Wells Restaurant (to those in the know it was “Wells” and “Wells Supper Club”), was generally regarded as the home of the best chicken and waffles in the world on (Seventh Avenue, now re-named) Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard between 132nd and 133rd Streets in Harlem, New York.
The restaurant opened in 1938 by Ann Wells with only 3 booths, and 5 stools, eventually having 250- seat restaurant (not to be confused with Dickie Wells club that opened the same year).
In 1999, the Amsterdam News, the Harlem neighborhood newspaper had this to say about Wells: “No appetites are safe from the magnificent Southern Creole cuisine when visiting Wells restaurant, located uptown in the Big Apple. Famous for more than their chicken and waffles, Wells entertains customers with Caribbean flair and a frenzy of live music. Harlem hasn’t been the same since Wells opened in May 1938.
The owner, Elizabeth Wells (above center), is determined to bring people a humble, homey atmosphere with exciting home-style cooking, but with a twist of island flavor and a lot of fun. Joseph T. Wells, the late husband of Wells, had a record of cooking techniques in the mix. Working as a waiter and manager of a restaurant in Florida, Joseph took his craft to New York during the late 1920s. It was inevitable for the young entrepreneur to start his business and, by the spring of 1938, the restaurant bearing his name opened its doors. Elizabeth Wells entered the picture later (below in the center). They married in 1966, even though she had joined the establishment in 1963.
The married couple produced a son named Tommy Wells. With an avalanche of victory for the restaurant, Wells bloomed as one of the greatest hot spots in Harlem, with a bevy of entertainers who dropped in…Wells has been spinning the wheels of the restaurant with tip-top soul food and no regrets….”
Tori Avey reports that Wells became a late night hotspot for jazz musicians, who would stop by late at night after their various gigs. The musicians, arriving too late for dinner but too early for breakfast, enjoyed the appetizing compromise of fried chicken and waffles. Before long, Wells was frequented by the likes of Nat King Cole (who held his wedding reception there).
Jitterbuzz reports that one story about Well’s seems to be widely told and re-told. During late 1950s, Sammy Davis Jr. and Kim Novak were dating. One morning after breakfast at Wells’ Kim’s fur coat was found to be “missing” from the coat-room. Frank Sinatra made a stern announcement to the crowd about the missing coat and it appeared back the next day.
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In 1986, the folks at Wells took out a trademark on their famous slogan “Home of Chicken and Waffles Since 1938”.
We note that their trademark only applies to their graphic logo and they have not attempted to restrict the use of “chicken” “waffles” or “1938” only that they have been “famous” for the dish since 1938.
The restaurant closed in 1982.
Wells managed to inspire a nationwide trend. In 1976, a Harlem native named Herb Hudson opened a Los Angeles restaurant dedicated exclusively to the pairing: Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. Hudson’s Motown connections helped to launch the restaurant, making it a popular destination for music industry professionals and performers in the Los Angeles area. Over the years, the restaurant has become an established part of the Hollywood food landscape. Roscoe’s is so well-known, in fact, that President Obama took time out of his busy schedule in 2011 to make an unscheduled stop there. In case you’re curious, he ordered the “Country Boy,” Number 9– three wings with choice of waffle, potato salad or French fries. Here’s hoping he chose the waffle Tori Avey said.
Photo: 1) Wells in 1999. 2) From left to right: Alson Farley (Head Chef), Mrs. Wells (Owner) and John Anatole (Chef). 3) Trademark for Wells: Chicken and Waffles Since 1938.