Chock Full O’ Nuts

May 18th, 2012 § 3 comments

Anyone remember these coffee and fast food counter restaurants that once flourished in New York? There were about 80 locations before the chain closed in the 1970s. The coffee brand still flourishes and is sold in supermarkets everywhere. At Chock Full you got a very good cream cheese sandwich on nutted date bread (a favorite of female office workers), whole wheat doughnuts (best doughnut ever, in HG’s opinion), good frankfurters and orange drink. Splendid coffee, of course. Very, very cheap. Swift service by unsmiling, sullen, very angry African-American women. William Black, who owned the chain, tried to make morale better by hiring baseball great Jackie Robinson as Director of Personnel in 1957. Didn’t make any difference. It was still Service-With-A-Sneer. All food at Chock Full was handled with tongs (for alleged hygienic benefits) and advertised “Food Untouched By Human Hands.” The chain got its unusual name from Black’s retail start: a little shelled nut store he opened in 1926. It grew to a chain of 18. Black, a smart (and eccentric) guy, met the challenge of the Great Depression by converting the nut shops to lunch counters in 1931. The signature cream cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee was five cents. Big success. Black married a cabaret singer named Page Morton. For many decades New York radio and TV commercials featured the rather mature, slightly off-key and quite wavery-voiced Ms. Morton singing the Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee jingle: “Chock Full O’ Nuts — That Heavenly coffee.” The persistence of this ad and her suspect talent made it obvious that Black really loved his wife.

After many corporate shifts and buy outs, Chock Full (now owned by an Italian coffee giant), decided, in 2010, to open a Chock Full O’ Nuts restaurant, serving some of the old favorites, on E. 23 Street in the Flatiron District. Very extensive menu. Very slow service. A mixed reception from diners. The cream cheese sandwich costs $4.95.

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§ 3 Responses to Chock Full O’ Nuts"

  • peter hellman says:

    Ah yes, those nutted cream cheese sandwiches on raisin bread. I must have eaten a hundred dozen of them at the Chock Full O’Nuts at B’way and 116th Street–now an Ollie’s, which is usually a servicable Chinese spot. And yes, the black women who served didn’t have any affection for we white customers, possibly not even their brethern. As for the coffee, it really was richly flavored, and I can still feel the white cup in my hands….

  • Paul Zak says:

    My father, Joseph Zak, was a civil engineer who was in charge of store construction in the 60s. As a kid, I spent many a Saturday wading through construction sites and supplier shops. I remember seeing terrazzo being poured and finished and a stainless steel shop where the commercial fittings were made. They had a great cabinet shop on 34th St. I often got sent for the coffee!

    Oh my god, what I wouldn’t give for w whole wheat donut.

    I remember hearing that the violet colored uniforms were chosen because this shade was complementary to the almost exclusively Black workers. Not confirmed.

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