All About BeefSteak Charlie

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If you remember restaurant chains like the All-Star Cafe and Horn & Hardart, you probably remember Beefsteak Charlie too. Here is everything about this classic restaurant chain from the past!

Origins of BeefSteak Charlie

Beefsteak Charlie was a well-known Manhattan restaurant of the early 20th century. It soon became a chain, with more than 60 locations in the New York metropolitan area by the 1980s.

The original restaurant has its roots way back to 1910. Charles W. Chessar, a New York City restaurateur with the nickname of Beefsteak Charlie, opened his first restaurant around 1910. Chessar got his nickname from Howard Williams, a sports editor for the New York Morning Telegraph. Soon, Chessar moved the first restaurant to 50th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue in 1914. He operated this restaurant till 1934. 

The restaurant was famous for its interior with walls of horse racing photographs. The other highlight was the ever-famous steak sandwiches. It was a favorite one for many sports enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, a fire broke out in March 1933. It destroyed multiple racing pictures. Some remained in the family of the subsequent owner, William Soshnick. 

After Chessar left, Willian Soshnick took over his namesake restaurant and operated it. He had migrated to the U.S. with his family, fleeing from anti-semitic oppression in Russ-Poland. Soshnick eventually caught hold of small markets, butcher shops, and bars like White Rose bars in New York City. By the 1960s, William Soshnick sold Beefsteak Charlie. He then moved to Tucson, Arizona. 

During Soshnick’s ownership, the restaurant flourished a lot. It became a popular hangout for jazz musicians in the 1950s and 1960s. 

The Restaurant Chain Expansion

In 1976, the Beefsteak Charlie restaurant expanded into a chain. Restaurateur Larry Ellman, whose Steak & Brew chain (part of the Longchamps organization) had filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in fall 1975. Steak & Brew was now Beefsteak Charlie. As the chain filed first for the Beefsteak Charlie name trademark in March 1976, there is no sure connection with the namesake restaurant. It is important to note that no prior trademark existed.

The chain marketed itself as a salad bar with everything on the menu. The highlight was unlimited wine, beer, or sangria with your meals. In an advertisement airing in the early 1980s, an actor dressed in early twentieth-century attire played the role of Beefsteak Charlie. Then his nephew Beefsteak Chuck joined him. Two famous and indulgent slogans of the chain were, I will feed you like there is no tomorrow, and, You are going to get spoiled.

By 1984, the chain had over 60 locations. Most of these clustered on the East Coast. 

However, in 1985, the Corporate owner of Beefsteak Charlies changed its name to Lifestyle Restaurants. By August 1987, Bombay Palace Restaurants acquired the restaurant chain. They did via a merger with Lifestyle Restaurants. The estimated and reported cost was $8.4 million in stock. However, they had to close 20 locations and have lost $20 million since 1984. Soon, about two years later, the Bombay Palace Restaurants filed for bankruptcy. The chain had only 35 outlets then. It marked the end of the restaurant chain in 1987.

However, some original locations remained that operated separately. In 1992, the chain had only two remaining spots in Manhattan. One was at 51 st Street and Broadway, and the other was at 45th Street and Eighth Avenue. 

In 2000, franchise restaurant operator Riese Organization converted THE 45th Street location into a Memory Lane Restaurant for Joe Franklin. The Manhattan location on Eighth Avenue at the Howard Johnson Plaza hotel closed shortly after September 11, 2001.

Several other locations remained until the early 2000s. At least as of March 2003, one Beefsteak Charlie was open in Elmsford in New York. However, it is unclear if the restaurant had any connection to the prior chain. It is because the name trademark had expired. Furthermore, a new registration followed in 2001.

In 2009, a new Beefsteak Charlie opened in the Westfield Sunrise Mall in Nassau County, New York. However, it closed shortly after its opening. The chain ever since then did not appear again.

Some Fun References to BeefSteak Charlie

  • The name may have been from a story authored by O. Henry.
  • The closing song on the 1976 album Faithful of Todd Rundgren references Beefsteak Charlie. The former Utopia drummer Kevin Ellman was running it with his family at the time.
  • A Saturday Night Live show from the 1980s mocked it as Pre-Chew Charlie. It referenced that the restaurant waiters chewed the food for you!
  • Chandler from the famous sitcom friends talks about Beefsteak Charlie in Season 4. 
  • In Season 5, Episode 6 of the sitcom Will & Grace, they dine at the restaurant.
  • Season 2 of the comedy-drama television series Entourage mentions Beefsteak Charlie.
  • In a 2018 episode of the sitcom The Goldbergs, the family celebrates Erica’s birthday at Beefsteak Charlie.
  • Beefsteak Charlie was in the background of a strip mall in a 2018 episode of Maniac. Check Season 1, Episode 4 – Furs by Sebastian.

The Bottomline

It is never a good experience when your favorite, best restaurants close down. For the people of the 70s and 80s, Beefsteak Charlie was a hot eating spot for fun. However, the restaurant owners could not compete with emerging competitors. Furthermore, the owners failed at introducing incentives for return customers. The business model also never aspired to go beyond the national market. Many probably wish it would come back. You can find more from our list of classic restaurant chains that do not exist or struggle today. 

So, which restaurants of the past would you want to make a comeback? Our pick might be Horn and Hardart with technologically driven automats this time!

Do not forget to check the likes of it, such as the Bennigans.

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