Shady Glen, officially Shady Glen Dairy Stores, is a restaurant with two locations in Manchester, Connecticut. John and Bernice Rieg opened the first Shady Glen store near the Manchester/Bolton town line in 1948 and a second store in the Manchester Parkade shopping center in 1965. It is now owned by William and Annette Hoch.
Shady Glen is a Manchester institution, locally famous for its homemade ice cream, signature "Bernice Original" cheeseburger, vintage 1950s style diner and service. In 2012, it was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as an American Classic.
History of Shady Glen Dairy Farm and Store
In 1946 John and Bernice Rieg decided to expand their farm into making and selling ice cream. The University of Connecticut at the time had a strong program for helping farmers to diversify, and the Riegs worked with Leonard R. Dowd, Professor of Dairy Manufacturing in UConn’s Department of Animal Industries, on their first formulas for ice cream.
The First Shady Glen Dairy Store
On a hill, 1/4 mile from the Rieg farm, a two-and-a-half room summer cottage lay on ten acres of land. It was, at the time, located in an isolated area. Although the cottage had an electric light pole in front of it, there was no electricity or inside plumbing. Nevertheless, John and Bernice worked out an arrangement with the owners, whereby, with very little money down and small monthly payments, they were able to buy the cottage and land in 1938.
Shady Glen Dairy Farm opened on June 12, 1948. Almost immediately, its 47 stools filled. Bernice ran the store and John managed the manufacturing. They brought the same concern for quality from their milk business to the new dairy store. Asked how long it took to convince him that the enterprise would succeed, John said “It was immediate. I couldn’t believe it.”
In spite of the ever-increasing demand from the new business, the Riegs continued to operate both farm and dairy store. John managed the farm and the production of ice cream, and Bernice, who had been John’s “right hand” doing the bookkeeping, milk deliveries and dairy work, now concentrated on running the dairy store. Seeking relief, the Riegs hired help to care for the farm. But it soon became evident that the Shady Glen farm was not big enough to meet the store’s growing demand. In 1952, they sold the cows and the milk business, leaving John and Bernice to purchase raw milk from local farmers and concentrate solely on the Shady Glen Dairy Store.
While 1947 and 1948 had demonstrated Shady Glen’s early strength, subsequent years meant more effort to ensure its staying power, and this called for creativity and flexibility. Great effort was put into ice cream manufacturing, not only to keep up with the demand for the many flavors stocked, but also to experiment with new flavors. John and Bernice became so adept at this that by the end of 1950 they produced a tasty cranberry sherbet. The National Cranberry Association pronounced it one of the best they had ever tasted and requested the formula.
Working with ice cream had its amusing aspects, too. Besides artistic demand for appealing color and flavor, each new ice cream formula was a mathematical exercise, calling for exact proportions of all ingredients. Bernice recalled one occasion when they were experimenting with a rum-flavored ice cream and she inadvertently added too much liquor to the mix. “It was strong enough to walk by itself,” Bernice chuckled. John thought it should be tossed out, but Bernice suggested that they wait a while, perhaps they could salvage it. Later, selecting only customers she knew, Bernice asked in a whisper if they would like to try a new flavor. She would add, “It is more expensive than the other flavors because it has a lot of rum in it, it’s very strong!” The entire batch of rum ice cream was sold, and for weeks after, customers continued to take Bernice aside and whisper, “Do you have any more of that delicious rum ice cream?” The word had spread; not only had the ice cream sold at a profit, but public reaction to it had helped generate more business.
Ice cream sold well during the summer months, but to some extent ice cream is seasonal, and as fall brought cooler weather, emphasis was placed on a good sandwich menu. After much experimenting, Bernice invented the “Bernice Original” cheeseburger in 1949.
An early newspaper ad reads:
- “For a Sunday snack,
- try one of our delicious
- cheeseburgers, made
- of pure ground beef,
- surrounded by a crown
- of crisp cheese, and
- served on a toasted roll.”
This eye-appealing, mouth-watering sandwich became an immediate success and continues to be a Shady Glen favorite, accounting for as much as 80% of sandwich sales.
Just as John managed to meet the increasing production demand, Bernice was challenged to perfect the retail-sale skills of Shady Glen’s growing number of employees. After all, working out schedules and routines was one thing – upholding standards of service was another. Determined to maintain an effective and efficient system – because the success of the business depended on it – Bernice hired the best applicants available and worked with them persistently until service had achieved a degree of perfection.
Expansions and renovations
By 1954, Shady Glen Dairy Store had outgrown its manufacturing facilities and its retail space. The Riegs undertook renovations which would double the store’s overall size. Such construction as could be accomplished without closing took place through the fall of 1954. After a two-week closing in December, Shady Glen was re-opened on December 17, 1954. A 25 × 30-foot (9.1 m) addition was finished on two floor levels, adding production and storage space on the lower floor and enlarging and rearranging the main (retail) floor. For the first time booths were installed, counters were enlarged, and a special area was set up to accommodate the sale of bulk ice cream. A mural for the west wall was commissioned from New York City artist Dick Burns. Entitled “Shady Glen Paradise,” it depicted several children enjoying Shady Glen ice cream near a delightful strawberry tree, with a barn and dairy herd in the back, reminiscent of Shady Glen’s origins.
In 1965, John and Bernice opened a branch store in the Manchester Shopping Parkade. With a grand opening on September 13, the new store moved the basic Shady Glen idea into a more heavily populated area, and for the first time breakfast was served. The new store occupied 3,000 square feet (280 m2) and had seating capacity for 70 persons with a mix of booths and counter stools. It was air-conditioned, and featured a hand-painted mural by Nora Addy Drake of Coventry, Connecticut, featuring elves and children eating ice cream while playing.
Finally, at the original Shady Glen a second major renovation was undertaken just before its 30th anniversary, culminating in a re-opening on January 21, 1978. This time, the interior was redesigned, the seating area expanded, and the grill section was enlarged. A new mural appeared, this one a child’s fantasy of ice cream and cheeseburgers, hand-painted in acrylic.
All restaurants are places for people to congregate and eat; they are “people places” and Shady Glen is no exception. A few persons of some fame have come for lunch. The first on record is one of Hollywood’s “tough guys”, Jimmy Cagney, who stopped by in June 1949 with his children, Kathleen and James, ages nine and seven at the time. Interestingly, when asked for his autograph, he gave it on the condition that young Kathleen and James also sign. Another of Shady Glen’s famous patrons was actor Paul Newman. Shady Glen has become a favorite eating place for many TV and radio personalities in the area.
A host of Connecticut governors are also known to have visited. John Davis Lodge, governor from 1951 to 1955, stopped in to fortify himself before moving on to the University of Connecticut, where he was to award 1,396 degrees and certificates. Abraham Ribicoff, governor from 1955 to 1961, thoughtfully wrote the Riegs on Capitol stationary after his 1958 visit: “I was very much impressed with the quality of your product and the cleanliness.” Other governors who have enjoyed Shady Glen’s specialties include John N. Dempsey, who served 1961-1971 and William O’Neill, who served 1980–1991.
People have even dropped out of the sky to partake of Shady Glen’s superlative fare. One day, unannounced, a helicopter landed in Shady Glen’s back yard. Out walked the pilot and a construction company executive, who said good-naturedly: “Ordinarily, we ask permission of property owners before we land. But in this case, we’re hungry and we didn’t think you’d mind.”
Awards and recognition
Shady Glen has been cited in numerous publications. It was proclaimed “Reader’s Choice” by Connecticut Magazine for “the best burger in Hartford County,” and earned the title for several consecutive years until the magazine discontinued the category in 1992. Shady Glen was also chosen by Hartford Courant readers as having the best ice cream in the country, and has received many fine reviews from the Courant's food critics. In an article dated March 24, 1994, restaurant critic Nancy A. Pappas wrote:
- “When our landlords-to-be wanted to show us
- something special and quintessentially Manchester,
- they took us to Shady Glen ... There’s nothing
- quite like a Shady Glen cheeseburger, with the
- American Cheese soft and gooey as it caresses the
- meat, and then crackly crisp as it takes off at
- the edges.”
Although Shady Glen has a menu of sandwiches and hot meals and homemade ice cream, it is its cheeseburger that has made it somewhat famous in the annals of roadside dining. Their signature burger, named the "Bernice Original", is created by laying on four slices of cheese so they are partly on the burger and partly directly on the grill, giving it a crispy outside. The "Bernice Original" drew the attention of the Food Network's show The Best Thing I Ever Ate and was featured on their "Cheesy" episode, Season 2, Episode 3.
A family business
Indeed Shady Glen has been referred to as “a Manchester institution”. Inevitably, institutions absorb much of the personality and character of their founders. With John and Bernice Rieg, business is business with a personal touch. Waiters and waitresses who found employment with Shady Glen usually profited in personal ways from the discipline and careful standards maintained. When her daughter, a former Shady Glen waitress, was elected a candidate for a college honor, a reflective mother wrote to the Riegs: “She received a good start at Shady Glen.” For some employees, the “good start” becomes a long-term career. Some have stayed with Shady Glen for 20 or 30 years, recommending the work to their children and grandchildren.
It was the example set by John and Bernice – their sincere concern for customer and employee alike – which induced William J. Hoch’s father to request work for his son in 1954. William paid his way through high school and college while working part-time at Shady Glen. After more than 40 years of hands-on training and steady promotions, he became Executive Manager in complete charge of operations.
John C. Rieg died on August 1, 2003 at the age of 89 and Bernice A. Rieg died on August 30, 2007 at the age of 91. Ownership passed on to Executive Manager William J. Hoch after Bernice's death.
A change in cheese
In early summer 2010, "the best burger in Hartford County" was accidentally changed due to what the owners of Shady Glen say is their cheese distributor's recipe having changed. Significant controversy over the change led to press coverage. Subsequently, the owners announced they had managed to acquire cheese in the proper formulation from a different distributor.
- Winners 2012 James Beard Foundation
- "A Shady Glen Story" - Booklet printed to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Shady Glen Dairy Farm and Store
- "Shady Glen". Hartford Courant. 2006-08-17. Retrieved 2007-04-11.
- http://www.roadfood.com/Reviews/Overview.aspx?RefID=14 roadfood.com
- http://articles.courant.com/2007-08-30/news/0708290923_1_general-society-descendants-of-colonial-governors-manchester-high-school/2 Obituary of Bernice A. Rieg