‘It Was Great Seeing People Happy’: A Look Back at Brock’s

In the 1970’s and ’80s, New Canaan could boast but a fraction of the number of restaurants that now dot the town. And while New Canaan had decades to go before finding its niche in the culinary landscape, there was one establishment where entire families would invariably go for special events, post-game or post-concert meals.

That place was Brock’s.

Brock's entrance on Cherry Street Credit: Contributed

Brock’s entrance on Cherry Street Credit: Contributed

Brock’s was the brainchild of longtime New Canaan resident T. Brock Saxe, founder of Tombrock Corporation, a real estate investment and management company operating out of offices housed above the former New Canaan Brock’s location at 111 Cherry Street. Prior to becoming Tombrock in 1970, Saxe’s company was called White Tower Management, which since its incorporation in 1926 operated hundreds of White Tower restaurants throughout the country.

In 1970, Saxe’s father Thomas E. Saxe created and opened the Brock’s franchise, Irish-themed family restaurants which featured what many called the biggest and the best salad bar around. The restaurant was so- named as it was the maiden name of Thomas E. Saxe’s grandmother and T. Brock Saxe’s great-grandmother.

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Note: For the first two weeks of August, we are re-running one popular feature story from the NewCanaanite.com archives that you may have missed. 

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The first Brock’s location was on High Ridge Road in Stamford with other branches to follow in Norwalk and West Hartford. The New Canaan outpost came about after Saxe acquired a commercial property at the bottom of Burtis Avenue, before Cherry Street was extended eastward past Main Street.

A Brock's coffee cup. Credit: Terry Dinan

A Brock’s coffee cup. Credit: Terry Dinan

Once the location of the Pease Company and the Fairty Machine shop, Saxe’s purchase of what eventually became Brock’s turned out to be a shrewd business move once the “Circle Route” was completed and Cherry Street brought additional vehicular traffic—and added value—to the site, which Saxe had earmarked for a restaurant with a slightly different concept from that of Brock’s.

“We originally started with a family restaurant,” Saxe said. “We had Brock’s over in Norwalk and in Stamford. And so we wanted to make this different, so we had a name-this-restaurant contest, and we came up with the restaurant name of ‘Calliope.’ That was an organ that drove the merry-go-rounds.”

The name didn’t stick and eventually Calliope morphed into the tried-and-true concept of Brock’s. Steak, lobster and Irish stew were some highlights of the menu. Harp, Guinness and Irish whiskey flowed at the bar, which was the place to be on St. Patrick’s Day. Then there was the bottomless salad bar, a concept borrowed from nearby Chuck’s Steakhouse in Darien, but marketed to the hilt by Brock’s. There was a special kids menu as well—one of only a few places at that time to offer one—replete with crayons and a coloring book, and not to be taken for granted in the days before iPhones were invented.

Doors of Dublin poster, created by New Canaan resident Bob Fearon. Credit: contributed

Doors of Dublin poster, created by New Canaan resident Bob Fearon. Credit: contributed

In addition to the instantly recognizable shamrock logo, Brock’s featured a well-known poster in each of their locations called “The Doors of Dublin”. The poster was created by New Canaan resident Bob Fearon, who had worked for the Irish Tourist Board. Fearon had created a huge portrait out of 36 photos he had taken of different Georgian doorways in Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Square. Saxe and his father happened upon the portrait at a downtown art show that New Canaan once hosted back in the 70’s.

“My father said, ‘Boy isn’t that great? You’re having an Irish-themed restaurant. Why don’t you use this?’,” Saxe recalled. “That became in every one of our restaurants a very prominent artifact as you walked in.”

Brock's Glass. Credit: Contributed

Brock’s Glass. Credit: Contributed

With a vibrant atmosphere, the famous salad bar and a reasonably priced and versatile cuisine that appealed to all ages and tastes, Brock’s continued to thrive in New Canaan well into the late-1980’s. Saxe ultimately decided to exit the restaurant industry altogether and transform Tombrock into its current incarnation. The space where families once shared great meals and memories is now occupied by Swirl and Divaz Hair Salon. The first Brock’s location in Stamford was also the last, closing in the mid-2000’s. And although he has no regrets about leaving the culinary scene as Tombrock has flourished in the real estate business, Saxe said he does look back on his time operating Brock with some measure of fondness.

“It was a fun place to bring the family,” Saxe said. “It was great seeing people happy. That’s one the things about the restaurant business…it’s a happy business if you’re running it correctly.”

3 thoughts on “‘It Was Great Seeing People Happy’: A Look Back at Brock’s

  1. i met my husband at White Tower on top of Noroton Hill in Stamford in the early morning. in 1959. wow, so long ago

  2. I worked at Brock’s on High Ridge Rd. in Stamford from January ’72 until August of ’73. I started as a cashier and ended up doing every job but serving tables and tending bar. I was too young to handle liquor except when it was still in sealed containers. Bus boy was the best job. I walked out every night I worked with 15% of what the waiters took in. Having cash in my pocket was great. I washed dishes, prep cooked, assistant cooked, unloaded stock, and anything else to earn from $1.85/hr. to $3.50/hr.
    One of the best benefits was getting a Brock’s steak for a meal every day I worked. If I didn’t eat it there, I could take it home, cooked or raw, along with all the trimmings; baked potato, a bag of salted, a bottle of Brock’s Special dressing, some bread and sometimes an apple dumpling. There were those special times when we would overcook lobster or defrost too much King crab and rather than go to waste, we would split it up and take it home. The same with the baked potatoes, sometimes I’d take home 4 or 5 and we’d have home fries for dates. I saw some bad things happen but they are better left unsaid.
    For the most part, the people were great. The first managers I worked under were Jim Kohler and Dave Beck. They were the best. They went through several others during my tenure: Patrick Dubeauport and Jim Molgano were two I remember but Jim Kohler and Dave Beck were the best. I remember a soccer game they organized against Brock’s on Rte. 7 in Norwalk. It was mostly the kitchen staff. Guys from Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rico and Hispanic countries and me, the little Scotsman than no one knew could play the game. Stamford won, if I recall correctly.
    Bonny, Nicky and Bernie showed me around the kitchen and cook station. I kept Mark and Star stocked with ice in the bar. Joe, Gary, a few other youngsters and I kept the tables cleared and set and Geno, Don, Ted, Bobby and a few others kept the customers properly served with $3.95 10oz. Hand cut sirloin and .40 baked potatoes. Imagine $1.25 cocktails and #1.35 top shelf. Those days are long gone. If we all got together, we could write quite the book from all of the stories. Maybe someday before we all pass, we could have a reunion. It was certainly a fun time in my teenage years.

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