South End Chefs Weigh in on Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe has seen Boston’s South End through every facet of its long existence. Launched in the Roaring Twenties when segregation was inherently accepted, Charlie’s famously rejected those bigoted conventions and embraced a predominantly black clientele, something that owner Arthur Manjourides reminisced about earlier this week.
Nowadays, the South End is a far different place, with gentrification ushering in a whole new crowd hungry for turkey hash, poached eggs, and hamburgers. On May 12, when the Manjourides announced Charlie’s impending closure, all of Boston grieved over the news, but none more so than the longtime chefs and residents of the South End.
We reached out to some of the other familiar faces who have made the neighborhood what it is today, including Barbara Lynch (Butcher Shop, B&G Oysters), Ken Oringer (Clio, Toro, Coppa, Uni), Gordon Hamersley (Hamersley’s Bistro), and Andy Husbands (Tremont 647). Here’s what they had to say.
Favorite Dish: Pastrami Sandwich
“I’ve lived in the same building for 18 years, just blocks from Charlie’s. I remember in the early days of Clio, I would stop into Charlie’s and order 20 pastrami sandwiches for staff meals, because there was nothing else in the area. Obviously, the South End has changed a lot since those days, but I still go there all the time. I bring my kids in there now for pancakes and turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, and of course, the turkey hash. It’s going to suck to have to tell my kids that it’s closing. They’re going to be so sad.
Mike’s [City Diner] is amazing too, but it just doesn’t have the nostalgic atmosphere of Charlie’s. I have to be honest though, I don’t know how they’ve done it for as long as they have. That spot is so tight inside, you’d have to be family to work like that and still get along. That’s the unfortunate part, they could never just move locations or even expand the space because then it wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t retain that same ambience that made Charlie’s so special.”
Favorite Dish: Poached eggs with hash and an English muffin
“I’ve been going to Charlie’s for at least 25 years. I started going as a way to get out of my own kitchen and take a lunch or breakfast break. The place is so much more than a restaurant. It has been part of the fabric of the South End for so many years and I honestly can’t imagine it not being there.
I really think that Arthur, Chris, Fontaine, and Marie are what made me go there so often. They are great people who I relate to on a restaurant level. I loved hearing their stories about the old days: guns behind the counter, crooks and cops sitting together at the counter, colorful employees and characters. For me it was a place to grab a simple bite to eat and then go off to my own kitchen. I’ve always liked traditional diners very much and I’ll especially miss this one.”
Favorite Dish: Grilled cheese and a B.L.T. on wheat
“I used to hang around there so much. When I was opening up Tremont 647, my business partner and I—this is in 1996—we were completely broke. We had potential for jobs, but we didn’t have a paying job at the time. We used to go there and get their chicken soup and extra crackers because that’s all we could afford for lunch.
It’s just such a great place and Arthur is awesome and Chris looks like Kevin McHale’s dopplegänger. Their burger and turkey hash are unparalleled. I don’t know why they’re closing because I go there all the time and they’re always busy. I mean, presidents go there! But they’ve been there for so long, maybe they’re just ready for a change. What I think is interesting is that they’ve gone through all the different elements of the South End. But the South End is about neighborhood, and that’s what they’ve always represented. That and consistency.”
Favorite Dish: Burger
“It’s the end of an era. I mean, it is sad, but he’s [Arthur] 76-years-old, so what are you going to do. But if somebody tried to come and take it over, it just wouldn’t be the same. It’s just so hard. Change is not easy.
I don’t go there that often anymore because I don’t like to eat breakfast, but I lived in the South End for a while and did eat there frequently. I actually used to live right behind Charlie’s when I was 18. It is one of those places where police, mafia, black, white, everyone went there. That’s Boston. It’s a great Boston institution. We still have plenty of them, but Charlie’s was more on the cool political side. It’s like J.J. Foley’s in the South End was at one point, where you could go in and see Mayor White and post office workers, police officers, young chefs, all in one place. Like I said, it is sad, but I’m happy that Arthur will now have a life. I hope somebody cooks breakfast for him now.”