Student Prince (Springfield) is closing this weekend [moved from Boston board]
I know that this is off-topic for the Boston board, but also know that there are other Boston-area fans of this Springfield institution who will share my dismay. While perusing the Southern New England board to see if there was any mention of the Lucky Dog in Provincetown (see teflontom's post) I stumbled across a post saying that the Fort/the Student Prince is closing this coming weekend. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/980093
Sure enough, it's true.
I know that this is another local institution that was arguably a bit past its prime, but I loved the place in all its fusty glory, and I know that Jenny Ondioline will be sorry never to have a salad with their hand-mixed roquefort dressing again.
Very sad - I had only been once, but thought the sauerbraten was very good. Yet another link to the past gone.
Where will we eat during Springfield Symphony rehearsal breaks? Where will we drink after the rehearsals are done?
I'm shocked! I haven't been there in many years but having grown up in Northwestern CT I remember driving to Springfield many times to have dinner at the Student Prince. It was a great place to take a date back in those times. I also love German food and as everyone in the Boston area knows it is almost impossible to find. Very sad news. I hope someone might take it over and reopen it again.
THE FORT AND THE STUDENT PRINCE; A NEW YORKER’S RETROSPECTIVE
In the very early part of the 20th century a young inventor named Edward G. Schaeffer was relocating his newly formed 3 companies known as; The Paragon Rubber Corporation, The Spring Action Corporation and the Rhoades Rubber Corporation to 150 Pleasant Street in East Hampton.
Mr. Schaeffer was my grandfather. My name is Gary B. Schaeffer and this is the story of the 4 generations that ate and drank at the Fort in Springfield Massachusetts.
Eddie Schaeffer had just invented the first rubber doll. His company which had been located in Brooklyn New York had been the site of such incredible inventions like the Sweet Sue first fully articulated rubber dolly with another iconic creation known as Rock a Bye eyes which closed when the doll was laid down. Tiny Tears was a second ground breaking toy as was dozens of others that came from the mind of my grandfather using patented illustrations and concepts still available for observation on Google Patents.
Mr. Schaeffer had just been alerted to the fact that the utilities such as water, gas, electric and phone were becoming deregulated and would begin charging what he thought were prices too rich for his blood. Compared to today a bargain basement deal; however this man decided rather than to pay the electric bills that he factory would endure he would move the entire operation up to East Hampton next to the Stanhome factory on Pleasant street inside the factory building that the National Felt company occupied one single floor of in the 3 floor factory. My grandfather built a small hydro electric plant on the nearby shore of the river that his factory abutted and generated his own electricity selling the surplus that was created back to the town of Easthampton. Pure genius.
Living up in Dobb’s Ferry on North Hampton Street; this once huge family estate at the foot of Mt. Tom is now the Jericho School for the learning disabled. My grandfather bequeathed the estate upon his demise and you can still see the huge letter S on the wrought iron balcony rails of the main house.
The factory was now designed to manufacture rubber pharmaceutical and electrical equipment such as laboratory stoppers, cane tip bottoms, furniture leg non slip guards for chairs and dressers as well as car parts such as the rubber L shaped connector which would bring the wire to the spark plug on the carburetor and secure the connection.
There was never a week that passed that my grandfather did not take his two children Robert L Schaeffer and Bebe Schaeffer to a grand dinner at the Fort.
Edward Schaeffer lost his wife Irene in child birth with my father Robert. My dad was a twin at birth however the other child was still born and in the end both children’s birth and strain of complications would take their mothers life.
At this time Rupprecht Scheriff was the proprietor and a good friend of Eddie Schaeffer and his children. I would venture to guess that such a titan of industry such as my grandfather was quite well known and recognized to be a consummate professional as well as a magnanimous and charitable soul employing hundreds of people in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.
In years to come Eddie Schaeffer would see his son Robert go off to fight in WWII and return a decorated officer. He would lose his daughter Bebe to a severe life long chronic depression that eventually was the cause of her demise and he would see Robert Schaeffer his son take a wife in 1947 from Brooklyn New York named Arline all while becoming the president of the Paragon Rubber Corporation.
If you have not figured it out yet Robert and Arline Schaeffer are my parents.
The legacy of the Fort Dining Room continued throughout all 3 pregnancies of my mothers. Each day for lunch my mother would eat at the fort. As you walk in the restaurant and make an immediate left to go up the stairs into the Fort Dining Room; the booth on your immediate right while you face the stairs where you lean until your table is ready is known in my family as “The Pregnant Booth”. Each day my mom would sit there for lunch. She would have a beer or a famous Fort drink of yesteryear known as a Sherry Flip and enjoy a cigarette. I often wonder about how I turned out to be 6’3” and 240 LBS. since my mother’s conduct was so unhealthy as today’s standards dictate.
Rupprecht would always make sure that my mom was well taken care of. Some occasions would see my dad join her along with his best friend Hillard Aronson from the Mass Mutual Insurance Company just across the square from the Fort.
I was born in 1960 and my mom and dad moved my sister, brother and I to 119 Primrose Drive in Longmeadow. Our home was in-between Milton Bradley the toy inventor himself and the Schwartz family to our left. We shopped at Steigers, had lunch at Friendly’s or Schwabs Pharmacy and every week once or twice had a dinner at the fort.
While I did love the Log Cabin Restaurant up on the mountain in East Hampton and hated the Yankee Peddler; when knowing it was Fort night I jumped for joy.
Rupprecht loved me. He took care of me from before I was even verbal. It takes a strong taste pallet at first to handle the infamous, iconic and over the top Roquefort salad dressing over what was at that time the Kentucky Limestone Lettuce so as a young child Rupprecht would bring out in a vintage small wooden bowl a spoonful of ketchup and a spoonful of mayonnaise and mix the two in front of me. It was the most special I had ever felt. It was poured over my lettuce like velvet and I was in heaven. Service that would never compare to any restaurant I would frequent. Rupprecht would bring out a small silver kidney shaped stainless steel bowl filled with tiny marinated mushrooms with a dozen of the original multi colored plastic toothpicks that the Fort was known to have in a tiny dispenser where the coats were hung. Along with their world famous and long gone Mushrooms Mornay, there were no better appetizers in the world.
My main course consisted of the same thing for years. Today, an insurance nightmare, a fondue pot filled with the hottest boiling oil came to the table with the sterno canister below ensuring the million degree oil maintained its heat. I have Goosebumps right now imagining the damage this oil would have done should I have made one wrong move. The idea was to take the cubed raw meat which was presented with long fondue forks and dip the meat in the oil cooking it until medium rare (good luck getting that right) and having the excitement of choosing which homemade sauce to dip the meat in. There was Béarnaise, Bordelaise, Mushroom and Horseradish sauce for you to choose from. The giant Swiss Potato hash brown pancake with the melted Gruyere was a staple side dish on the table along with the pickled red cabbage.
In 1963 my grandfather Eddie was told that his son Robert would not live due to kidney failure. There is no more unnatural news in the world than to hear that you will out live a child. Eddie bore that burden that his son would die. Soon after hearing this news a terrible car crash and ensuing complications took Eddie’s life. In fact it was my dad who ended up burying his father 13 months before my father was laid to rest. My two siblings and I were now without the giants that stood by us protected and loved us. A series of events that no one can ever get over no matter how long they live.
My mother assumed half control of the family business along with her brother in law Emanuel Gross whom she recruited and relocated to Springfield from Valley Stream New York. My mother maintained the Primrose Drive home until 1966 when the strain of being a single parent necessitated her moving the family back to Brooklyn for us to live with her mom Elsie. She kept the Longmeadow home until the early 70’s however it was too much to keep up. A bad winter had cracked a water pipe and our basement flooded. The call came in to her in Brooklyn that the Fire Department had to break into the house and pump out the basement. This was the straw that broke my moms back and the house was sold to the Rinaldi’s who own the delicatessen and Pizza restaurant just off 91 in Longmeadow. The giant letter R on the chimney in visible from whatever angle you approach the house. I always had a fantasy that one day I would buy that house back. The home that I was born in and lived with my father; the happiest days of my life, however the R on the chimney killed that idea. No offense.
I am married now a second time. I have 2 twenty one year old twin daughters Samantha and Leah and a 4 year old daughter Sophia.
I met my wife Michelle on a blind date here in New York City. 5 minutes into the date sitting at our table I asked Michelle where she was originally from. She replied;
“A small town in Massachusetts you have never heard of it” I replied
“really… what is it called”
“Longmeadow” was her response.
Ok that is pretty weird.
I picked Michelle up in a rented car the next day at noon and we drove to the Fort for dinner.
Although 10 years younger than me; her family home was a stones throw away from Primrose Drive and she and her family used to eat at the Fort all the time.
My family has a cemetery plot in South Hadley. It is where I will be one day when I join the family that I love and miss so much. I try to visit the graves at least once a year.
It is a wonderful ritual. We all go together up to the Sheraton on Friday Afternoon. We unpack and run to the Fort where we see my good friend Rudi who is holding my dads most favorite table for us. It is the table that he sat at the final time he ate at the Fort before his illness kept him from going out. It is a giant round table with a Lazy Susan on it dead center and is where way back when my siblings and I would spin it as we savored our appetizers that Rupprecht prepared for us. Rudi is the son of Rupprecht and he and I are almost exact in age, twins and all. I guess that we knew of or saw each other for more that 4 decades and it is now that a quick email to tell Rudi the Schaeffer’s are coming for dinner is all that I need do and the round table is waiting for us.
Saturday is spent visiting Michelle’s best friend who still lives in Longmeadow and her whole family. Saturday lunch is at Nick’s Nest in Holyoke for another 4 generation event with the best hot dogs in the world and dinner is right back at the round table with Rudi and the amazing staff of the Fort that has been there for ever taking care of the Schaeffer’s.
You see; I have been taking the twins there ever since they could walk. Leah was getting the vinaigrette dressing while Samantha and I were feasting on the Roquefort until that one day when Leah screamed at the table “ok let me taste it” she never looked back. The twins were eating the Ostrich, Gravlax, Schnitzel, Swiss Potato Pancake and Bratwurst their entire lives and have almost the same love that I do of that room with the steins and stained glass of the pioneer and clock tower. My youngest daughter Sophia was only starting to get the hang of the restaurant; loving every visit when thy sky grew dark this morning.
I woke up today to a text from Michelle’s childhood friend today who informed me of the overnight bombshell that the Fort and Student Prince was closing.
I was overcome with dread. I became inconsolable. I suffered a blow that was unthinkable. I lost my breath. No. This cannot be. I emailed Rudi. I went on line. I read through tears that my home, my one last connection to a life so long ago was ending. I could not breathe. I needed to write this story. I am driving tomorrow from New York City at 10:00 am up to the Fort to have lunch. I emailed Rudi and asked him to find a huge container for me as I need to bring home Roquefort salad dressing. I informed him that I will also be taking out a huge order to bring back with me.
I will not be able to make the closing night this Saturday or the open house farewell on Sunday as I will be visiting my daughter Samantha at college this weekend.
I would not be able to say goodbye from so far away. It would not be natural. I am going to see the restaurant one last time before who knows which way it will go. It is closure; it is a 4 generation nod of the head. It is a thank you for being there as a safe place when there was no other in the world. It is where my dad was, it is where I belonged. It is where the Schaeffer’s frequented in another time and place. I asked Rudi to be there so that I can shake his hand in person for being a friend to me and my family for so long. It is my chance to smile at the portrait of Rupprecht on the dining room wall and remember the Mushrooms Mornay and my ketchup and mayo dressing and say thanks if not aloud then in my mind. It is the right thing to do and I feel as though I should do it by myself.
Living in New York City; working for 25 years on Wall Street; yes I ate at great meals and had world class food. Nothing can ever compare to the Student Prince Café and Fort Dining Room. Nothing ever will. I am semi retired now carrying on the Schaeffer love of toys, manufacturing action figures known as the Outer Space Men. It is a genetic thing I guess that was passed to me from Eddie Schaeffer however not a day goes by when the most important genetic thing I got as a Schaeffer was the love of the Fort.
God Speed Rudi and thank you.
Gary B. Schaeffer
As someone who visited the Fort over the last 30 years, it is sad to see it go, the game dinners, the fresh oysters, the martinis served in their own iced decanters.
Towards the end, it was not the same; the quality of the food was up to snuff, but the service was in decline.
"It's the stuff that memories are made of"