Schrafft’s — an American restaurant icon of the early 20th century that had dozens of full-service restaurants around town and across the country at its peak — is coming back to Midtown after closing down its last more than 40 years ago.
Ahead of the reopening, Schrafft’s is hosting a Manhattan pop-up for the holidays for a preview of what’s to come. The restaurant chain, which first launched as a Herald Square candy store in 1898, was known for its emphasis on quick-service meals sold at an affordable price point in dining rooms that, during its prime years, felt elegant.
Starting December 3, on three consecutive Sundays during the holidays, Schrafft’s is hosting a pop-up in front of 57th Street jewelry store Tiffany & Co. — a nod to the restaurant chain’s appearance in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The Sunday series in December is part of Fifth Avenue’s Open Streets events with other food vendors.
Schrafft’s president, James Byrne, says he looked in archives to old Schrafft’s recipes for the coffee and danishes they will be serving with an abbreviated menu using the same packaging Audrey Hepburn held in the movie and that the restaurant provided as craft services for the set.
In 2019, the New York Post reported that a relaunch of Schrafft’s could be on the horizon, but the pandemic scrapped those initial plans. Byrne tells Eater he’s exclusively looking at Midtown to bring back a flagship restaurant, as an homage to the company’s roots, and plans to sign a lease next year, potentially as early as January 2024.
Byrne is the godson of Gerald Shattuck, former president of the Frank G. Shattuck Company behind the restaurants, and his business partner is John Schadler, the nephew of former Schrafft’s CEO Morgan Shattuck.
Byrne grew up in the restaurants, but professionally worked in marketing and advertisement, making this his first time running a restaurant. He felt it was his duty to restore the name to its former glory: “It was essential to me to keep it in the family,” he says.
Schrafft’s as a brand was first launched by William G. Schrafft as a Boston candy manufacturing company. By 1898 Frank G. Shattuck opened the first store in New York, first as a candy store on West 36th Street and Broadway. The first New York City location to serve a full-service meal was reportedly at 54 West 23rd Street, in what was then- considered the Ladies’ Mile shopping district (Frank’s sister, Jane Schrafft is credited with helping launch the restaurant). Affordability and consistency, with items made fresh and to order, was their bread and butter: a menu from a New York location in the 1960s lists a breakfast combo platter for 95 cents.
“Our steaks would have put Peter Luger to shame. And it was clean, which is not so unusual today but was then. The most popular dishes were Lobster Newburg, Creamed Chicken on Toast, Fillet of Sole and, of course, the hot fudge sundae,” Frank’s great-grandson, Frank M. Shattuck, told the New York Times back in 2004.
At one point, there were more than 50 Schrafft’s that stretched across the city and beyond to Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Palm Beach, Florida. Over the years, like many luncheonettes, it became known as a safe place women entering the workforce could dine in alone and likewise was known for hiring women as cooks and as higher-level managerial positions, according to the Times. After the chain was bought out and changed hands in the late 1960s, the brand “kind of collapsed under its own weight,” says Byrne, focusing more on consumer packaged goods than the restaurants themselves.
The last Schrafft’s restaurant closed in the 1980s and by that point, the original family was not involved. But the chain has remained a stakeholder in New York restaurant history and has been the subject of several books, including Ten Restaurants that Changed America.
Byrne looked to other relaunches like the Monkey Bar and Gage & Tollner and how they “leverage that incredible past so that it made sense to people today.” He references the way a restaurant like Balthazar operates with a full-service dining room and an attached bakery, akin to what he hopes the new Schrafft’s will feel like, timeless, but remixed for a younger crowd with a to-go area. Byrne intends for the restaurant to serve alcohol, like the original location. Eventually, the plan is to slowly, “and carefully,” scale to multiple locations.
Despite Midtown real estate struggling to refill its office buildings post-pandemic, Byrne says it felt right, wanting to attract a mix of locals and tourists alike. For Byrne, the decision to reopen in Midtown was “pragmatic, as much as it is historical,” he says. “First of all, Midtown is our home. You know, we had locations in Rock Center, the Chrysler Building...nearly every premiere Manhattan building had a Schrafft’s.”