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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Closings and Tear Downs of Beloved New England Businesses

Brown's Ice Cream Stand in York Beach, Maine,
 is on the real estate market for 1.7 million (photo by Eric)
It breaks my heart to see beloved local New England businesses like the Hilltop Steak House, Christo's, Aunt Aleda's Bakery and Country Kitchen, Brown's Ice Cream and Benjamin's restaurant go out of business.

The other day when driving through Saugus, Mass., I saw contractors starting the process of tearing down the Hilltop Steak House to make way for a new shopping plaza. How creative. Hard to believe that America's largest steak house with the two hour waits and the charming plastic cows out front is gone forever. I hear the giant cactus sign will remain, but that's kind of like having a car without the engine.

Christo's, with its Greek salads, famous salad dressing, baked lamb, bar-style pizzas, and the large four color coded rooms (who can forget the Gold Room with that huge golden floor-to-ceiling fountain?), attained legendary status in the Brockton area since its inception in 1964. Owner Christos Tsaganis ran that restaurant with such dedication,  passion and personality but after his death in early 2013, family decided to follow up on Tsaganis's prior agreement to sell the building to Massasoit Community College. After a building tear down last year, an allied health and science building is in the works. The Christo's legend remains in a smaller form, however, as the take-out Christo's to Go in Whitman still serves up some of the past Christo's favorites.

Aunt Aleda's in Mansfield was a relative newcomer to the suburban Boston dining scene but quickly gained old-school nirvana status with its huge, quality breakfasts and a tremendous old fashioned bakery on the premises. Wicked Local Norton reported in January 2015 that the restaurant closed due to non payment of taxes. What a great loss, as it seems like so many local breakfast spots inexplicably deliver the improbable: screwing up breakfast with either overcooked eggs, soggy bacon, burnt toast, muffins no better than the supermarket kind, tepid tasting coffee, crummy service, or all of the above. And there was a real artistry to what was coming out of the bakery -- so different than the paint-by-numbers, generic baked good templates used to create mediocre treats by some other local bakeries. Aunt Aleda's always came through -- what a shame they couldn't last. The storefront is now the Looking Glass Cafe -- more on that soon!

Who would have ever thought that Brown's Old-Fashioned Ice Cream in York Beach, Maine, would ever close? Steve Dunne, who leased Brown's from the Brown family for the past 23 years, decided to open up Dunne's Ice Cream ice cream stand virtually right across the street from the entrance to Sohier Park and Nubble Lighthouse. Apparently no one in the Brown family wanted to continue the business, so the ice cream stand and property is up for sale at the price of  $1.7 million, according to Seacoastonline. While it's nice that Dunne's Ice Cream will continue the ice cream tradition near the "Nubble," there's kind of a bittersweet feeling knowing that a business synonymous with a York Beach summer vacation could very well be gone forever. We do wish Mr. Dunne well in his new business, which opened in June, but also hope that whoever purchases the Brown's property will continue the ice cream stand business there. One can never have enough ice cream and tradition.

Two weeks ago, I drove past Benjamin's restaurant in Taunton, Mass., and thought how nice it would be to get back there.  Well, that might not ever happen as the large, landmark restaurant that seemed to please all generations recently filed for bankruptcy and then suddenly closed, according to the Taunton Gazette.  Benjamin's was that proverbial lively "place to go in town" with its time-tested offerings of chicken, steak and seafood, some great entertainment (will always remember a certain band doing a fantastic cover of The Trammps "Disco Inferno!") spacious yet cozy carpeted dining spaces, and a nice dance floor. I will miss the prime rib and many will long for the baked stuffed lobster. Unfortunately, this sad demise of a great family business can now only result in holding onto dear memories. We hold out hope, however, that the next owner of the property keeps the revered Benjamin's restaurant tradition alive.

Related articles:
Gone but not forgotten New England restaurants
More memories of closed New England restaurants
Boston area business memories at Old School Boston

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