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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Absolutely….the one in new Canaan…rocked with a town vibe. I would go to the one in Stamford for dinner after football games…
We miss Brocks! It’s been hard to find a family owned, family friendly restaurant these days.
One place that does come close is North Star in Scotts Corners/Pound Ridge and of course, good ‘ole Cherry St. East.
Desperately seeking Brock’s shamrock glasses. I have one from The Norwalk location. (Acquired) in the early 70s.
I managed brocks in denver, littleton and colorado springs in the early 70’s
I srill have 6 shamrock glasses that I use for my scotch only.
Why are you desperately in search of these glasses?
I ran across your message above about you having 6 Brock’s Shamrock glasses. I had 4 from the Littleton Brock’s that my parents had from the mid 70’s, and I gave them to my daughter and her husband. I wish I would have kept them.
I have been looking to replace them for years now!
I am curious, would you be interested in selling 2 of your glasses to me? It would be most appreciated.
Thank you for your time, Sue Chaffin
I was one of the “original” waiters at Brocke’s in Stamford – Bruce Edge was the manager who hired me. Other originals were Geno Tusay – Donnie Conetta – Dave (Scottish) original cook followed by Bonnie (Philipno) and Many – Dolly original hostess – too many bartenders to remember – Jim Koehler followed Bruce Edge as manager – all great memories – I was there about 7 yrs – my name is Ted Williams
While Jim Kohler is still around, Bruce Edge sadly passed away a few years back. I worked for both of them at the West Hartford location.
I was an Assistant Cook at the High Ridge Rd. Stamford, CT location Nov. 1975 to July 1977. Just out of high school, I worked with Head Cook Manuel Mercado, a true mentor, who taught me much about developing an honest and hard work ethic and life in general. Brocks was popular because it had a good location, consistent food preparation and service, and light entertainment. Great group of waiters, mentioned by Ted Williams above (all of whom I worked with) and other servers, hostesses, and bus boys. Even the managers were tolerable!
Hi, I remember Manny,what a nice guy! I waitressed there ,mostly lunch for 4 years starting about 1976. We had a really great lunch crew .All very nice gals.
I was one of the first bar tenders and was there for opening night and worked there about 4 years until I moved to Virginia. During the day, I was an engineer working for Machlett Labs on Hope Street.
Jim – I remember you fondly – Dick followed you as bartender – Dolly was the hostess – Geno, Donnie Conetta, waiters – Dave was the “original” cook followed by Manuel – all really good memories, and Phil (Jim Kohlers brother-in-law was a waiter) Good to hear from you Jim!
Friday night at the Stamford location. After my Uncle passed, it was one thing we could do for my Aunt that she really enjoyed. Of course the rest of the family and I loved it too. Ruben, fries and salad bar – couldn’t beat it.
Hello, my brother in law worked at Brock’s. Our family had some of the glasses. I have been looking for more of them for my daughters. Does anyone know how to find any? I have been looking for some for a long time. If anyone can give me information I would appreciate it.
Does anyone have the brock’s house salad dressing recipe? The best I’ve ever had. Thanks
I used to play guitar and sing at Brock’s in New Canaan with my friend Gary. We would start performing around 8:30-9 and finish around 11:30. We called ourselves Richards and Novak. Had a good time and made friends who followed us around to other Fairfield county clubs and restaurants.
I worked in 1976 with Manny. He was straight up crazy but A good cook. I was an assistant cook with him. I remember quite vividly one night we used to have this regular guy that came in late and was a super pain in the ass. Manny did not like him and the dude often sent his food back- you know ,the steak not done to his perfection etc. etc.
In any event this guy came in late and did it once too often and Manny took that long fork you turn the steaks with. Threw it on the black rubber mats kicked it around a bit and put it back on the grill, and yes did serve it to him. He also regularly referred to one of the waitresses as “lemons“ due to her – shall we say figure.
Don’t get me wrong though man he was a good cook and a funny guy I enjoyed working with him- I was 18 years old. But he didn’t put up with any bull. Mildly interestingly, I went on to work with Manny’s brother who worked downtown in Stanford in another restaurant I can’t remember the name of it. That guy was a inveterate alcoholic unfortunately he was in the wrong profession for that. Would regularly hit the walk-in cooler in the back for his “libation.“
Different times back then for sure, I will say the free dinners at Brock’s were good and I particularly enjoyed the beef stroganoff. I also learned about eating a steak that was flame cooked but then deep-fried at the end, I think Manny told us that secret – delicious at the time. Didn’t care about cholesterol or any other Medical ramifications lol.