Stratford's Danny's Drive-In closed amid sale and uncertain future

Danny's Drive-In, a Connecticut institution, reopened and abruptly closed this year. Now, it's future is uncertain.

For 87 years, Danny's Drive-In has been a Connecticut institution, serving up burgers, hot dogs and milkshakes that evoke memories of car hops on skates rolling up car-side with the windows down and a cool summer breeze hanging nearby.

Even those who might not have been around then are easily transported to another time by the small, brick building’s red picnic tables and minimalist, retro signage that could’ve popped off a TV set, right out of an episode of “Happy Days.”

“I miss the hamburgers,” realtor Ray Martin with the Ray Martin Agency, said.

Chrissy Woehrle stands behind the counter at Danny's Drive-In, on Ferry Boulevard in Stratford, Tuesday June 29, 2010. The sign below the counter dates back to the early days of the eatery, in business for 75 years.
Chrissy Woehrle stands behind the counter at Danny's Drive-In, on Ferry Boulevard in Stratford, Tuesday June 29, 2010. The sign below the counter dates back to the early days of the eatery, in business for 75 years.Autumn Driscoll

Martin represents the Targowski family who owns Danny’s. He said non-disclosure agreements prevent him from discussing details of pending sales but confirmed the business — and the property it sits on — are for sale. Martin said the business can be purchased and the location leased. Or the business and the property can be purchased together.

Martin said there have been a number of offers, but a sale won’t be a “sure thing” until November at the earliest.

It’s been a fraught year for the Stratford mainstay. In February, the state of Connecticut changed the business status of Danny’s Drive-In, Inc. to “forfeited.” The state had warned the company in June of 2021 that it was in default for failure to file annual reports. The last annual report available online is from 2006. The State gave Danny’s three months to comply and sent a letter announcing the dissolution on Feb. 28. 

According to one of Martin’s listings, Danny’s has been for sale since April of 2021. This spring, News 12 reported the restaurant had reopened under new management. 

"People come in just happy, happy that we're open, happy that it's back. And it's just been a great experience with you know the locals and everything that they have to say and hearing they're memories so it's nice," Laura DeLorenzo, told News12 in April. "I want to bring history alive again."

At the time, DeLorenzo said Danny’s original recipes — and maybe even the carhops, too — would be coming back. The April announcement also came with the return of the cannoli milkshake from Micalizzi’s Italian Ices.

Danny's Drive-In opened in 1935 and the stand has been steadily cooking burgers, hot dogs, and now much more for over eight decades in Stratford.
Danny's Drive-In opened in 1935 and the stand has been steadily cooking burgers, hot dogs, and now much more for over eight decades in Stratford.

But only a few short months after the reopening, the lights went out at Danny’s and an “on-vacation” sign went up. The phone number was disconnected and a Google business listing suggested the vacation became permanent.

Martin said while that’s not the plan, it could be a possibility.

“There’s probably a strong desire for that (keeping Danny’s open),” Martin said. “But depending on negotiations and how things go, things are subject to change.”

It’s something he’s experienced before, he said. Once, he said, he helped sell a pizzeria that required the new owner to use the same sauce recipe and gather ingredients from certain vendors — at least for the life of the mortgage. He said Danny’s future is subject to a final contract.

Danny’s could be the latest near-century old Connecticut food stand to fade into an evolving culinary landscape.

This summer, JK’s restaurant in Danbury announced it, too was selling. A listing showed conditions for that sale also included a desire to keep the 98-year-old business intact. It was bought by Nilton Coelho, whose owns Banana Brazil in Danbury and was taken over by Juan Contreras who owns Grandpa’s Restaurant, a Naugatuck diner. 

Representatives for Grandpa’s said they were bringing over the Naugatuck menu, but hoped to keep the Texas-style hot dogs that made JK’s an legend in its own right for nearly a century.

Martin said there is still hope that Danny’s Drive-In will return.