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Chock full o’Nuts and other memories of days past

For those who might have been worried, relax. There are no nuts in Chock full o’Nuts coffee.

Likewise, no birds in Crows gumdrops. Not a single Quaker was sacrificed for your morning oatmeal. And whatever they put in Moon Pies, it is not scooped from the lunar surface.

Phew. What a relief.

What’s this about, anyway? Aren’t some things obvious enough?

Maybe, but Chock full o’Nuts is not taking chances.

The company wants to make clear it is selling coffee, not trail mix. “No Nuts,” the cans now declare.

Not exactly breaking news if you’re from around here, but Chock full o’Nuts is a national brand and management feared shoppers in — who knows? — Fort Collins, Colorado, or, maybe, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, might be seized by uncertainty in the supermarket coffee aisle.

Hmm. Look, Doris, Chock full o’Nuts. Doesn’t this belong over with the cashews?

No doubt some consumers worried about allergies, too, so, OK, maybe you can make a case for a “No Nuts” guarantee, all things considered.

But recently, Chock full also decided to eliminate the words “New York’s Coffee Since 1932” on its famous yellow-and-black cans. This is a far more serious move. It would be like taking the “NY” off a Mets cap or “Staten Island” off the ferry. Must be that in Fort Collins and Hattiesburg, New York doesn’t sell.

The bottom line is what counts, I guess, and time marches on. Let’s just hope Chock full o’Nuts doesn’t suddenly wipe the Manhattan skyline off its label — already, the logo has been altered a bit — or change the company name to “Just Plain Java,” or some other humdrummy, flyover alternative.

When I was a kid, Chock full o’Nuts was about as New York-y as you could get. The business was started by William Black of Brooklyn, a smart guy who sold nuts in the Theater District for a while and then saw his future in coffee.

Even Black’s jingle — “Better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy” — had a kind of city ring. With its backward cadence, the line echoed blue-collar sentiment in a working-class way. No better than us, these bigshots on Park Avenue, it said. Hooray for everyday people.

At Chock full, we were home.

Summers, I worked at a brokerage firm at 120 Broadway. Mom was in the secretarial pool and got me the job. I ran something called a bookkeeping machine — a big, clanking hunk of metal with more moving parts than my father’s ’39 Pontiac.

Into the gizmo — which functioned as both typewriter and adding machine — I rolled giant ledgers and recorded daily purchases and sales. It was like wrestling a robot. I made all kinds of mistakes. How the firm survived, I’ll never know. I was the biggest threat since the Great Depression.

Without question, lunch was the best hour of the day.

Across the street at Chock full o’Nuts, I would eye customers already seated. The place was jammed, every counter stool taken. You had to case the joint and post yourself behind that woman reaching for her purse, or fellow draining his last drop of coffee. All over the place, hungry office workers were doing the same. Someone got up from a stool, you better grab it — quick — before the seat cooled off.

“Yessir, what’ll you have?” the waitress would say, wasting no time.

“Frank, orange drink, couple doughnuts,” I’d answer, and, before you could unfold your newspaper, she’d be back with the order.

Some days, I went for the famous cream cheese sandwich on whole wheat raisin bread instead of a hot dog. After work, maybe a piece of lemon cream pie and chocolate milk. Others, a slab of pound cake to take back to Brooklyn on the Fourth Avenue Local.

A customer earning 40 bucks a week — or anyone else — would have to go out of his way to spend $1 at Chock full o’Nuts. Last I remember, a Frank cost a quarter and cheese sandwich 35 cents. Two doughnuts for 15 cents, same price for an orange drink and what the menu called “Our Heavenly Coffee.” It wasn’t the Ritz, but who cared? “Tipping is not permitted,” the menu announced. “Please pay when served.”

It’s dopey to swoon over the old days but, gee whiz, Chock full o’Nuts, New York in the ’50s, the buzz of Wall Street, and the clank of a bookkeeping machine. Happier memories, a guy couldn’t have.

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