Everyone's a Regular at Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery
This beloved Hanover institution turns 70
The counter at Lou's in 1969. Photo courtesy of Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery
“Hey guys, go ahead and line up for a table, we’ll get to you as quick as possible!” The smell of coffee and freshly baked goods is everywhere as hungry patrons dive into breakfast dishes like this writer’s favorite, “The Little Green,” which comes with a slice of cruller French toast, an egg, cob-smoked bacon, home fries and a muffin for good measure, at the diner-style counter or larger tables and booths. Servers bounce in and out of the kitchen with large plates of food, greeting diners, some of whom they’ve known for decades.
Located in downtown Hanover a block away from Dartmouth College, this is the scene at Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery on a typical Saturday morning. Packed with local families, parents visiting their kids who attend Dartmouth and tons of Dartmouth students, those who come on the weekend know they will have to wait.
For 70 years, Lou’s Restaurant has fed hungry customers. Black and white photos of the restaurant filled with local patrons over the decades adorn the walls. But they also serve as a reminder of how the restaurant has witnessed decades of American history and earned an iconic status over the years among local intellectuals and businesspeople, plus politicos and visitors from other parts of the country. In the 1960s, Nelson Rockefeller campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination here; authors Bill Bryson and Janet Evanovich have written about the place; celebrity chef Mario Batali visited three times on a visit to town; and JD Salinger is rumored to have regularly dined here. But perhaps its status among the glitterati is not surprising given the story of its original proprietor.
Current owners Toby and Pattie Fried. Photo by Mercedes Armella Spitalier
In 1947, Lewis J. Bressett was a recently discharged Marine who had just returned to his hometown of Hanover. With loans from the bank and his mother-in-law, Bressett opened his doors to the townspeople, including leaders from Dartmouth — one of whom started what would become known as the breakfast club, a group of men who came to Lou’s in the morning to catch up, discuss the latest news and have a bite before work. Dartmouth alumnus Robert Frost supposedly remarked that there was more college business conducted at Lou’s than anywhere on campus.
Becky Schneider has worked as a server at Lou’s since 1978, when she moved to Hanover with her parents at 17. “In those early days I used to jokingly call it the ‘He-man-woman-haters club’ because in the early mornings it was all men in here. They had kind of a men’s club here in a sense where they’d discuss city politics and the college. If a woman came in and sat down and ordered coffee before 9:30, people would stare.” She says she’s seen the restaurant, along with the local community, evolve into a more welcoming and inclusive place since.
“Today, people come here because they can get consistently outstanding food from a staff that genuinely cares about them. Kids come here for their birthdays, and we get to know many of our regulars. Everyone is treated like family,” she says. “Working here has made my life very rich.”
Lou's original coffee club with Lou standing in the back. Photo courtesy of Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery
Bressett, who Schneider describes as “kind, quiet and generous,” soon contributed to Hanover in more official capacities. Within a couple years of opening the restaurant, he was the president of the board of directors for the Hanover Chamber of Commerce. Later, he served as the chairman of the Board of Precinct Commissioners, a trustee of the Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital and president of the Hanover Improvement Society, causing one 1975 writer at The Dartmouth to refer to him as the “politician in the kitchen.”
“I had an experience that nobody else in the world has had the advantage of having,” Bressett, who died in 2003, said in an interview with Daniel Daily in 2002. “I met some great people.”
In 1958, a Dartmouth professor named Allen Foley started the tradition of hanging up framed photos of regulars, leaders in the college community, business owners and more on the walls in what became known as “Lou’s Rogues Gallery.” When the second owner of Lou’s, Robert Watson, took down the photos to paint, it caused such an uproar that it caught the attention of The Wall Street Journal. Today, several of the original photos from the gallery are on the walls and have been updated with photos of prominent women.
Pascoal Lopez has worked at Lou's for 25 years. Photo by Mercedes Armella Spitalier
There have been other additions to the traditions of Lou’s too, some created by current owners Toby and Pattie Fried. Toby — who grew up in Vienna, went to culinary school and started getting attention for his baked goods in Boston before moving to the Upper Valley with his wife — worked briefly as an overnight baker before the pair bought Lou’s from Watson in 1991. “The restaurant came with the bakery,” Pattie says with a laugh, adding that in recent years, the business has seen the most growth come from its bakery. Today, Toby still works in the kitchen five days a week, and thru-hikers who wander into town from the Appalachian Trail are welcomed with a free cruller or another treat.
Toby says that people still come in a few times a year asking that their relative be put back up on the wall. “Lou warned me that would happen,” he says. “Because everyone’s a regular.”
But while steeped in history, what keeps people coming back to Lou’s is still unquestionably the food. “I had a man come in recently and tell me he’d never been in before and probably wouldn’t have the chance to ever come back again and asked me to choose something for him,” says Schneider. “I gave him the corned beef hash with home fries and homemade cinnamon toast. And he was just thrilled.”