Feb 14, 2023 - News

Boston's Green Book sites, then and now: Charlie's

The front of Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe in the daytime gives you a clear view of the red sign and the green banner at the entrance.

Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

To celebrate Black History Month, we wanted to see what became of the local spots listed in the “Negro Motorist Green-Book.” Published from the 1930s to the mid-1960s, the annual guidebook highlighted businesses and resources that welcomed Black travelers.

  • We’ll spotlight a few locations this month.

Background: The guides were lifesaving for Black travelers during the Jim Crow era.

  • Iconic musicians, boxers and civil rights activists flocked to the vetted spots at a time when much of New England, including the Boston area, was hostile to Black visitors.

Why it matters: For all of the attention Boston gives to preserving history, it has let most of these historic places disappear.

📍 Our first stop is Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, at 429 Columbus Ave.

Then: Charlie Poulos and Christi Manjourides, both Greek immigrants, founded the South End eatery in 1927. It’s believed to be the first Boston restaurant that served Black customers.

  • At its peak, Charlie’s hosted Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr. and other jazz greats.
  • Damian Marciante, the current owner, credits the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first Black-led union chartered by the American Federation of Labor, for spreading the word. Local union workers dined there and eventually turned the building’s second floor into a union hall.

Now: Of the half-dozen local listings in the Green Book, Charlie’s appears to be the only operational site left.

  • Charlie’s has survived 17 presidencies, two closures, a pandemic and countless Boston snowstorms.

Zoom in: Manjourides’ son, Chris Jr., ran the business for years before selling it in 2014. Charlie’s reopened in 2016 but shuttered barely a year later.

  • That’s when Marciante and his wife, Sheree came in. The couple, who own Victoria’s Diner in Dorchester, took over the business and reopened in 2017. It’s been open ever since.

What they’re saying: “The secret behind Charlie’s is it’s a melting pot. It welcomes everyone in the restaurant,” Marciante tells Axios.

  • As he recalls, that included anyone from Black railroad workers and musicians to Irish mobsters and sex workers to police officers.

Some details are gone — the old countertops, the watering station, the bookie next door who kept watch. And the restaurant closes at 3pm now, instead of the early hours of the morning.

  • But the Marciante family plans to keep Charlie’s and its history alive, starting with the original table tops and historic photos of the place.

What’s next: Marciante’s working on recovering the restaurant’s losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. He’d like to make Charlie’s a historic landmark and buy the space outright, so he can help keep the restaurant alive.

  • Under his lease, he’ll be eligible to make the purchase in two years.

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