‘When soda jerks became like bartenders’

New Schnackenberg’s managers reveal renovation plans

In a city with 137 liquor licenses in one square mile, it is hard to imagine a time when selling alcohol was illegal. A time when customers ordered ice cream sodas at the bar.
Schnackenberg’s, the luncheonette founded in 1931 on Washington Street, closed for renovations at the end of this summer. Not much has changed there in 50 years, but the historic eatery will reopen in the spring of 2013 after the changing of hands and a long renovation.
Local husband and wife restaurateurs Eugene and Joyce Flinn, who own Amanda’s and Elysian Café, have signed a long-term lease from the family that owns the authentic soda shop.
Schnackenberg’s is the second oldest store in Hoboken, behind United Decorating Company on lower Washington Street. Some Hoboken residents feared that the integrity of the venue would be lost. Schnackenberg’s vintage Coca Cola sign stands out on a drive down Washington Street.

“Many people have an emotional attachment to this place.” – Eugene Flinn
But the Flinns’ vision for Schnackenberg’s is not to make it “fancy.” Instead, they plan to collaboratively work with owner Mark Novak and his mother Dorothy to restore the landmark to its original Depression-era glory.
The cosmetic changes will be minor. According to Flinn, most of the changes will be operational and behind the scenes. There will be slight changes to the menu, which recently consisted of low-cost sandwiches, burgers, milkshakes, and egg creams. The new fare will be similar to the old.
“The goal is to restore it to its heyday,” Eugene Flinn said Wednesday, “[when] ice cream soda shops took over the social marketplace during Prohibition and soda jerks became like bartenders.”

Mom and Pop shop

Schnackenberg’s was opened over Labor Day weekend in 1931. Dorothy Novak, Mark Novak’s mother and co-owner, inherited the restaurant from her parents and passed it on to Mark to follow tradition. Dorothy Novak has devoted much of her life to Schnackenberg’s. It was very important to both Mark and Dorothy to keep the name.
Flinn and Novak have become friends through the years, which is why Novak trusts Flinn with the eatery’s reputation.
“[Schnackenberg’s] is owned by my mother and I, and my mother has retired,” said Novak. “Eugene and I have been talking about this for years and his reputation speaks for itself.”
“They also own the building,” Flinn said of the Novaks. “So they need to be happy with who they are living above as well.”
“We wanted to preserve the family tradition,” Novak said. “[Flinn] was the best possible option as far as I am concerned.”

What’s in store?

The main goal of the new and improved Schnackenberg’s will be breakfast and lunch, as well as old-fashioned ice cream sodas and sundaes for the kids.
“People are always looking for a social meeting place that may not include alcohol,” Flinn said.
Aesthetically, patrons will not see that drastic of a change upon walking in. The floors and booths will be kept the same.
The menu will concentrate on building more of a breakfast and luncheonette base, but many fan favorites will stay. The price range should also remain comparable.
Schnackenberg’s is well-known for making handmade chocolates, a recipe that Novak’s grandfather used in 1931. There is a chocolate kitchen in the basement so the chocolates are melted into the moldings right on site. The chocolate kitchen will be upgraded and continue to churn out the sweets and display them for the holidays, like Easter.
The basement itself will undergo major renovation, as will other components that increase functionality and operations.
The outside will also be redone, but only to restore the 1930s façade. This will include the infamous signage.
“People forget what Hoboken was [back then],” Flinn said. “We’re trying to retain the traditional businesses.”
Flinn also noted that he will be using all local tradesmen to do the work. Flinn has employed architect Lee Levine and graphic designer Phil Huling as well as the local laborers he plans to hire.
“Many people have an emotional attachment to this place,” said Flinn.
Schnackenberg’s is opting to open in April if all goes well.

Amanda Palasciano may be reached at amandap@hudsonreporter.com.

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