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Landmark Elsie's Sandwich Shop Closes

After 30 Years, Owner to Move

By Andrew A. Green

Elsie's Sandwich Shop closed its doors last week, leaving behind bare rooms and a sign in the window telling patrons that its 30-year stint on Mt. Auburn street is over.

Owner Philip S. Markell, who officially closed the shop on Dec. 30, said yesterday that he had decided just last week that it was time to move.

"It got to the point where we couldn't get a lease anymore," said Markell. "The place needed fixing up, and we were getting tired. It was time to go. Thirty years."

Markell said that he is too tired right now to make all of the renovations that the present location at 714 Mt. Auburn St. requires. But the laconic owner he said he would like to eventually open a smaller version of Elsie's "somewhere."

While he thought Elsie's had a great reputation, Markell said that business for restaurants in Harvard Square isn't what it used to be--even for establishments as well-known as his.

"There are a lot more choices for people to go to today, but there's still a need for an Elsie's," he said. "Thirty years ago there weren't nearly as many restaurants in the Square, and we didn't have the Au Bon Pains of the world."

Executive Director of the Harvard Square Business Association Kristin T. Sudholz said, though, that Elsie's closing should not be seen as indicative of a pattern in the Square.

She said that there have always been a large number of restaurants in the Square and that competition has been consistently stiff.

"The Square is constantly evolving and always has been," Sudholz said. "One restaurant opening and closing does not constitute a trend. There's still room for the small restaurants in the Square."

In spite of this turnover, Sudholz described the overall dynamics of the restaurant business as fairly stable. When most restaurants close they turn into other restaurants, she said.

Sudholz also said that the nature of the Square restaurant business is not shifting from sole proprietorships like Elsie's to larger restaurants and chains.

"We have a limitation of space in the Square, especially for restaurants, so the numbers and sizes of restaurants can't really change that much," she said.

Elsie's has had a long history in the Square, a smaller version of it having opened here 40 years ago, Markell said.

Thomas A. Dingman '67, associate dean of Harvard College, lamented the end of a Harvard landmark.

"It was a real gathering place. The food was terrific. You could smell someone who came out of Elsie's from a mile away," the dean said. "My favorite was the roast beef special. It had a spectacular dressing."

Elsie's filled a niche that many of today's restaurants and cafes don't, Dingman said.

"Everybody ate there, faculty, staff, students," he said. "If you had to meet somebody, you met them at Elsie's. It was definitely the eatery of choice."

Harvard Vice President of Government, Community and Public Affairs James H. Rowe '73 also had fond memories of Elsie's from his days as an undergraduate.

"I frequented Elsie's to supplement the dining hall food that wasn't quite as good as it is now," he said. "I lived in Lowell House and would often go across the street for late night snack runs, usually their sandwich fare. I was particularly fond of their turkey club. It was very good."

In addition to its roast beef sandwiches, Elsie's was best known for its Turkey Deluxe, or "T.D.," as restaurant regulars called it.

Harvard Law School graduate and roast beef devotee Eric C. Stoller holds Elsie's responsible for the eventual expansion of his waistline.

"I remember when I was there in the 60s you could get a roast beef sandwich for 50 cents," he said. "You could get the maximum amount of cholesterol for the minimum amount of money. We probably ate there two or three times a week. Harvard will never be the same.

"The Square is constantly evolving and always has been," Sudholz said. "One restaurant opening and closing does not constitute a trend. There's still room for the small restaurants in the Square."

In spite of this turnover, Sudholz described the overall dynamics of the restaurant business as fairly stable. When most restaurants close they turn into other restaurants, she said.

Sudholz also said that the nature of the Square restaurant business is not shifting from sole proprietorships like Elsie's to larger restaurants and chains.

"We have a limitation of space in the Square, especially for restaurants, so the numbers and sizes of restaurants can't really change that much," she said.

Elsie's has had a long history in the Square, a smaller version of it having opened here 40 years ago, Markell said.

Thomas A. Dingman '67, associate dean of Harvard College, lamented the end of a Harvard landmark.

"It was a real gathering place. The food was terrific. You could smell someone who came out of Elsie's from a mile away," the dean said. "My favorite was the roast beef special. It had a spectacular dressing."

Elsie's filled a niche that many of today's restaurants and cafes don't, Dingman said.

"Everybody ate there, faculty, staff, students," he said. "If you had to meet somebody, you met them at Elsie's. It was definitely the eatery of choice."

Harvard Vice President of Government, Community and Public Affairs James H. Rowe '73 also had fond memories of Elsie's from his days as an undergraduate.

"I frequented Elsie's to supplement the dining hall food that wasn't quite as good as it is now," he said. "I lived in Lowell House and would often go across the street for late night snack runs, usually their sandwich fare. I was particularly fond of their turkey club. It was very good."

In addition to its roast beef sandwiches, Elsie's was best known for its Turkey Deluxe, or "T.D.," as restaurant regulars called it.

Harvard Law School graduate and roast beef devotee Eric C. Stoller holds Elsie's responsible for the eventual expansion of his waistline.

"I remember when I was there in the 60s you could get a roast beef sandwich for 50 cents," he said. "You could get the maximum amount of cholesterol for the minimum amount of money. We probably ate there two or three times a week. Harvard will never be the same.

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