Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)
You could say Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe has seen so much history in its 85 years on Columbus Avenue in the South End that it could fill a book. That’s exactly what George Cuddy did.
Cuddy, a 45-year-old freelance writer and a previous employee of Charlie’s, will debut his e-book, “Where Hash Rules” in the next few weeks.
The book, like the restaurant, is a hodgepodge of stories, history, and recipes.
“It has an amazing history, it’s like a tapestry of stories,” said Cuddy, who was at his favorite Boston restaurant Friday morning chatting with regulars and helping drop-off plates of steaming eggs and turkey hash, the restaurant’s signature dish. “There are so many stories you could fill volumes.”
Founded in 1927 by Charlie Poulos, the restaurant has remained family owned.
Although Poulos was the first owner, he eventually became a half-owner after his first employee Christi Manjourides purchased the building in 1946. The original contract between Poulos and Manjourides still hangs on the restaurant’s wall.
The partnership that formed from the purchase may seem like an interesting part of history, but it is nothing compared to the other stories and quirks of the restaurant.
At one time Charlie’s was one of the few restaurants in Boston, if not the only, that would serve African Americans, giving it a following among entertainers, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, who couldn’t eat at the clubs they worked. It was also a favorite of the Pullman Porters who worked the railroads. There were even parakeets -- and customers would try to feed them pork chops.
The restaurant also was a favorite of Frank “Cadillac” Salemme, the infamous Boston mobster.
“We didn’t know who he was until we saw him on TV, going to jail,” said Arthur Manjourides, the son of Christi and now the owner. “He was one of the nicest customers we had.”
But although Salemme may have been one of the more infamous customers he wasn’t the most famous. Before Sammy Davis Jr.’s rise to fame, he would tap dance out in front of the shop, according to the author.
While the restaurant hasn’t changed much over the years, the neighborhood has grown to become one of Boston’s hottest real estate markets.
“A while back when you were walking down the street you were easy prey [for robbers],” said Manjourides. “Now there are so many people around, so many restaurants, you see people walking around all the time. But now you can’t afford to live here.”
Arthur and his brother Chris, though, both still live above the restaurant, as property prices around them have risen steadily.
“One of my early concerns was that people would look at this like it was a Boston story, but it’s not,” said Cuddy. “It’s really an American story. There are so many chefs out there, there are so many cook books but there is nothing like the 85 years that this restaurant has seen.”
Below you can find an excerpt from Cuddy’s e-book, “Where Hash Rules”, which will be available on iTunes, Amazon.com and other e-reader portals. You can also follow Cuddy on Twitter through his handle @Wherehashrules
Arthur Manjourides speaking about Cookie, the restaurant's first customer, who was known as the "Mayor" of the South End.
"A gas explosion blew out our front windows one day. Cookie showed up and asked what happened. Upon learning why there was glass all over the sidewalk, he lied down on the ground and waited for the ambulance. He got a $4,000 insurance settlement! Later, across the street where the Methunion Manor housing building now stands, there used to be a huge parking lot complex for the Prudential Center that the city had constructed after demolishing an entire block of historic brownstones. When the city sold the lot’s space for the new, low-cost housing development, they stopped operating the parking concession but people still parked there. Cookie seized the opportunity and, for about a year, ran the parking lot and pocketed all of the cash. He even put up a sign in the lot that said “You can now pay for parking across the street at Charlie's.” Cookie would sit at the counter in Charlie’s and people would come in and pay him for their spots! Once, a gentleman strolled in and asked Cookie if he could buy a bumper off of a Nash Rambler in the lot. Cookie told him that we would sell it for $30 but that the man had to remove it quickly! When the owner of the car found Cookie to ask about the missing bumper, he was told that parking in the lot did not guarantee the vehicle’s safety! One of his other scams was that he would use the pay phone that used to be in our restaurant and call in an order for scallops at about two in the afternoon. Of course, we would close thirty minutes later and by that time no one had come to pick up the dinner plate. He would volunteer to take it off of our hands since it had already been made. That was Cookie."