The Central House/VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - - Local Small Business Stories
The Central House: A True Neighborhood Restaurant in
The Central House is one those local treasures
where people come out in crowds to enjoy fantastic comfort foods and
drinks in a
Central House dining room and bar.
Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz.
created on 4/20/2019.
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It's 6:30 p.m. at twilight on a cold spring day where the more dominant
soft glowing light seems to come from
the window of a South St. home in Westbororough, Mass. A
welcoming "Open" sign radiates red lettering from a window on a
structure that looks like a big old neighborhood home with its front
porch and rocking chair. A sign that
validates this isn't a residential home sits to the left
near a driveway that looks like it would accommodate a modest number of
guests at a
Welcome to the Central House, Westborough's oldest tavern and
dating back to pre-prohibition days. It's quite a feat for this
restaurant to survive the growing number of downtown restaurants and
nearby Route 9 chains in a region that has experienced significant
Outside at the Central House.
People come to eat here like they have walked
into a friend's home -- a friend who happens to make really good food
adult beverages to enhance the overall experience. Owner Dan Flood has
town virtually his
whole life and knows most people who come into
his restaurant. He
is the friendly guy you would see walking down a Main Street -- the one
person you would stop to ask for directions and a good place to eat. If
that was the scenario, Flood would modestly recommend turning onto
South St. and checking out the Central House.
Central House owner Dan Flood. Dan's late grandmother, Helen, who owned
the restaurant with husband Fred, is pictured above the fireplace.
For the first-timer, the thought of either trespassing onto
private property or possibly walking into the reincarnation of Moe's
Tavern from The Simpsons
arises as there are few
familiar 21st century cues to let one know this is
the place to go for eats and a drink. No small plates, exposed ductwork
and brick, artisan or fusion references for food, or a restaurant name
with all lower case lettering
. Some places
purposely create menus that look distressed, while the Central House
just lets that happen naturally. Although
a piano sits in the wood-paneled, dark green carpeted back room, it's
"All by Myself" scenario for the upright as there's no live pianist. The instrument adds nice ambiance, however, to the quaint room that also includes a dart board, television, white lights, an American flag and pictures with local themes.
Comfortable back room at the Central House with dart board,
television and piano.
There's certainly no grand entrance with fancy awning
and faceless 1980s soft rock by one-hit wonders blaring out of a
speaker to somehow welcome you. As far as
advertising, word-of-mouth reigns as the best form of outreach. It's
unlikely you will ever see a TV commercial of the Central House with
all that food splashing around into a pan or plate in slow motion.
Dan knows that plain, simple and humble best describes the grandest
entrance to the real world. No drama, no pretentiousness here!
Front porch at the Central House.
Once inside, the Central House feels like one big family
outing at your favorite uncle's house in a densely populated, lively
neighborhood. There's lots of local talk going on, some of it
unfiltered but still suitable for all ages. The food is tasty, the beer
is good and the neighborhood ties that bind are all that matters as
a microcosm of close-knit Westborough.
"It's like walking into someone's house," said Dan, 32. "People really like
the atmosphere, feeling right at home."
Dan's wife Sandi and their
four-year-old son Cash stop by the restaurant
and bond with their beloved husband and daddy, respectively -- he's the
big guy with the beard and big glasses, and the face of the Central
House, as Sandi describes it. Cash looks
wide-eyed at the busy scene, seemingly taking in every bit of
information while he and his mom bond with Dan for a big group hug and
a kiss on the head before heading back to their home in the
"I am so lucky," said Dan. "I can walk to and from work."
A Look Back at the Central House's Interesting History
In a trendy world of deconstructed food offerings, Flood
reconstructed his family restaurant not too long ago in need to save
that his grandparents started when bell bottoms were more in style than
While the Central House dates back to the early 20th century
under 60 years of ownership from the Moynihan family, the most vivid
memories, good and bad, can be remembered from the 1970s. Although run
by two women, it is ironic that no women were allowed in the bar room.
There was no ladies room, either. That all changed when husband and
wife Fred and Helen Van Dam moved from Roslindale, Mass. (a Boston
neighborhood) to run the restaurant.
Fred and Helen grace the cover of a 1981 article on the
Central House in the former
Westboro Compass newspaper.
Dan said that Fred was brash and a know-it-all while Helen had a
heart-of-gold, and was nurturing and giving but as "tough as nails." It
have been interesting to hear the conversation after Fred bought the
restaurant for a price of $38K without telling her until they arrived
"Fred passed away before I was born," said Dan. "He was known as
argumentative and stubborn. You could show him a book to prove he was
wrong about something and he would say the book was wrong. Helen was a
sweetheart but tough."
Strong personalities aside, Fred and Helen transformed the restaurant
proper shape. First, they opened the doors to women and
installed a ladies room.
"Helen said if it was good enough for them, it was good for everyone
else," said Dan.
Ladies were once not welcome at the Central House as recent as
the early 70s. Fred and Helen changed all that when taking over the
Helen became the darling of the community, best known for her home
cooking, generosity and concern for others. Dan's mom and dad,
Anne-Marie (Helen and Fred's daughter) and father Jonathan, also worked
at the restaurant for several years. In addition to operating an
popular restaurant, the Van Dams operated a boarding house above the
main floor dining room and bar.
"There was a local guy named Beetle Bailey and my grandma and grandpa
gave him a place to live," said Dan. "He wasn't the brightest guy and
had this stutter. My grandma said he had to get a job to pay the rent
and he said 'No one will hire me.' My grandma did something about that,
getting him a job at the Westborough DPW. With that opportunity, he did
really well and turned out to be one of the best workers ever. That's
the kind of person she was, always thinking of others."
Helen died when Dan was a sophomore in college. Dan was heartbroken,
but continued at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I.,
graduating with a degree in hotel and hospitality management. Dan
hadn't thought about running his grandparents' restaurant, but had a
unique opportunity to return to his hometown and its hometown
restaurant. The liquor license had Helen's name on it.
"I was the only one in the family with, let's just say, the
qualifications to have my name on the liquor license," said Dan. "The
become kind of 'divey.' The food was inconsistent. Something had to be
Dan basically began turning things around, taking any frozen foods out
of the establishment, cooking fresh, and eventually opening the kitchen
every night of the week. The luster that his grandparents established
came back as a family-friendly restaurant with lots of heart in the
heart of downtown Westborough, Mass. Now up to 300 customers frequent
the Central House on a Friday with the other days often not
too far behind in numbers.
"This is where I met him," said wife, Sandi. "I saw this place at the
beginning and I see it now. There's locals, newbies and family. He has
done a great job bringing it all together. I am very proud of him."
Love at First Bite
Pulled pork sandwich with seasoned fries.
Dan might not know it but the food at his homey
restaurant often surpasses the quality at higher profile places that
specialize in certain types of cuisine. Love BBQ? The pulled
pork sandwich is moist, flavorful and abundant -- just as good as the
versions that keep showing up locally on those TV food shows. Enjoy
fish and chips? Many of the coastal Maine
restaurants and local Irish pubs in the Boston area do a superb job at
making this regional favorite, but most absolutely have nothing on the
Central House's crispy, fresh serving. Additionally, Dan and company
offer their fish and chips at a lower price than many of the most
highly-regarded restaurants serving this dish.
Fish and chips from the Central House.
Debbie Curtis Merchant is a big fan of the Central House.
"My husband Jeff and I usually go to the Central House on Fridays for
fish and chips," said Debbie. "We love the food and the atmosphere, as
well as the servers. My husband is from Westborough, so he knows many
of the customers as well. Great place! We've gone at other times and
enjoyed their delicious burgers, as well. We have gone when our house
was for sale nearby, and if
there were still realtors at the house after work, we'd just look at
each other and say, 'ok, Central House'."
Fish Chowder from the Central House.
Fridays offer the greatest food selection including the
fish and chips, prime rib, scallops and clam rolls, fish
sandwich, homemade fish chowder and scallop and clam plates. In
addition to the pulled pork sandwich and burgers, the
regular menu features a grilled hot dog on a grilled butter bun,
grilled cheese, pastrami and Swiss sandwich and chicken salad.
Prime rib with asparagus and mashed potatoes from the Central
House. Photo source: Central House Facebook Fan Page.
House appetizers include chicken wings, boneless chicken tenders and
broccoli bites, as well as a mixed green salad with onion, cucumber,
tomato, walnuts and house-made champagne vinaigrette (optional to add
chicken or chicken salad for an extra charge).
"We are not reinventing the wheel," said Dan, of
the food at
the Central House. "We just take the two or three extra steps. Like the
turkey which is really good in the turkey club. We buy the fresh
breast, then brine it. The breaded wings used to be frozen, now we
it and slow cook it. The people in the back like to cook. We liked to
be challenged. If I have an idea, we like to give it a try and cook it."
The Central House also features a Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.- 1 p.m.,
offering breakfast sandwiches, French Toast, pancakes, Eggs
Benedict, and eggs any style with home fries and bacon or sausage with
choice of toast. A full bar is available.
Speaking of the bar, the Central House, as expected, offers a good
variety of beers on tap, red and white wines, Irish whiskey, vodka and
Cold Harbor beer on tap. Photo source: Central House Facebook Fan Page.
Enjoying the classic neighborhood atmosphere at the Central House.
Let's face it, true neighborhood restaurants aren't
find. Many have not been able to survive the chains. Others have
focused more on avocado toast and brie than burgers and wings, as well
charging a few more dollars for basic comfort foods -- the price hikes
somehow justified by
fancy adjectives on the menu. Here in the real world, the locals know
better sensing the difference between authentic and phony.
The Central House is as authentic as they get. The
food and drink are
outstanding and the price point in line with a middle-class budget. A
nice group of people work here and are familiar faces to
the community. They also host local bands and acoustic acts on Saturday
night. It's a place where a burger looks like a burger and a
cup of chowder looks like a cup of chowder -- nothing dressed up here
to the point of altering the innate greatness of good old-fashioned
comfort food. Dining out at the Central House
ultimately like a trip back in time when it was perfectly fine to serve
familiar-looking foods, as well as having paneled wood walls and dark
green rugs to create the ambiance. It's not only a great old school
destination for locals, but also travelers -- located in the
western Boston and eastern Worcester suburbs and just minutes away from
the intersection of Routes 495 and 90 (the Mass Turnpike).
While a constantly trending world looking for the flavor of the week
left many local neighborhood restaurants for the buttoned-up bistros
and more elitist, expensive environs to eat, much of the real world
remained steadfast holding onto where they liked to eat in the first
place. Madison Ave. and media with vested interests promoted those with
high advertising budgets and expensive food, or on the other end,
corporate-designed restaurants made to look like neighborhood
While it's great to have choices on where to eat -- and there's more
options now than ever -- sometimes the best change is, as
has often been said, no change at all. Dan Flood knows that
and so do his customers.
"People keep coming back here," said Dan. "There's nothing corporate
here. It's real. I feel that we don't have to be overly creative.
We serve what the people like. I don't think
you'll run into many in the industry like me.
Instead of thinking about the next big thing to create, I say there's
nothing wrong with what we are serving now. These foods have been
favorites for a long time. We enjoy these foods and so do our
The Central House is located at 44
South St., Westborough, MA.
Tel. 508-366-2088. email: email@example.com.
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