A Unique Dining Experience
One of my favorite eating establishments of all time was Manero’s Restaurant at 557 Steamboat Road in central Greenwich. My father-in-law introduced me to the establishment in 1976. I loved the atmosphere. Entire families would descend on the place. A sign on the wall said that if a baby was born at the restaurant, he or she would get free steak for life! You could get a filet mignon steak dinner for $9.95. This included steak, baked potato, onion rings, garlic bread, gorgonzola salad, dessert and coffee. The wait staff was fast and courteous. If it was your birthday, a quartet of waiters would bring out a birthday cake with candles, and sing “Happy Birthday” in a staccato fashion. There was a picture of Nick Manero, the owner, in a big chef’s hat in the entryway of the restaurant. A butcher shop was attached to the outside of the building.
Nick Manero’s Background
Nick Manero was born in Greenwich on March 15, 1904, to John and Grazia Mainiero. (The name was changed to Manero when they arrived in America.) They had immigrated to the United States on December 18, 1896, from Benevenuto, Italy. There were four brothers, and five sisters. Nick attended Greenwich High School and St. Lawrence University. During the Second World War, he served in the US Army Tank Corps. He said that when he saw how much food was being thrown away (wasted), he decided “to open a small steak house”. Unfortunately, Nick had broken his collar bone earlier in school, and he was discharged. So he went to Hartford to work for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft.
War Time Meat Rationing
During the war, ration stamps were issued. Nick used his rations to buy meat, and stored it in a building on Mason Street. After a while, he decided to start a steak house (1946). His mother and father would help with the cooking, while his sister Mary helped wash the dishes. Neighbors and relatives provided him with ice since he had no icebox. When business started to pick up, he hired some cooks. One of these was Luca Gabriele, who later started Luca’s Steak House on Mechanic Street (Sherwood Place).
When Mary saw how much meat scrap was being thrown away, she convinced Nick to use it to prepare ground beef and sell it. She said he could get 50-cents a pound for it. He couldn’t keep up with the demand! This is how the butcher shop started. Nick began offering meats, salads and other items from the restaurant. Eventually, you could buy a whole meal through the meat store. Manero aged his meat 28-days, which gave it a distinctive flavor. The butcher shop and restaurant supported each other, and eventually turned Manero’s into a million dollar business.
As it turned out, Nick was a master at advertising. He ran ads in the local newspapers, and had commercials on local radio. His chef’s hat became his trademark. People from all over came to his restaurant. It was not uncommon to see well-known celebrities such as Andy Rooney, Arnold Palmer, Buster Crabbe and Ivana Trump at Manero’s. Nick became somewhat of a local celebrity himself. His hard work had paid off.
Changing Business Climate
Nick Manero died on September 14, 1980. He left behind a very lucrative business, which his family continued to run. During this entire time, however, no significant renovations had been undertaken to the restaurant.. The original wooden tables and woodwork still remained. New restaurants were providing competition with newer facilities and changing food fare. The land was becoming more valuable than the buildings. Business started to slip. The Manero family decided to sell.
In 2006, after 62 years of serving the community, the restaurant was sold to 3 businessmen, who wanted to build business suites and residential condominiums. The restaurant that had once sold 1,100 steak dinners on a Saturday night for $5.95 now had to charge $30. No longer were trucks delivering 50,000 pounds of meat a week to the restaurant. Fortunately, the butcher shop relocated to Bruce Park, and changed its name to Greenwich Meats. You can get complete steak dinners or buy your own meats. But the restaurant had seen better days.
Nick Manero’s Legacy
Ironically, Nick Manero had wanted to be a lawyer. Unfortunately, he couldn’t pass the bar. Maybe this worked to his benefit because he and his restaurant gained great renown. Manero’s restaurant was a favorite landmark for residents and out-of-towners. You always felt like you were a part of a larger family when you went there. It was comforting to sit and eat with other families. The surroundings were always warm and friendly.
I’m not ashamed to say I miss Manero’s Steak House.
Holtz, J.; NOTICED; In Greenwich, Manero’s Days Are Numbered; New York Times, 2/26/2006
Margenot, M; An Enterprising Woman; Oral History Project, Greenwich Library CT, 6/5/1984