The current economic downturn (or is it the postrecession recovery?) has claimed yet another victim: Friendly's Ice Cream. The company has filed for Chapter 11 and will close 63 underperforming locations (mostly in Massachusetts) with roughly 420 restaurants remaining. Aside from the $300 million in debt, Friendly's suffered from a recession-related decline in customers. In addition, the aging chain, founded in 1935, had to compete with the likes of Applebee's, Chili's, and Ruby Tuesday's. My sources tell me the quality of late has also gone downhill. (And by sources, I am referring to individuals who have actually eaten at a Friendly's over the last few years.) The fare has been described to me as greasy and otherwise lacking.
That said, a respectful obituary is still in order (isn't that what they said about Al Davis?). If you grew up in the suburbs of the Northeast, there's a good chance you went to Friendly's Ice Cream—after a basketball game, graduation, the talent show. I started going to Friendly's when I was four. My mother would take me there once a week after picking me up at nursery school. It was there, sitting at the counter, that I first tried cole slaw. And I always drank a Junior Strawberry Fribble milkshake, which came with a bend-straw. I remember sitting in the backseat of my mother's Toyota Corona stationwagon trying to salvage a melting pistachio ice cream in a wafer cone. Over the years, I went on to sample other fare such as the Jim Dandy sundae with whipped marshmallow, the Fishamajig (I was fearless back then), and even the Signature Clamboat, which turns out to have 1,720 calories (but probably a good dose of iodine, assuming there were actual clams in it).
If I drove by a Friendly's now, I probably wouldn't pull in. I'd like my lasting memory of the place to be sitting at the counter with my mother and eating cole slaw. Everything seemed so much brighter back then. Except it wasn't: Jimmy Carter was president and the economy was in the tank. So maybe I'll make that a Fribble to go.