By Seth Daniel
The name still bears the antique spelling of “shoppe,” and the celebrity pictures of folks like “Jason” from Friday the 13th and numerous jazz legends still adorn the walls, but a new ownership has taken over the famous Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe on Columbus Avenue that is excited about their warm reception into the community.
Damian and Sheree Marciante, owners of the other famous diner nearby – Victoria Diner in Newmarket, have re-opened Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe and have big plans for the old place.
“We turned on the lights and pulled up the shades and people started trickling in,” said Damian. “A lot of the neighbors and regulars have been coming in and sharing their experiences…We have all the original pictures on the walls that we kept – all the movie stars and the presidents who have come here and dined here. The history of Boston and the Victoria Diner and Charlie’s are very important to us.
“I think diners in particular are a neutral zone,” he continued. “Everyone comes in, and you talk to each other. You could have a conversation with friends or meet people, and it’s a community thing. I think we need a place like Charlie’s to talk to each other in the digital age with social media going on so much. Here, you can come in and talk to a perfect stranger, and meet new people and hear what they have to say in person.”
That new community is something that the family-owned diner operating company embarked upon when buying Victoria Diner seven years ago and bringing it back to success. Damian said he had always been interested in Charlie’s and had eaten there in the past, but original owners Arthur and Chris Manjourides weren’t selling the popular shoppe.
In 2013, that changed and the business was put up for sale. Damian and Sheree were operating Victoria at the time, and it was a great time for them to move on Charlie’s. However, they came to the table a little too late, and the business was purchased by the owners of Stella Restaurant in the South End.
“We told the Realtor we were disappointed, and if things didn’t work out, just call us,” said Damian. “Things didn’t work out, and they called us first. We were surprised to get the call, but it worked out well.”
The business closed earlier this spring quite suddenly, but now the goal is to bring Charlie’s back to the community, they said.
Charlie’s has a very interesting history in Boston going back to the 1920s. Though many don’t realize it, Boston was a very segregated city in those days and Charlie’s was the only dining establishment that would serve blacks – which was very critical for the jazz musicians that often played in the South End and other parts of the city.
“In the 1930s, hotels and restaurants in Boston were segregated and Charlie’s was one of the hot spots for black musicians to hang out after a long night playing at many of the jazz clubs in the South End,” said Lauren Prescott of the South End Historical Society. “The floor above Charlie’s was a union hall for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. It was the first black porters’ union, founded by A. Philip Randolph. Randolph was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and organized the 1963 March on Washington with Bayard Rustin.”
Charlie Iatropoulous opened Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in 1927 and hired 17-year-old Christi Manjourides as a short order cook. Manjourides was able to become a partner in the 1940s after a creative purchase of the building, and he and his family ran the establishment until 2014.
Much of that history was chronicled in a book called “Where Hash Rules” that came out some years ago.
It was the Manjourides family that made the joint the hot spot in Boston’s history, and the comfort food isn’t lost on the Marciante family. Damian said they had Arthur Manjourides over to Victoria Diner to learn some of the original recipes like the turkey hash.
The restaurant will feature some staples from the Manjourides family, some staples from Victoria Diner and an expanded menu of new additions as well. Breakfast will be served all day, and the hours as of now will be 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Though he said he has loved cooking since watching his Sicilian mother work in the family kitchen, Damian said he didn’t have any official background in diner operation before Victoria’s, having a degree in biology and working in the pharmaceutical industry. Sheree said she worked for the Boston Herald and Boston Globe before getting into the diner business. Their son, Frankie, will be the main operator of Charlie’s.
Already, they said they see a need for dinner hours, and that will be a focus after they get their feet under them.
“We feel there is a strong demand for dinner, but we first want to master the breakfast and lunch and then move towards that,” said Sheree.
Added Damian, “A lot of people don’t want to eat fancy food all the time. That’s what diners are about. If you want to come in and have hot dogs and beans, you can do that without having to go to a fast-food place. That’s what is special about a place like this.”