Article Contributed by
Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist
In 1947, Joseph A. Conti and Joseph Gullo entered into a business partnership that led to the opening of the Parkside, a restaurant known as the Parkside Lunch, that found a home in the Gifford Building, an iconic structure erected in 1890, that formed the base of the “triangle” of old Brooklyn Square. The Parkside occupied two locations in that signature building on the Square, the first being designated as 3 Brooklyn Square on the north face of the Gifford Building. It was next door to a cleaning/pressing shop owned by Johnny Van, “the mayor of Brooklyn Square,” who had a picture gallery of photos displayed on the walls of his establishment of his customers (taken with a Polaroid) and also local service men and women who had served in the armed forces in WW II. The Parkside “faced the triangle,” a popular way of referring to the traffic island, right in front of the major entrance to the Gifford Building, that separated the eastern and western corridors of South and North Main Streets. Many Jamestonians remember this island planted with flowers, often bright red cannas in the summer months, and the spot where the city’s official Christmas tree stood year after year during the holiday season.
In 1950, the grand opening of the newly redecorated and remodeled Parkside Cocktail Bar and Lounge took place over two weekends from March 30-April 1 and April 6-April 8. It was open from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. and offered customers all legal beverages, lunches, sandwiches of all kinds, and dinners that included steaks, chops, spaghetti, roast pork and roast beef, Italian sausage, fish, meatloaf, and a special of Chicken on Biscuits every Thursday for 75 cents and a special of baked ham every Saturday for the same amount! The new restaurant’s motto was “With Service As You Like It,” and a short press release in the Jamestown Post Journal announced its opening: “The firm of Conti and Gullo has opened the Parkside Cocktail Bar in the Gifford Building, Brooklyn Square. The three-day grand opening started Thursday night and ends tonight, but the proprietors were quick to point out last night that ‘every day is grand opening day with us.’ The establishment is furnished with the most modern equipment the owners said and offers facilities ‘consistent with the best in cocktail bars.’”
According to Patricia Conti Smith, Joe Conti’s daughter, her father was the chief cook and her mother, Angeline Papa Conti, worked alongside her husband as a cook and waitress. Joe Conti had regular customers from the neighboring plants that were located in the eastern industrial area of Brooklyn Square—Crescent Tool Company, Maddox Table, Jamestown Iron Works, and Jamestown Lounge–to name a few among the many companies and corporations that once made Jamestown a thriving industrial city. Joe’s customers always sat at the same tables, and their meals would already be on the table when they came in. This was truly customer service and customer satisfaction!
In 1954, Joe Gullo moved the Parkside to its second location in the Gifford Building and took the liquor license with him. The new Park Side Restaurant was located on the east face of the Gifford Building at 38 S. Main Street, the former location of the Abbott Paper Corp. It was across Gifford Alley from Wahlgren’s Seed Store and the Old Haymarket Café. The photo of the Park Side Restaurant shows Schuver’s Esso station and St. James School at the extreme left. In the extreme right is a poster placed on the front of what appears to be a vacant store front advertising the World Premier of the Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz movie “Forever Darling” that took place at Dipson’s Palace Theater on East Third Street in February of 1956–with the stars of the movie arriving in Jamestown to great acclaim!
Joe Conti, however, stayed put at the 3 Brooklyn Square address and renamed his establishment Joe’s Lunch. Gullo and Conti were still partners, but each ran a separate, fully functional operation until 1956 when the Park Side no longer was listed in the Jamestown City Directories. Joe Gullo left the restaurant business; however, that year, Joe Conti was listed as the sole owner of Joe’s Lunch, and he remained at the 3 Brooklyn Square location until 1961. Later on, around 1957-58, Joe Gullo, Conti’s former partner, purchased Torchey’s News Room from Frank Condella at 41 S. Main Street in the Broadhead Building, almost directly across from the 38 S. Main Street Park Side Restaurant location.
John Conti, Joe and Angeline’s oldest son, remembers being in and around both the Park Side on S. Main and his father’s new establishment, Joe’s Lunch. In fact, John was often called upon, as he put it, “for restaurant duties [at Joe’s Lunch] at the tender age of 12. I was a stock boy, waiter, dishwasher, and assistant cook. A few years later at 14 or 15, Dad would send me down to the restaurant on a Sunday morning to open up, and I would take the breakfast orders, go back into the kitchen, cook them, and serve them. All good experiences for helping me form a work ethic.”
Joe Conti had a kind and generous side to him attested to by his daughter Patricia: “Sometimes the priests from St. James parish would send hungry souls to his restaurant, and he would feed them free of charge. We always said he ran the Soup Kitchen before there was a soup kitchen! He also let patrons charge their food, and when he died in 1963, hundreds of dollars were owed.”
In 1961, Joe Conti moved his restaurant to 4-6 North Main Street, a commercial space once occupied by Al Bottini. Mr. Bottini had a soda fountain in his store, but he also sold fruits, candy, and roasted peanuts in the shell that were loaded into a large glass bin that filled a space in the front window. The peanuts seemed to be his signature commodity, and many Jamestonians will undoubtedly recall this feature of his store. This Brooklyn Square location for Joe’s Lunch was on the eastern corridor of North Main, and to place it in today’s new Brooklyn Square area, it was approximately across from and slightly north of where Friendly’s Restaurant now stands. Patricia recalls that from the back door of that restaurant one could see the Chadakoin River. And, indeed, the river ran through Brooklyn Square and under some buildings, a fact that many older Jamestonians know and that the younger generations discovered when bulldozers brought down those buildings during the urban renewal project of late 1960s and early 1970s.
John Conti recalls that the move in 1961 to the former Bottini location probably “came about as the result of urban renewal and the proposed demolition of the Gifford Building. Incidentally, the Gifford Building was owned by my Uncle Jimmy Conti and probably was the reason the original Parkside was located there. Uncle Jimmy had a furniture store in the first floor of the Gifford Building, which had an entrance on South Main Street. Joe Gullo was Uncle Jimmy’s brother-in-law, and my Dad, of course, was his brother—so therein lies the connection.” Joe Conti ran his eatery at the 4-6 North Main Street location until his death in 1963.
Patricia Conti Smith fondly recalls her association with her father’s business and old Brooklyn Square: “Even though we lived on Maple Street, I always considered myself a child of the Square because I spent a lot of time there, going in and out of the various establishments. Sometimes I would go get money from my Dad to go to Johnny’s for a Texas hot! The seed store [Wahlgren’s] would often have puppies in the window, and if I went to my Dad’s for lunch, I’d always stop to see the puppies. All of my memories of that era and Brooklyn Square are positive.” What better testament to one of the Square’s business owners and entrepreneurs, Joe Conti, than by his daughter Patricia, who undoubtedly shares some of the same sentiments with those of us who remember this fascinating hub of commerce called Brooklyn Square from its inception in the 1860s to its demise in the 1960s.
My thanks for most of the information and the ad in this article go to Patricia Conti Smith and her brother John Conti. Thanks also to Dave Marsh, Fenton Center research staff. Photos are courtesy of The Post-Journal (1985) and Bob Johnston.