Blue Ribbon Family Restaurant: A Schenectady Staple
Each of the residents at Kingsway’s assisted living facility, Kingsway Manor, have their own personal favorite group activity—some like Wii Bowling, some like movie night, and others prefer crafts. You can’t always please everyone, right? Wrong. Everyone, or at least almost everyone, is most certainly pleased when they see “Lunch at Blue Ribbon Family Restaurant” pop up on their weekly activity schedule.
Part of the reason for the widespread excitement is that there’s something at Blue Ribbon for everyone. Want a salad? They’ve got ’em. A sandwich? Have fun choosing from all the options. Italian food? Greek food? Seafood? Check, check and check. Cheesecake? Well, we’ll get to that later. But there’s another reason Kingsway residents—and the rest of the Capital Region, for that matter—love Blue Ribbon: There’s a certain nostalgia that comes with going there. Blue Ribbon, a third-generation family restaurant, has been serving up consistent, hearty fare in its Schenectady location (it’s less than a mile from Kingsway!) for nearly 44 years.
To tell the story of Blue Ribbon, though, we have to go back more than half a century. “We came here as a family of six on April 4, 1967,” says Angelo Menagias, Blue Ribbon’s co-founder and current co-owner, who was 15 at the time. Angelo’s uncle Jimmy had already immigrated to the area from the family’s home in Greece, and borrowed a hefty sum of money to pay for his brother’s family’s trip. When they arrived, Angelo immediately began working to help his father and uncle pay off the debt. He worked peeling and slicing potatoes at a restaurant on Nott Street until his family opened hot dog joint Broadway Lunch in May of ’67. “My brother and my two sisters ended up going to high school,” Angelo says. “I ended up working. I had to attend night classes between 7–9pm on Mondays and Wednesdays to learn out to speak, read and write English.”
But Angelo’s hard work paid off, and, over the next decade, Broadway Lunch was successful enough that, in 1976, he and Jimmy decided to open a second restaurant. “We wanted to extend our hot dog operation onto State Street,” Angelo says. “It was going to be Broadway Lunch II.” But, during construction on the new building (which was formerly Mike’s Hot Dogs), the pair had a change of heart, deciding instead to open a totally different, diner-style restaurant. Blue Ribbon Family Restaurant opened the following year, and two years after that, Angelo’s brother Jerry bought out Jimmy’s share of the business.
It was with Jerry that Angelo decided to introduce his restaurant’s signature dish—cheesecake—to a larger market. The brothers entered their cheesecake into festivals in the Finger Lakes, Vermont and Massachusetts in the early ’80s, and won first prize (or, should we say, a blue ribbon?) at all three. That was followed up by five consecutive first-prize awards at the Coliseum in New York City. Back at home in Schenectady, Blue Ribbon had to expand to accommodate the demand for its cheesecake and other delicacies, and a third dining room was added in 1985, bringing the restaurant’s total capacity to 210 people. More bakers were hired and the bakery side of the business continued to grow all the way up until 2018, when Angelo and Jerry opened a second establishment on their property called Blue Rose Cheesecake & Bake Shop, which serves everything from pastries and fresh breads to gelato and, of course, cheesecake. Angelo’s son, Georgio, runs the cheesecake side of things, bringing a third generation of Menagiases to the family business. (His other two sons, Philip and Zachary, serve as managers at the restaurant.)
It’s pretty evident from Blue Ribbon’s growth that the restaurant has been very successful over its four-plus decades in business. So, what’s the secret? “It’s a commitment to a great product and service, loyalty to your customers, consistency, hard work and paying attention to detail,” Angelo says. “You can’t relax in this business. You can’t say ‘I made it—I’m going to leave it up to my employees and pay less attention.’ I’m 69 and I’m still here seven days a week along with my wife, Alexandra.” And the secret to Blue Ribbon’s amazing cheesecake? That’s not something Angelo’s about to give away. “There are so many factors, because cheesecake is a very delicate dessert,” he says instead. “Ingredients, consistency…mixing is definitely a factor—you can’t just mix it at any speed. Above all, you’ve gotta have the right recipe.” And that is something Blue Ribbon most certainly has.