By Rosalie Tirella
Rose on her daily drive down Water Street, where she gets her yummy wraps and sometimes coffee at The Broadway Restaurant and Catering at 100 Water St.
Did she tell you she loves this place? The idea of this place? The people of this place? The look of this place? The love wafting over every cup of coffee (bottom-less!) in the place? The INTEGRITY in each and every Broadway French fry?
What gives the B-Way its Best Ways? The Isaldakli family, of course! Owners for decades, after Billy Isaldakli realized his engineering degree wouldn’t make him as happy as or rich as owning the Broadway, the Isaldaklis bring a love for each other, their kids, grandkid and community that has fueled the Broadway’s success … for decades. Billy and Betsy, his wife and work partner, bring a magical Old World affection, unpretentiousness and moral code to the little corner eatery in my neighborhood that never fails to uplift and inspire me in this crass, narcissistic Trump world. The Canal District’s trendy bars, eats and people may come and go – I’ve seen these places open with such fanfare and then a year or 2 later, poof! gone! – but the Broadway endures. Like the turning of the earth, like the salt of the earth … like an epic Broadway Hot Fudge Sundae!
Years ago Billy bought the Broadway biz from the old and soon-to-retire Sam, a Green Island legend in his own right. Every Sunday morning Sam would be at the front entrance of his Broadway in a suit coat, shaking hands with and greeting each and every one of his (steady) customers as they walked through his front doors! When I was a little girl growing up in Green Island my mother, like half of Worcester, would take us to the Broadway for breakfast after Sunday Mass. And there stood Sam, gate keeper to my sisters’ and my burgers, fries and Cokes, smiling seriously. (Ma had breakfast – always a cheese Western omelet and coffee💜.) Rich, poor, in-between – Sam treated ALL his customers with the same Sam brisk-but-attentive courteousness. It was a whirlwind Sunday! Sam was a king atop the Broadway hill!
Billy brought a more fun vibe to the place. Chatty, given to giving you unsolicited advice (usually spot-on. “Rose, you’re too deep into your life to adopt kids!”), political, smart and philosophical, Billy could have been a great politician – or Pope.
But it has been the Broadway where he’s built his life and flourished. I chalk much of his success up to his smarts, cooking skills but mostly Big Greek Love – for family, customers, Worcester – everybody. To experience the Broadway is to be swaddled in a warm world of connections, smiles, banter, family, integrity, homemade ice cream, hard work – the American dream slathered over your cheese burger, don’t hold the pickles!
Billy has owned his culinary icon for years and never ceases to impress folks with his family affair at 100 Water St! Billy, wife Betsy, daughter, son, soon grandson, all work at the Broadway at some point in their lives. They all seem to gather there, in the back dining room, for their informal Greek dinners. Often with a waitress, just off her shift. The room radiates clan, LOVE, family first, good food. AND…respect for every Woo girl and boy!
To visit the Broadway is to visit a more no-nonsense, honest time in America where rules and rituals mattered: Billy and Betsy married for years and still flirting with each other over the feta, still respecting each other’s points of view, admiring each other’s skills. The cute Billy cheat on the pretty Betsy? Never in a billion years! She’s the whipped cream on his Belgian waffles! And, besides, more important, it is WRONG to cheat on your wife, your life’s helpmate and best friend.
… Billy grinning to himself over the French fries when Rose tells him his three-year-old grandson has his mom’s – Billy’s daughter Daniella’s – smile. Rose can see Daniella’s exact same smile, the exact same mischievous little curves in the two corners of the little boy’s mouth when he grins. This amazes her. She tells Billy so. A quiet, contented grace washes over Billy’s gently lined face as he accepts the compliment. No words spoken.
Giving to the community is first nature with this crew. Every Thanksgiving, Billy and family and a few staffers cook ALL the turkey dinners for Worcester shut-ins for the Bishop’s Catholic Charity Thanksgiving Meals on Wheels. At the Broadway! For 17+ years! Under the radar, sans self-promoting Instagram photos or press releases. That is how the Isaldakli family spends – and celebrates – their Thanksgiving. Sweating and (Billy) swearing over hundreds of scoops of their homemade stuffing, scores of Butterballs (the Bishop supplies the turkeys – Billy cooks them) and cans of cranberry sauce. Community service, totally out of the public eye.
That’s how Billy likes it.
Rose is thinking of Billy today. Billy, a middle-aged guy (he married young) surviving in a Facebook world. Billy, a guy with a moral code that rivals Lincoln’s, a guy who doesn’t know what Snap Chat is and couldn’t give a fuck. Slinging grape nut pudding, joking with the dish washer and the kid at the counter. Billy knows that inside the rules is where you are absolutely free! No one else in America seems to get this any more. In this crazy country, folks (kids!!) post pictures of their boobs, butts and trendy meals on Instagram. Fake loves, too. For everybody to see … curated, manipulated, cropped and colorized. Billy Isaldakli will have none of it. Billy runs around the Broadway kitchen sweaty and stressed, yelling over the assistant cook. Betsy calmly grabs a fish platter and throws a reassuring glance at her husband, her beloved. Waitress Cathy makes fresh coffee…friends/customers come in. The Broadway world spins on, a cozy delight.