Upon graduation from Columbia University in the early Twenties, Mr. [William] Black followed the normal routine of job hunting. Unable to find employment that suited him, he went into business for himself. He opened a nut store under a staircase in the basement of a Times Square building.An impulsive purchase of two cans of coffee in New Jersey has had me thinking about Chock full o'Nuts.¹ Once upon a time, Chock full o'Nuts was a New York chain whose restaurants seemed to be everywhere, with glass fronts and distinctively lettered dark-blue and white signs. I remember eating at Chock full o'Nuts as a kid, on family shopping expeditions and after trips to the orthodontist — "frankfurters" (not "hot dogs"), chocolate milk, and very strange doughnuts. I remember how good mustard and chocolate milk tasted together. I remember how quickly the fun of sitting on a stool faded into the awkwardness of legs dangling in space. I remember that there was no tipping, and I remember wondering what would happen to the money if someone were to leave a tip. I remember that it seemed that everyone working at Chock full o'Nuts was black. I remember a song that my brother and I created, inspired by an item on the menu (and the song "Everybody Loves Saturday Night"):
From this subterranean start the venture grew into a chain of eighteen nut stores under the name Chock Full O' Nuts [sic]. The business thrived until the depression hit. Mr. Black decided nuts were a luxury. From 1931 to 1933 he changed all the stores into quick-order luncheonettes.
The restaurants specialized, as they do today, in nutted cream cheese sandwiches and coffee. Soups and pies were added to round out the menu.
George Auerbach, "Chock Full o' Whatever It Takes," New York Times, April 14, 1956
Navy pea bean soup, navy pea bean soup,The Chock full o'Nuts menu was limited, but I didn't remember how limited until I found this photograph:
Everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody,
Navy pea bean soup.
[Jackie Robinson and an unidentifed employee. Robinson became vice-president of personnel for Chock full o'Nuts in 1957.]
Lobster salad and coffee, please. And a piece of lemon cream pie. William Black's idea of "food" seems to have been stuck in a time warp, a severely minimalist time warp: No Coke. No Pepsi. No fries. No chips. No wonder the restaurants began disappearing in the 1970s.
Chock full o'Nuts' Chock Cafés still offer a limited menu, including the Chock Classic ("datenut bread with cream cheese") and whole wheat donuts (not doughnuts).
Whole wheat: that's why the doughnuts were so strange.
Chock full o'Nuts lunch hour
New York, 1964: Chock full o'Nuts
Related reading and viewing
Chock full o'Nuts' last days
William Black's philanthropy
Chock full o'Nuts (1970 photograph)
Chock full o'Nuts (1970s photograph)
Chock Full o'Nuts commercial (with Page Morton Black, the boss's wife, and a shortened version of the famous jingle)
You can find more commercials in the timeline at the company website.
¹ The capitalization and spacing are wrong, but that's the company way.