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Established over 86 years ago, the Green Arch Restaurant was founded by Francesca Discenza, who came to Cortland with her husband Angelo right around the turn of the century. While Angelo went to work at the Wickwire Brothers Factory here in Cortland, Francesca ambitiously worked to become one of the area’s most well known entrepreneurs.
Upon acquiring the building at 107 Elm Street, Francesca set up chicken coops in the rear of the property. She raised chickens and traveled the Cortland area with her family selling chickens and eggs. In addition, from time to time, Francesca would sell fireworks on the corners of Elm and Pomeroy Streets, and quickly became the go-to person for those who sought out the excitement of fireworks.Francesca was quite content with her business, until the day a local businessman, who sold bread locally, informed her that he too would be selling fireworks right down the street. This was not welcoming news. Francesca warned that if he sold fireworks then she too would start selling bread. And so she did.
Francesca would travel to Syracuse, buy bread, and return to Cortland to sell it along with her chickens, eggs, and fireworks. This paved the way for Francesca’s grocery store, which was the original business housed here. The grocery store operated from the early 1920’s to 1933. Francesca’s “Grocery” store was a very popular stop by the locals on their way home from work. The store did actually have grocery items but was actually more popular among the locals for another reason. The Grocery was actually the East Ends only “Speakeasy”.(A speakeasy, also called a blind pig or blind tiger, was an illicit establishment that sold alcoholic beverages. Such establishments came into prominence in the United States during the Prohibition era (1920–1933, longer in some states). During that time, the sale, manufacture, and transportation (bootlegging) of alcoholic beverages was illegal throughout the United States, except in Maryland. Speakeasies largely disappeared after Prohibition was ended in 1933, and the term is now used to describe some retro style bars.) Locals would stop in for a glass of Angelo’s fine home made wine. Our Beloved Francesca actually was cited for serving alcohol illegally during Prohibition.
When Prohibition ended in 1933, Francesca remodeled the building to house a dance hall, and received one of Central New York’s first liquor licenses. Today’s coatroom was the “snack” room. Patrons would enjoy a hearty beverage at the bar, dance the night away (in the now dining room) and stand in line at Francesca’s snack room for one of her famous snacks or a slice of her delicious tomato pie (Pizza). Francesca was the first to make and sell tomato pie in Cortland, New York. She actually had a tin maker create her sheet pizza style tins to make her pie on. Those very tins are still in existence and used throughout the family.
Her two sons, John and Mike, eventually convinced her soon after World War II to open to the public for dinners as the demand for their delicious food had grown. The two son’s would assist her in the kitchen and behind the bar. Her daughter, Mary, would run the dining room and from time to time give live piano accompanied performances on stage. The venue was a popular place for swing bands and the same stage once hosted the legendary Louie Armstrong.
The stage was removed in the late forties during a dining room remodel and the demand for seating increased. The booth in its place has since been nostalgically dubbed the “piano booth”.
With the exception of a few physical modifications, not much has changed inside the walls of the Green Arch over the years, and most consider this a good thing. Same delicious food, same service with a smile and purely it is no coincidence that to this day, The Green Arch’s signature drink is the famous Old Fashioned!
Passed on to Francesca’s son John in the early fifties, and since handed over to his son, John Michael Discenza.
Often asked: “Where did the name Green Arch” come from? During the early years, when Francesca would host many locals at her Grocery/Speakeasy, two elderly women would stop in daily and one day offered their opinion for a name for her business. At the time it was just the grocery. One of the women noticed a green arch at the top of the stairs that led up to the coat room and offered up the idea that she should call their business the Green Arch…..The rest is history!
Emily and John Michael Discenza