Monday, September 13, 2010

Chock Full o'Nostalgia

A few readers have written in to let us know about the return of Chock Full o'Nuts to New York City, and this weekend both the New York Times and the Daily News did stories about it, about how "some things do come back," meaning things that have vanished and were missed. Both stories are full of nostalgia.


1960s

Now and then, I get a comment on this blog about how someday, in the distant future, New Yorkers will be nostalgic for the vanished Starbucks chain. Whenever I hear that, I think of Chock Full o'Nuts and its onetime domination of the city, topping out with 100 locations. And then I try to imagine a future in which people actually wax nostalgic for Starbucks (17,133 around the globe).

It makes me wonder: How do we decide to bestow our nostalgia? Thinking over the commentary trends of my readers, I put together this totally unscientific Nostalgia Point system:

+3 points for a longtime (20+ years) mom-and-pop shop
+2 points for a native, locally owned business
+1 for immigrant-owned, only if that immigrant is non-white or arrived in the city prior to the 1990s
+1 point for a mom-and-pop that grew to local "mini chain" proportions

0 points for hipster businesses disguised as mom-and-pops--at least until they've stuck it out for 20, or maybe 30, years

-1 point for native, locally owned cupcake shops
-2 points for a local mini-chain that grows to the gargantuan size of Duane Reade
-2 points if the business goes national
-3 points if the business sells to a global conglomerate


2004, photo by souslesdents

So how does Chock Full o'Nuts score?

Chock was founded by Russian immigrant William Black. He was not a native New Yorker, but he arrived long before the 1990s, so he earns Chock 1 point for getting in early. Chock also gets points for longevity and its (initial) mini-chain size, for a total of 5.

Before its demise, Chock grew to have 100 shops in the city, less than half that of Duane Reade. Still, 100 is a lot, so let's shave off a point. Chock also has plans to expand to 50 stores citywide in the next 15 years--we could have another DR on our hands.

Chock loses a significant 3 points for selling to Sara Lee, bringing its New York Nostalgia Total to a meager 1 point.

But it's a local guy who is bringing back the full-service Chock shop at 23rd and 5th--Joey Barone of Bay Ridge--who told the Daily News, "I remember as a kid, my Uncle Arthur used to take me to the Jets games, and he'd take me to the Chock Full o' Nuts on the way. He loved the coffee, and a tuna sandwich. I believe in this so much."

Mr. Barone's legitimacy gives the new Chock 2 points, bringing its total to a respectable 3.


1970s

Of course, this is all very tongue-in-cheek. As we hear in Mr. Barone's words, and as we all know, nostalgia doesn't work on a point system. It works on an emotional system, in mysterious ways that have to do with flukes of memory, brain chemistry, and the taste of cream-cheese sandwiches.

"Nostalgia" comes from two Greek words--it means "homesickness." For those who are homesick for the city of memory, the new old Chock Full o'Nuts might be just the remedy.

14 comments:

EV Grieve said...

Will this be on the midterm?

And did you see the prices for the Chock/Nuts food? Definitely NOT nostalgic prices...

Anonymous said...

@EV Grieve - they gotta pay that rent.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

In all the years I stopped in for coffee I was served by a black woman; does mean whites are now taking over?

Grade "A" Fancy said...

Still, if we're going to take the nostalgia business global we're going to have to quantify things for the boys in accounting. The point system is crucial!

Ken Mac said...

in my case, I pine for the architectural design elements of the older gen stores, be they chains or not. that's why we love chrome diners, they're simply beautiful to look at it. In LA, they have Googie design, all those classic sci fi looking diners, some of which remain. So will Starbucks make the cut? Their storefronts are totally nondescript, plastic, and bland.

Lisanne! said...

It doesn't "feel" like a "Chock Full O'Nuts". The ones in Brooklyn (there was one on Avenue U that opened three years back and lasted about 2 years) were small in size and one went to a counter to order. And the "modern" ideas are a turn-off.

We'll see how long this lasts.

blue glass said...

they are a store away from the new eataly on 23rd street off 5th avenue - the prices at eataly are about the same as they will be for chock full. i couldn't believe it, $21 for a steak. who would even go to a chock full for a steak. if this is the direction new york is going in we are in serious trouble.
chock full used to be a place to grab an inexpensive bite - a great donut with coffee, or the then "healthy" date nut bread and cream cheese. and don't forget their heavenly coffee commercials sung by the wife of the owner.
let's bring back the automat which will only take dollar coins.
inflation you know.

BaHa said...

My first job was at a Chock on Kings Highway. We were supposed to yell our orders to the kitchen...and I guess I yelled too many times, as an astonished old woman was served eight toasted corn muffins. And thus ended my Chock career, to my relief and theirs.

fifilaru said...

My mother used to take me there when we went shopping in Midtown. It was nice to go to on a cold winter day. The date nut bread and cream cheese was outrageously good.

BaHa said...

Stopped in today; had a chat with the owner who gave me a free whole-wheat doughnut to go with the pair I was buying. He grew not far from me, and had gone to the Chock at which my career began and ended in a single shift. The doughnuts are as I remember them (a good thing) but they were out of cream cheese for the date nut bread. As to the complaints about the prices, 99 cents for two doughnuts is as good as it gets.

Jeremiah Moss said...

good to know! i need to check it out.

Melanie said...

Memories--cream cheese and datenut sandwiches and a powdered heavy whole wheat donut along with their coffee. I liked their "modern" milk dispensers. I will patronize them again.Comfey counter top stools and nice personnel who wore a uniform I believe.

Melanie said...

@ EVG-what are the prices?? The original stores were reasonable. I forget the original prices.

cd said...

didn't they have a come-back in the 90s where a few opened and then closed relatively quickly? was that when they were bought by sara lee or something? My sister worked at one briefly at that point as a teenager.