Thomas, George, Stephen and Peter Soffron and their sister Virginia were the children of a couple who moved from Greece to Ipswich, to work in the mills. Whether the brothers ever worked in the mills is uncertain, but in 1932 they started digging clams for the local market, working out of the family farm on Locust Street, In 1940 Soffron Brothers Clam Inc. purchased the Brown Square property and built a seafood processing factory on the site. The four brothers, Tom, George, Pete and Steve, were the children of Greek immigrants who came to work at the Ipswich mills. They moved their shucking house to Brown Square in the former Burke Heel factory.

Their largest customer was a rapidly growing restaurant chain, Howard Johnsons. Saffron Brothers were the exclusive suppliers of clams to the Howard Johnson chain for 32 years, which featured Ipswich Fried Clams on the menu. To keep up with demand the Soffron’s opened additional soft-shell clam shucking plants from Seabrook, New Hampshire, up the Maine coast to Nova Scotia. As demand continued to grow and the soft-shell clam became more difficult to source, the Soffrons invented the “Tendersweet Clam” which was a sliced clam strip made from an ocean sea clam that could be harvested in large quantities from ocean shoals far at sea. Pete and Steve built ocean fishing vessels, invented the dredging techniques for harvesting, and built patented processing equipment and new processing facilities in New Jersey.

Employees shucking clams at Soffron Bros

At Brown Square they constructed a large industrial freezer that used the same flash freezing technique then being used in Gloucester to freeze fish. Tom and George perfected cooking techniques for breading and frying the product, and traveled throughout the Howard Johnson chain teaching the restaurant staff to properly prepare the delicious clam strips. The frozen Tendersweet Clam strips could be shipped from Maine to Florida and was exactly the product Howard Johnson needed for his restaurant chain, which grew coast to coast to 1000 locations at its peak.They eventually built seven processing plants from Nova Scotia to Maryland, as the Howard Johnson chain grew to over 1000 restaurants. Soffron Brothers owned a fleet of fishing vessels, the first of which was the G.N. Soffron, a dragger out of Gloucester. It was 81 feet long, 19 feet wide, and 11 feet deep. Her hold capacity was 125,000 pounds.

In 1966 Howard Johnson’s ended its 32-year contract with the Soffron Brothers.  After a year of re-grouping, the brothers re-opened the business, supplying fresh, frozen and canned clam products for the wholesale market from the Ipswich facility. In 1985 Howard Johnson’s was sold to Marriott Corp. which in turn spun them off. They slowly disappeared, and now there are now only two Howard Johnson’s left, one in Bangor, Maine, and the other in Lake Placid, N.Y. Soffron Brothers continued in business into the 1990’s spanning three generations of family ownership until the building and land was sold to Mercury Brewing,

*George A. Soffron provided information for this article. He is the son of Stephen N. Soffron, who was born 18 January, 1919. 

brewery
The brick building that is now Mercury Brewing was once a processing plant for Soffron Brothers clams

howard_johnson

Thomas Soffron was also the lead singer and guitarist with the Greek string band Talambekos Mandolinata. They performed at Greek social events throughout New England and New York in the 1940s and ’50s, and made commercial recordings, and were elected this group to its Greek Musical Hall of Fame. Thomas Soffron died in 2004 at the age of 96.

3 thoughts on “Soffron Brothers Ipswich Clams

  1. I remember going the Brown Square shucking facility at the age of ten. I saw young Women fewer men sitting in a circle-type loop of about fifteen or so shucking clams at a fast pace. A slow stream of water running down the center of the loop to a drain on the cement floor, so fast they worked the meat from the shell shell from large baskets to a gallon or two holding cans. All stripped and cleaned. Then placed into a refrigerated cooler. This was piece work in a way, based on how many tins you could do while the supply lasted. Speed was a a factor for a sucessful day’s pay. Many people from as far as Seabrook N.H area depended on Soffron Bros. for an income. I remember the workers holding a special stubby knife made for the job (by the workers I think). No special working conditions back then, a stool, a place to sit if lucky. A knife. Wet feet, all weather conditions, damp and humid, water soaked hands, cut and tender from sharp clam shells. The work must go on. The only pleasure they shared was local gossip and a cigarette now no then. Mind over matter. Steady work and good pay. Sofrron Bros. was a well respected place of employment. James Soffron Portsmouth

  2. Thank you for taking the time to research this! Any chance you can identify the women working the line? I *think* I see my Nana towards the end, in the back. My grandmother spent YEARS working at Soffron’s – I actually grew up on Brown Square! Big trucks rolling in all the time…never ending smell of clams. Needless to say, I don’t care for them too much! 🙂

    Thanks again!
    Laurie Moon

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