SCHENECTADY — Growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, routine was king.
Saturday meant cartoons, of course, and every Sunday meant the same series of events: Mass at 8 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Church, followed by breakfast at Broadway Lunch located at 2101 Broadway, before my older brother and I were due back at church for catechism classes at 10 a.m.
Even then, we knew breakfast was a bargaining chip — a way for our parents to get us back to church with full bellies and minimal complaints. And every Sunday I ordered the same thing: one epic-sized blueberry muffin, split and toasted on the griddle with butter. My brother always had a toasted bagel with plain cream cheese, and my parents had some variation of eggs with rye toast.
We’d make forts out of the individual jelly packs until our food arrived and gawk at the Tiffany-style glass pendant lights — which, by the way, are still hanging. The ritual was as simple and comforting as it was dependable. We always had a booth toward the left, and if any other table was offered we’d grumble. Consistency, like routine, was king.
Fast forward two and a half decades and Broadway Lunch is still serving up hot meals to Schenectady-area residents — just not breakfast anymore, although current owner Filippos Menagias, who everyone knows as Phil, says he hasn’t ruled out that possibility, although he loves having Sundays and early mornings to spend with his family. As it did with so many area businesses, COVID-19 had a significant impact on Broadway Lunch’s owners, staff and patrons — an impact just now starting to level out.
By all accounts, Broadway Lunch is and has always been a family business, first opened by Menagias’ great-uncle Jimmy, then run by his father, Angelo, as well as his aunt, Vicki Arrington, and her husband Steve. In 2018, when circumstances meant the couple was open to selling, Menagias and his father saw an opportunity.
The duo was running the Blue Ribbon Restaurant & Bakery, with Angelo as owner and Phil as general manager, and had recently opened the Blue Rose Cheesecake & Bake Shop next door. As Menagias described it, the decision was a layered one.
“I wasn’t sure if I should leave. I was a few years into my marriage and had kids. But I also knew it was a great opportunity for me to carry the torch.”
His father helped him buy out his aunt and uncle, and they signed the deal on April 4, 2018 — a date which Menagias remembers fondly, as it was 51 years to the day that his father and his family had arrived from Greece to help Jimmy run Broadway Lunch. Talk about symmetry in motion.
“I took over and have been there since, just keeping the tradition, the history, the work ethic and our recipes alive,” Menagias said. “That’s what our family is about, and it’s why we now have 90 employees across the three businesses.”
As far as who’s dining, many are locals living in either Rotterdam or Schenectady, but Menagias said his customers also come from Loudonville, Cobleskill, East Greenbush, Colonie and all over the greater Capital Region. That’s something he’s particularly grateful for, he said: “Without the customer base — especially today — the restaurant business couldn’t survive. A business like ours couldn’t survive. It’s the base that keeps you going and you grow from there.”
Menagias said some of his customers have been coming since the business first opened and tell stories about grabbing late-night food at the diner following a long night spent dancing at a club across the street.
“The fact that people who were supporting us 50 years ago are still supporting us today is just unbelievable,” he said.
And some are still coming for the signature hot dogs — a 56-year-old recipe that hasn’t changed a bit and remains the top seller.
“Only a handful of people know the recipe for our chili sauce. It was handed down to me and it’s top-secret, but I’ll tell you this: We use 100% angus ground beef, no fillers, no preservatives, no additives and no bread crumbs — with a lot of onions and oil. And then, of course, it’s a bunch of spices.”
He’s quick to point out that the recipe must be exact — every ingredient, from the pounds of beef to the spices measured. “If you go less on one and high on the other, you’d be able to tell the difference.”
Today, Menagias said each week they sell anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 hot dogs, which are supplied by a meat-packing company out of Chicago. The buns are locally sourced, but he’s intentionally mum on the details.
James “JD” Donnan of Glenville is a self-described member of what he calls the “Counter Culture” — meaning he dines at the counter — who’s been coming to Broadway Lunch on a daily basis since the ’90s.
“The food is good, the staff is good and I like the ambience,” Donnan said as to why he’s a regular. “As I see it, the Broadway Lunch is to JD what ‘Cheers’ is to Norm. I’m always treated well here, the food is always good and the staff goes out of their way for me. Everybody knows my name here, and I love that.”
As far as his favorites, Donnan said he likes to mix it up. The night I met him, he was enjoying a plate of pasta with sausage and peppers, but had enjoyed a plate of stuffed peppers the night before, he said. His go-tos include the grilled chicken sandwich, and the pork chop dinner with boneless chops and sauteed peppers and onions on top, which he has at least once a week.
I, of course, had to opt for a hot dog with onion rings — and neither disappointed.
“We make everything from scratch, from our mac salad to our potato salad and coleslaw to our soups,” he said. “We make our own beef and chicken stocks, make our own tomato sauce, our gravies.”
They’re still operating the old-fashioned way, making food to order and packing burgers by hand.
The result, Menagias said, is freshness and consistency, thanks to an emphasis on quality ingredients — although the past several years, especially in the wake of COVID-19 and pandemic realities, were not without their struggles. Even now, three years later, Broadway Lunch’s takeout business makes up roughly a third of its sales, and breakfast is still served all day.
“I’ve found that if your priorities are your customers and your staff, you’ll never go out of business. The rest you can figure out,” Menagias said.