One of Milford’s landmark restaurants, the Seven Seas Restaurant & Pub, is celebrating its 50th birthday this week.
Tuesday, April 7, marks the day that 50 years ago — in 1965 — Rich Smith’s parents, Martha and Richard Smith, signed paperwork making them the owners of the downtown eatery that many people have come to know for its trademark fish and chips, burgers and other culinary delights.
“We were probably here a month before the signing, but that’s the date we use for the anniversary,” Smith said, adding that the 1965 signature makes the Seven Seas the oldest continuously running restaurant in downtown Milford.
It was in the 1940s when Charlie Worroll, a policeman, and his friend William Froelick converted what had been a garage into a restaurant at 16 New Haven Avenue. They combined their names to come up with the restaurant’s name: “Worlick’s.”
There’s still an old menu from Worlick’s in an upstairs office next to the Seven Seas, and it harkens back to days long gone: Fried scallops cost 90 cents, a T-bone steak was $1.75, lobster Newburg was $1.25, and a Piels beer cost 10 cents.
Dan Worroll, who retired recently from the Milford Fire Department, remembers the days that his grandfather, Charlie, and then his father, Daniel, owned the restaurant. Dan Worroll was about 5 years old at the time and he still remembers being intrigued by the lights behind the bar.
“Now they’re LEDs, but they used to have these old-fashioned tube lights, and I remember my father telling me how hard they were to change,” Worroll said.
After Worlick’s, the restaurant became Ganches in the 50s and was gutted by fire in 1962. In the early 60s it became Duanes, and in April 1965, the Smith family bought it and renamed it the Seven Seas, according to the Seas’ website.
Back even more
The Seven Seas history actually starts, in a way, at Fort Trumbull Beach. Rich Smith’s grandmother owned the Pilgrim Restaurant at Fort Trumbull Beach, as well as the Willard Hotel. Neither place exists today.
Smith’s father and brother had become partners at the Pilgrim, but they had a bit of a falling out and for several years before selling the restaurant in 1964 they hardly spoke. A former owner of the Milford Diner, which was also downtown, contacted Smith’s father one day to ask if he’d like to buy the restaurant business across the street — what was then Duane’s. Smith checked it out, and he and his wife bought the business.
The Smith sons were all in the service at the time — Rich, Neil, Peter, and Tommy — and all became partners in the business. Sister Bonnie was not a partner, because she was pursuing other avenues at that time, but she still remains part of the family business, Rich said.
Rich, who was serving in the Navy, came up with the name Seven Seas because, “everywhere you went with the Navy there was a place called the Seven Seas,” he said.
Then, a different look
The place was a lot different back in the 60s. Instead of dining room tables, there were booths, and there were jukeboxes in each of the booths.
“And then there was the house jukebox, near the kitchen, where you got five songs for a quarter,” Smith recalled.
The family decided to take the booths out in the 1970s, along with a shuffleboard that ran along the bar, to make more room for diners.
“We needed space,” Smith said.
Not only did it look different then, things were different, Smith said, recalling that in 1965 women weren’t allowed to sit at the bar and could not be served at a table that was within three feet of a bar.
According to Connecticutstatelibrary.org, a bill finally passed in 1969 that allowed women to sit – but not stand – at bars. Three years later, on October 1, 1972, women were finally allowed to both sit and stand at bars in Connecticut.
The bar also had to close on Good Friday, actually the Thursday night before. And bars could not open on Election Day until after the polls closed, Smith said.
Smith has some interesting old stories, too, like when the circus took place at nearby Fowler Field in the late 1960s.
“One day, Sparks, the electrician, came in and was having something to eat and he decided to go and get the camel, Mabel,” Smith recalled.
Mabel, he said, was a one-humped camel, and Smith remembers seeing her halfway inside the restaurant: Mabel’s head was inside but her backside couldn’t make it through the door.
Smith also remembers the days when restaurants cashed paychecks for local factory workers, and at lunchtime men would line up out the door with a beer in one hand and a roast beef sandwich in the other, waiting to trade their check for cash.
Roast beef to fish
The Seven Seas was known initially for its roast beef sandwiches. But that has evolved today to a reputation for fish and chips, primarily because in the early 1990s a local newspaper poll started listing the Seas as the best place for fish and chips.
The restaurant still touts that poll today, as well as a Connecticut Magazine poll from 2011 to 2013 naming it the best regional neighborhood restaurant.
The fish-and-chips fame seems well earned, according to the food review website Yelp, where diners have also praised another popular Seas menu item, the lobster roll.
“The fish and chips were wonderful,” wrote Tina D from East Haven. “Big serving size. Tasty and flaky. Loved it.”
And Marteen B from Boca Raton, Fla., wrote, “We ordered the lobster roll … amazing!!! Big pieces of warm lobster in a lightly toasted buttery roll. It comes with, my favorite, steak fries and a side of coleslaw. I’ve eaten my share of lobster rolls around New England and this place is in the top 5.”
The restaurant hub
In recent years, downtown Milford has become a haven for restaurant goers, with Stonebridge, SBC, Archie Moore’s, Rainbow Garden, and others to choose from. Smith said the Seven Seas is a bit less glamorous than the others, attracting a different crowd.
“We’re local; we’re families,” Smith said.
The Smiths thought that when the state banned smoking in restaurants in 2004 it would wreak havoc on the business, but it was just the opposite, Smith said. When the smoke cleared, families started coming in and bringing their young children.
When the city developed Lisman Landing, creating a marina for visiting boaters, that also boosted business, as did the addition of Dan Patrick to the downtown scene.
“The Seven Seas is the unofficial pub for the Dan Patrick Show, seen every day on DirecTV Channel 101,” according to the Seven Seas Facebook page.
In addition to owning the building that houses the Seven Seas, Smith owns several adjacent buildings, and one is home to the Dan Patrick studio.
“He and the crew come down for lunch sometimes,” Smith said, “and I’d say that’s been a boon for business, too.”
Even though the Seas doesn’t have allocated parking, it does well, Smith said. It’s part of the city, he added, noting that one regular customer actually got married in the Seven Seas years ago, and wedding parties fairly regularly hop out of their limos and pose for pictures in front of the Seas.
The menu hasn’t changed much in the last 25 years: From French onion soup to grilled chicken salad, to burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, seafood, and more, the downtown eatery offers a full menu, plus special items like corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day parade day.
“Business,” Smith said, “has been improving every year.”
Mayor Ben Blake will be at the Seven Seas Tuesday, April 7, at 5 p.m. to issue a proclamation, and there will be Champagne toasts throughout the day. In the evening, there will be birthday cake.