LACONIA — David and Maureen Kennedy are no strangers to the concept of an Irish pub. After all, Maureen was raised in a family that operated 13 of them in New York. When it came time for them to open their own establishment, they wanted to do something a little different: an Irish restaurant where the food is taken as seriously as the drinks. The Kennedys opened their first restaurant in Epping in 2008, purchasing a deconsecrated church and converting it to an eatery they named "The Holy Grail", a restaurant that has since become a destination for diners that many miles for a visit.
This year, the Kennedys, along with business partner Khalid Farid, are hoping to replicate their success by opening a second restaurant in downtown Laconia.
Laconia wasn't their first choice for their second location. Other sites in Methuen, Mass. and Dover were considered, but both of those deals fell through when the Catholic Diocese objected to the sale of its former churches to a buyer that wanted to turn them into eateries. So, they refined their search to include only former churches of non-Catholic congregations. As fortune would have it, this renewed search for real estate coincided with the Evangelical Baptist Church of Laconia was moving from its 150 year-old building on Veterans Square to a larger facility in Lakeport. Upon further examination, David said Laconia seemed like the perfect spot. It's far enough away from Epping to not compete for the same diners, yet close enough that he could drive from one to the other in an emergency. And with attractions such as the lakes, skiing and Meadowbrook, David sees lots of potential diners passing through the city.
"People come here who have disposable income, they want to go out someplace nice," he said. "It's a prime spot, it has everything I would incorporate into my business plan if I could come up with the perfect spot. Plus, it has a church for sale."
They closed on sale of the property earlier this month.
The Holy Grail team also found a city that was enthusiastic about the development of the property. City Hall offices gave the restaurant the fast-track treatment for permits and applications. The City Council even agreed to help pay for the extension of a water main to the building so that the restaurant could install sprinklers, as required by code. With the permits in hand and the real estate transaction concluded, all that's left is the construction work to convert the church, built in 1863, to the Lakes Region's newest restaurant, the Holy Grail of the Lakes. The work began this week, and David estimates the project to take about seven months. He plans to preserve as much of the building's historic character as possible and expects to be able to seat around 175 diners.
As the name implies, Laconia's restaurant will strongly reflect the Epping establishment. David said the Holy Grail of the Lakes menu will be "Ninety-five percent the same as the Epping menu," with the remaining five percent reserved to feature local and seasonal ingredients. Diners should expect to find a selection of sandwiches, salads, pasta, steak and seafood dishes. The menu will also offer more traditional Irish fare, such as bangers and colcannon, fish & chips, shepherd's pie, Scotch eggs, and boiled dinner, either vegetarian or with corned beef. David said his cooks look for ways to incorporate Jameson whiskey, cider or beer in the cooking, such as their Guinness-marinated steak tips.
Speaking of beer, The Holy Grail of the Lakes figures to be one of the best places in the Lakes Region to drain a pint. The Epping restaurant has 26 draft beers on tap and David said there will be more than that in Laconia, as well as a few casks. None of those taps will be used to pour Budweiser, Miller or Coors products. Instead, The Holy Grail of the Lakes will boast a combination of Old World favorites — Bass, Guinness, Harp and Smithwick's — along with high-quality local brews.
When the Holy Grail of the Lakes opens, David hopes that local residents will continue to congregate at the building as they have since 1863, albeit for a more Earthly reason. "A church has always been part of the community, they've already been there, they know where it is," he said. "It will be a destination place."
CAPTION for HOLY GRAIL CHURCH in AA: Construction has begun to transform the former Evangelical Baptist Church in Laconia's Veterans Square to The Holy Grail of the Lakes, an Irish restaurant. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)