grew up on the East side. Schrafts was my go to lunch place while in HS and even after I was married. My lunch consisted of the menu described, egg salad on cheese bread and the fudge sundae with almonds!
      What fun to remember all those good times.

    26. Rosa Esman says:

      Wonderful memory of Schrafft’s and that incredible Broadway soda. “My” Schrafft’s was around 92nd and Broadway.. near my school, which was a small private school, Birch Wathen.
      Often went there with friends or my Mom and sat at the counter. New York City can be a small town!

    27. Lis Anderson says:

      I also remember Schrafft’s on Fordham Road in The Bronx. I was impressed with the interior design. I recall dark wood, and it looked like a fancy restaurant to me. The waitress offered me a cocktail, but I was just a teen. Just loved Schrafft’s anywhere I found one. I miss them too. Really enjoyed reading everybody’s memories.