I remember the black raspberry ice cream, the meatball sandwiches wrapped in foil, and the Pez candy. Dickie Rossini remembers the door to the attic.
“We got a call that one of the sprinkler heads had frozen in the dining area down there, and the ladder truck and rescue got called for the activation of the alarm," recalled Rossini. "We stayed there and cleaned up, and in the middle of the cleanup, I said to the manager, ‘I guess you’re new here and don’t know enough to keep the attic door open in the winter time, because the sprinkler pipes will freeze up there.’
"He just looked at me with a blank stare, like, ‘What are you talking about.’ So I said my father and uncles use to own Walter’s Restaurant that was here for a number of years. I remembered when I worked there, especially the last year when I was working a lot of nights for my father when he was sick, I’d close up. In the wintertime you had to leave the door to the attic open so the heat would go up there and keep the pipes from freezing.”
Walter’s Restaurant, more commonly known as Walter’s Dairy, was a Holliston institution from the days of its humble opening in 1940, until its sale to Bertucci’s in the early 80s. During this time, it was impossible to live in Holliston and not be familiar with “The Dairy,” or to know at least one member of the Rossini family.
The Dairy filled our growing town’s need for a family-friendly establishment perfect for a good sit-down dinner or a quick bite on the run. It was impossible to visit The Dairy without encountering a friend or friendly face. With the businesslike “Ma” Rossini at the helm, her four sons (Walter, Sonny, Alex and Beno) manned the kitchen. The remaining positions were primarily filled by children, friends of children and a faithful kitchen and wait staff, many of whom worked at The Dairy for decades.
Dickie worked at The Dairy from 1970, when he was 11, until 1984. “You got to know everybody,” he said, mentioning a litany of relatives and friends that he worked with. “I know a lot of people who were older than me fairly well from working there,” he said.
Not all the young people at The Dairy were working inside. The Dairy parking lot was a huge teen meeting area, packed on summer Friday nights and after Saturday Holliston High football games.
“I remember my father coming home and complaining about there being so many kids in the parking lot,” says Dickie. As a result, “You got to know the police very well. They would come in the back door and hang out in the back. As a kid, I remember them advising us not to go to certain parties because they were going to be crashing them. They would show up just before nine and we would be closing, and they would say ‘Don’t go here.”
As an Ashland kid with friends in Holliston, Ray Hart remembers playing basketball at Goodwill Park before ending up at The Dairy for cokes or frappes. A Saturday night battle of the bands would end at The Dairy with friends enjoying ice cream.
My sister, Mary-Caryl Ferdenzi, began work as a waitress at The Dairy as a junior in high school, and enjoyed it so much, that she continued to work there two nights a week after college, having gained other full-time employment.
“It was awesome,” she said. “It was a family place, starting with Ma at the cash register and the four brothers alternating in the kitchen. I can see Walter sitting out back on an ice cream can with a propane torch making baked Alaska, as well as the making of the sandwiches at the front of the kitchen and the fryolater in the back.”
A steady and familiar stream of customers kept The Dairy hopping. “We had a number of regulars,” said Mary-Caryl. “They were everyday hardworking family people from Holliston such as Charlie Proctor, Betty Bustin, and Henry Chesmore. I can still see Mike from Arcadian Farms sitting in the booth in the afternoon with Danny DiSciullo.”
“Families and kids would come in for ice-cream including Jo Dee Messina and her brother Vinnie,” she continued. “Bobby Hart would leave the waitresses little bars of blueberry soap and his mother and father were regulars in the dining room. On Friday nights, Jean and Woofy Chapin would be in with Tom and Mary Nolan and Mary Johnson and her husband Snookie. Women would walk down from Cole Court and the Doctors from Holliston Pediatrics would also be in.”
The veal parmesan sandwich was a Dairy favorite, as was the #1, a cheeseburger on French bread with lettuce and tomato, or a #2, a cheeseburger on French bread sans lettuce and tomato. One didn’t want to forget to ask for gravy on their French fries. Friday night take out, clams, onion rings and French fries, served in the familiar white bags, were always a treat. A sign announcing the curious “Fresh Frozen Lemonade” hung against the back wall.
My sister indicates that “It was funny working at the Diary because you would be serving an ice cream sundae one minute, and making a martini or Manhattan the next. It covered all the bases."
She recalled when “Cherrie Johnson was working behind the bar one day, which we considered an ice cream bar, or a soda fountain bar. A guy came in and asked for a Budweiser and a Wild Turkey. Sherry wrote down on the slip, one wild turkey dinner and one Budweiser, and put the slip into the kitchen. They called her in and asked her what it was, and it was then she found out he wanted a shot of Wild turkey and not a wild turkey dinner.”
“I knew I was officially a townie the day I got married, because they closed the restaurant for the day, and I wasn’t a Rossini and I didn’t marry one,” said Mary-Caryl. “They all came to my wedding.”
So strong are the positive memories of The Dairy, that a Facebook page for Walters Dairy exists with multiple generations of Hollistonians sharing their thoughts on menu items and this wonderful slice of Americana. But The Dairy should also be known for providing more than great food in a terrific atmosphere. It is also where Dickie Rossini and his brother Tommy met their wives.