The aroma of good cooking drifts down the sidewalk, luring patrons into Helen’s, a restaurant off Monument Square. A bowed multi-paned window extends across the front of the dining room revealing booths, tables and counter seating.
Helen’s has long been a place to indulge in breakfast, lunch and dinner. Helen, a Russian immigrant, started the business in the 1930s.
The building and the building next door remain with her family. It was a Brigham’s Ice Cream parlor for years before the family renamed it to honor the matriarch.
Today, Helen’s granddaughters, sisters Nancy Prendergast and Sue Wardwell, work hard making the restaurant thrive. With a loyal customer base, an extensive menu and local suppliers, they succeed.
Tradition is important. When someone asks who Helen is, Nancy volunteers. Old photos of the town line the wall, some with family stories the sisters will share.
On a mid-afternoon on a Friday the place was hopping. The sisters delivered wraps, chicken waffles and more to the tables. Wardwell had pies baking, but she does not think that created the mouthwatering smell outside. She just put them in the oven.
During the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant adjusted, offering curbside pickup when dining in was not allowed. For the first time, they accepted credit cards. The bond between the restaurant and the community became even stronger.
“We’re lucky,” Wardwell said. Customers would order food to-go four or five times a week. “They didn’t want us to go under,” she said. She sent a special shout out to their faithful customers, “Thank you for supporting us all these years.”
The sisters “have been serving and bringing smiles to the community for decades even during Covid … (T)hese two ladies deserve only the best … My husband and I have lived in Concord for almost 40 years, and they really stand out for how hard they work and make Helen’s a special spot in Concord,” wrote Maria E. Abate in an email to “The Concord Bridge.”
Their brother, Paul Denisevich, owns the building and renovated the dining room with new paint, upholstery and light fixtures during pandemic restrictions. Thanks to his travels, the sisters now serve Bad Ass coffee from Hawaii.
Pandemic challenges remain. Wardwell spent a day recently calling suppliers to get carbon dioxide for the soda machine. Pepsi promised some in a few days, but the business had gone four weeks without fountain sodas. Fortunately, they still had Coca-Cola products in a cooler.
Diners come from in town and far away. Some patrons chose Helen’s as a place to meet up between Ayer and Boston. Visitors from around the world stop in including families with children at Concord Academy and Fenn School. Prendergast was thrilled when a customer called out to her in the Rome airport, “Helen! What are you doing here?”
The restaurant does not accept reservations, but now that tourists have returned, local businesses get a heads-up when a bus will be in town.
The Denisevich family grew up in Concord and their grandparents lived over the restaurant for a time. The sisters recall when people used to live in apartments over the commercial buildings, and folks shopped at Woolworth’s and went to the bowling alley on Sudbury Rd.
They carry that community tradition in how they run their business, welcoming long standing friends and customers, and newcomers alike. “We know what to do,” Wardwell said.
Helen’s is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. They are located at 17 Main Street.
Helen’s granddaughters, sisters Nancy Prendergast, left, and Sue Wardwell, keep the modern-day family business running. Nicknamed the A-Team by their customers, they kept things going through COVID-19 restrictions and the restaurant is thriving.
Helen’s granddaughters, sisters Nancy Prendergast, left, and Sue Wardwell, keep the modern-day family business running. Nicknamed the A-Team by their customers, they kept things going through COVID-19 restrictions and the restaurant is thriving. The muntin window is a prized architectural feature of the building.
The muntin window is a prized architectural feature of the building. The family has owned this building and business in the center of Concord for three generations.
Helen’s offers an extensive menu of home made and locally sourced food.