Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe Update

The tiling in front of the door at Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe: small, white, square tiles with the number "429" above "CHARLIE'S" spelt out in red and black tiles.Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, the quintessential family-run American diner, had been in the Manjourides family since it opened in 1927, serving the people of the South End from 429 Columbus Avenue. I discovered Charlie’s in 2003 and when, in recent years, I started to stay in the South End, it became my go-to breakfast place, dishing up my favourite staples of poached eggs, home fries and griddle cakes.

I wrote about Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in 2013, visiting again in 2014. However, towards the end of that year, I heard troubling rumours that Charlie’s had closed. It was only when I returned to Boston in June 2015 that I was able to confirm it for myself. I swung by in the vain hope that it would be open but it was well-and-truly shut, although deep inside I heard sounds of construction. Disappointed, I went on my way, ending up in the nearby Render Coffee.

However, when I returned this year, I was once again walking down to Render, and, instead of finding the empty shell of Charlie’s, or something new in its place, there was Charlie’s itself, looking superficially very much as it had year after year. Intrigued, I stepped inside.

You can see what I found after the gallery.

  • Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe as seen in years past, while approaching down Columbus Avenue.
  • Here's a similar, if slightly closer view, from the present day (yesterday to be precise).
  • This is how it looked back in 2013 on a sunny day in March...
  • ... and this is how it looked when I returned in June 2015! Oh no! Charlie's is gone!!
  • You can imagine my relief when I wandered past yesterday and saw this. Charlie's is back!
  • Another view of Charlie's from yesterday (February 2016, to be precise).
  • The moment of truth. Time to cross the threshold. What's become of Charlie's?
  • This is the view from inside the door, back in the day...
  • ... and this is how it looks now, essentially the same, but slightly more stripped back.
  • The bar stools in Charlie's date to the 1930s. This is from 2013...
  • ... and this is how they look now. The counter is different, but the stools look the same.
  • This glorious ice box was part of the original store in 1927, but sadly went in the refit.
  • Actually, quite a lot went in the reft. The floor, for example, was also from 1927...
  • ... and it also had to go, as did the heavy, boxed pillars opposite the counter.
  • This has really opened the place out. This is how it was in 2013...
  • ... and this is how it is now (from the other direction). There's even more room to the right.
  • In fact, there's a whole new alcove in the middle of the wall on the right hand side!
  • And that beautiful old ice-box that used to be behind the counter? Now it's a picture frame.
  • Talking of pictures, while the walls were tiled in the refit, there's still space for lots of photos.
  • The removal of the old boxing around the pillars seems to have made room for more tables.
  • More changes: there used to be a large mirror on the back wall at the end of the counter.
  • Fortunately, the refitted Charlie's has kept the concept and gone one better!
  • The biggest changes are behind the counter. The whole kitchen area has been redone.
  • Meanwhile the ceiling had to be replaced. The new one, however, is absolutely amazing...
  • ... as are the light-fittings.
  • There are some nice touches too, such as these lillies by the door.
  • So, to business. On my return, I sat at the counter so I could watch my breakfast cooking.
  • Shockingly poor photo of it though (eggs, home fries, toast and a griddle cake).
  • Here's one I took earlier (2013 again): two eggs (poached), wheat toast, home fries...
  • .. and a griddle cake on the side, smothered with maple syrup of course!
  • Just to prove I don't always order the same thing, I returned the next day for French toast.
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As it turned out, when I swung by in 2015, the demise of Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe had been over-stated. Rather than having closed for good, it was merely sleeping, undergoing a thorough and extensive refit, to re-open at the end of January this year (itself a big enough story to make the Boston Globe). I learnt all this when I walked in the door and sat down at the counter on, I believe, one of the original 1930s bar stools, first of all talking with the staff and then with the new owner, local chef, Evan Deluty.

Superficially, not a lot at Charlie’s has changed. The layout is essentially the same: long and thin, the tables are still on the right, while the counter and its historic bar-stools remain on the left, the griddle/range behind the counter itself. However, look a little more closely and you’ll see a host of changes. The kitchen has been totally ripped out and replaced. The counter itself is new as well, while there’s a shiny new ceiling and some lovely lighting. The old mirror at the counter’s end has been replaced by a new set of mirrors and, down the right hand-side, things have been opened up. The heavy pillars have been replaced by thin ones and there’s even an alcove in the right-hand wall, allowing another table to be slipped in. All-in-all, the refit’s managed the trick of actually providing more seating while seeming to be less crowded. There’s even a restroom now!

Talking to Evan, the story is even more dramatic. The Manjourides family retired in 2014, Evan buying the business and undertaking an essential refit. This ended up taking a full 18 months and involved totally gutting the interior, replacing all the wiring and plumbing. The ceiling even collapsed during the process! Having learnt everything that had gone on, I’m impressed that Evan and his team managed to get it as close as they did to the original Charlie’s.

However, keeping the look and feel of the old Charlie’s is one thing, but what about the food? Well, I’m happy to report that this too is just as it should be, the menu essentially unchanged since Charlie’s closed in 2014. On my return, I planted myself at my favourite spot, on a bar stool at the counter, just across from the griddle, and indulged myself with my usual: two eggs, poached, on wheat toast with home fries and a single griddle cake on the side. The griddle cake is overkill, of course, but they’re so good, light and fluffy, that I really couldn’t not have one.

Relax, Boston, Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe is well and truly back!

There’s a full write-up of Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, including a complete gallery, in its main entry. You can also see what I made of it in my original write-up, from July 2013

+1 617 536 7669
Monday 07:00 – 15.00 Roaster N/A
Tuesday 07:00 – 15.00 Seating Counter, Tables
Wednesday 07:00 – 15.00 Food Breakfast, Lunch
Thursday 07:00 – 15.00 Service Table
Friday 07:00 – 15.00 Cards Cash Only
Saturday 07:00 – 15.00 Wifi No
Sunday 07:00 – 15.00 Power No
Chain No Visits Original: 26th, 28th February 2013
Update: 23rd February 2016

If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, then take a look at the rest of Boston’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to Boston and Cambridge.

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