Hanging Out at Nielsen’s Restaurant
Most people who grew up in the 1960s probably knew an afternoon “hang out”, where you could get a bite to eat after school. Some kids would drive their (now) classic cars or motorcycles there. There might even be some car hops who brought food out to your car. You could certainly go inside to a counter and/or table and booth. In my old home state of Massachusetts, we would drive over to Attleboro MA, where they had an A&W Root Beer stand. It reminded me of Arnold’s on “Happy Days”. Recently, I’ve heard a lot about a Nielsen’s Restaurant from residents who grew up and went to school here. One of these people is Debbie Orrico. She provided some very interesting information about Nielsen’s Restaurant.
Information About Nielsen’s
Nielsen’s was known for it’s ice cream. The menu included ice cream sundaes, banana splits, and root beer floats. Peppermint and French vanilla ice cream and raspberry sherbert were very popular. The main fare included hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. At Christmas, Nielsen’s made an ice cream Santa, which carried a chocolate toy bag. People loved the food!
Waitresses wore uniforms with aprons. The soda fountain staff wore white hats and black ties. The store in Riverside had a counter with stools and several booths. You could make a phone call from a phone booth for a nickel. They always had instrumental music playing in the background. Teenagers used to go on dates there, and parents would take the family there on a special occasion. I’m sure all the students would descend on Nielsen’s after the weekly football game.
Another source – Al Brecken – told me Nielsen’s had an ice cream factory on Pearl Street in Port Chester. This was where all the ice cream was made for the various shops. One of the first stores was on Westchester Avenue in Port Chester. This store had counters and tables with crystal chandeliers. Nielsen also sold fudge candy. Another store was located in what is now the Whole Foods complex.
There were several Neilsen’s stores in Greenwich. One was considered Nielsen’s East. This was located on the corner of Riverside Lane and the Boston Post Road in Riverside, where Hay Day used to be, and Balducci’s is now located. In other words, it was across from St Catherine’s Church. Another was located across from the Library, where a parking lot is now located on the corner of Field Point Road and West Putnam Avenue (Nielsen’s West). The City Directory indicates that there was a Nielsen’s Retail Stores Inc at 25 Greenwich Avenue. Someone referred to it as a confectionary store. It was near the Pickwick Hotel. A man named Eddie Nielson – son of the owner – was the day-today manager. I guess you couild consider it a “corporate headquarters”.
Beginnings and Endings
The first reference to Nielsen’s in the City Directory appears about 1949, and the last about 1975. This would indicate that the establishment existed for close to 26 years. It was undoubtedly a very successful and popular restaurant. Unfortunately, there are few such establishments like this today. The young people seem to gravitate toward Starbucks – maybe because the store provides wifi for iPads and iPhones. Older people seem to like Dunkin’ Donuts. The Lighthouse Deli in Old Greenwich and Arcuri’s in Cos Cob are popular restaurants. Yet, Neilsen’s seemed to be different. It catered to a different clientele. Everybody seemed to be less stressed, more relaxed. Today everyone seems to want immediate gratification. With today’s accent on home delivery, less people may be going out to eat. It’s hard to make it in the restaurant business today, a friend told me.
I’m sure many people have a warm spot in their hearts for Neilsen’s Reastaurant. It helped define what Greenwich was at the time. Greenwich has gone through a fair amount of change since the 1950s. As hard as we try to maintain the small town nature of the community, change still occurs. New high – end stores have made their way onto Greenwich Avenue. A lot of the “Mom and Pop” stores can’t afford to operate, and find they have to close. This has changed the nature of the Town. Times change and so does our perception of things.
At least some people have memories of how good Neilsen’s ice cream and food used to taste. They remember the good times they had with relatives and friends at Nielsen’s. They can go back and think about what their lives were like at that time. Nielsen’s actually became part of their lives.
Thank goodness they had the opportunity to frequent Neilsen’s!