Olde Tymes Restaurant celebrates 35 years

Hostess Brenda Mellor, who has worked at Olde Tymes Restaurant for 17 years, clears a table on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.  The Norwich restaurant is celebrating its 35th anniversary. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Hostess Brenda Mellor, who has worked at Olde Tymes Restaurant for 17 years, clears a table on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. The Norwich restaurant is celebrating its 35th anniversary. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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Norwich — Being in the food industry was not something that occurred to Rodney Green growing up. But he found himself unemployed, and in 1974 he went to a management training program for McDonald's. It was the first time he didn't get bored with a job within 15 minutes.

After jobs feeding the employees of Ralston Purina Company's former mushroom farm in Franklin and operating a short-lived restaurant in Illinois, Green and his wife, Lucille, opened Olde Tymes Restaurant in a rustic, two-story building on Route 82 in Norwich.

When he celebrated 20 years in business and the Norwich City Council gave him an award, he implored them not to wish for another 20. But he's getting there: That was 15 years ago.

"I joke with people all the time I'm too stupid to quit," Green said as he sat at one of the same red booths that has always been there, on the same wood-planked floor between the same wooden walls. "But realistically, I do have a deep-seated joy to do a good job with my customers. I react immediately when someone comes in the door."

Olde Tymes Restaurant opened on Feb. 22, 1984, and this past Wednesday the restaurant held a 35th anniversary celebration. Gold 3- and 5-shaped balloons stood in front of the fridge of pies. There was champagne and a cash bar and raffle prizes.

The restaurant — open for breakfast, lunch and dinner — dishes out classics like fish and chips, prime rib, meatloaf, and a served-year-round turkey dinner. The entryway functions as a miniature gift shop, featuring windchimes, candles, gourmet popcorn and jewelry. Above hangs a fish Green got traveling to Acapulco and a painting from Zimbabwe.

Rodney Green is originally from Tennessee while Lucille Green is from Rhode Island, and the two met through his job at Ralston Purina and hers at Coca-Cola. But then Ralston Purina got out of the mushroom business and Coca-Cola shook up its management.

The Greens opened a restaurant and banquet facility in a hotel in Illinois in 1982, but then their landlord went bankrupt. They still had a home in Connecticut, and in 1983 they noticed a for-lease sign on West Main Street.

Rodney Green met with building owner George Benjamin to write a letter of intent on a napkin and hand over a $2,000 security deposit. Green then purchased the building in 1986.

He turned the porch into an enclosed dining area in 1987 and added a second production kitchen in 2000, to support catering, but otherwise hasn't done much in the way of renovations over the years.

The opening of Foxwoods Resort Casino didn't have as negative an impact on Olde Tymes as Green expected, but the opening of Mohegan Sun hit the restaurant hard. When Green would take his grandchildren to dinner at Mohegan Sun, he would see so many familiar faces.

To address the casino competition, Green began offering full-service catering in 1992. Olde Tymes was the food provider for Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, helped on the corporate side for the Norwich Navigators (now the Connecticut Defenders) baseball team and catered events at the pavilion at Rocky Neck State Park.

But Essex Steam Train & Riverboat took their catering in-house, Green said, and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection changed its system and Olde Tymes is not one of the state's approved caterers for Rocky Neck.

He voiced his frustrations to Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who introduced a bill this session that would "authorize individuals who rent state-owned venues in state parks and other locations to utilize caterers of their own choosing."

Green, 68, is not sure what the future holds for Olde Tymes — and he noted there's been several times in the past 15 years he almost sold the place. Noting that he has a "a key location, a very valuable piece of land," Green said he'd sell for the right money, but he's in no hurry.

And even if Green felt he could afford to retire, he's not sure what he would do with the time. He questioned, "If you enjoy what you're doing, why not do it?"

e.moser@theday.com

Waitress Sheila Marshall serves breakfast to cousins Dwayne Campbell, left, and Lisa Ferguson at Olde Tymes Restaurant in Norwich on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.  The restaurant has been in business for 35 years and Marshall has worked there for more than 30 of them. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Waitress Sheila Marshall serves breakfast to cousins Dwayne Campbell, left, and Lisa Ferguson at Olde Tymes Restaurant in Norwich on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. The restaurant has been in business for 35 years and Marshall has worked there for more than 30 of them. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Antique sewing machines decorate the main dining room at Olde Tymes Restaurant in Norwich. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Antique sewing machines decorate the main dining room at Olde Tymes Restaurant in Norwich. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Business Snapshot

Olde Tymes Restaurant

Owner: Rodney and Lucille Green

Where: 360 West Main St., Norwich

Hours: Open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and until 9 p.m. on Fridays

More information: www.oldetymes.com; 860-887-6865

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