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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Forget the Golden Arches, I'm headed for the Pearly Gates!

(Updated  - December 1st, 2014 - Several of the facts gathered for this post were compiled with the help of 2 accomplished researchers: Barry Popik, and his article here , and Bob Belletzkie of Prospect, CT who specializes in state railroad and local history research.)

No, I'm not going to meet my maker, in fact, because it has been 11 years since last entering the Golden Arches, I expect to be around for a long time. If it is Heaven I am going to, I hope it's Hamburg Heaven. 
I found about 80 matchbooks at a sale and bought them because of examples like this one. After a little searching on the web, I found a backstory worth telling. 

Matchbook Hamburg Heaven
No Ham in these burgers!
Mrs. Phyllis Sarah Moffett, a Wilton, Connecticut housewife in 1938 decided she would open up a hamburger restaurant. I learned from my sources that she opened up the restaurant after divorcing her husband, noted Neurologist and Psychiatrist Saul Heller. Was it a divorce settlement that funded the new business? We don't know, but I figure that her backyard barbecue skills were her inspiration for the main menu item. The early menu was limited to burgers, salad and "specials."
Catering to those who are aware (of what?)
She created a popular eatery in a very busy section of New York that catered to the Jazz clubs and made burgers through the night into the breakfast hour. Through the help of my friend Bob I learned Hamburg Heaven would cater events with their well liked burgers. As you can see by the cover above, the business expanded into other locations around the city, even as far as the terminal at LaGuardia Airport. 

Located across the street from Saint Patrick's cathedral, it is easy to see how the name was chosen and protected. There is a news clipping in the 1950's where a suit was filed against another joint for using "heavenly" in their name. Through its history it was known to have lines around the corner-type success, and stars like Sammy Davis Jr., Henry Fonda and even the Gabor sisters were known to call this one of their favorite places to eat. True? Why would Sammy lie? 

I know that Mrs. Moffett died in 1964 and the restaurant didn't last long after that. Her son Richard, who went on to a successful career in law and journalism, died in 2006. The business was transferred to another burger joint who left the restaurant layout pretty much the same until 2012 when it closed for good. You can watch a short documentary about the restaurant's successor "Prime Burger" below. Nicely shot but it shows how time absorbed most of the character from this place. 

All this content from one little matchbook! ...and I have 70 more to go through.

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