MEREDITH — About 600 people from the Lakes Region tourism industry turned out Wednesday for Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant's annual invitation-only open house.
The waiting line for the 500-seat restaurant, the largest in the Lakes Region, extended out the front door, just as it does on busy weekends at Hart's, which this year marks its 60th anniversary.
Owner Russ Hart and Sim Willey, general manager, greeted guests as they arrived at the restaurant, which on a busy day serves more than one ton of turkey, 40 gallons of gravy, 1,000 pounds of fresh potatoes, 4,000 dinner rolls, and more than 100 pies.
Because it's Thanksgiving every day at Hart's, the restaurant has become a real icon, having been selected by Boston's Phantom Gourmet as a ''Cult Classic'' due to its famously loyal customers who return year after year from all parts of the country.
Hart says that his family, originally from New Jersey, had been vacationing in the Lakes Region since the 1920s and that his father, Russ, and uncle, Larry, moved to the area in 1946 along with their wives, Helen and Gerda, and started farming, growing vegetables and apples and selling chickens, eggs and turkeys from a delivery truck.
In 1953, they raised turkeys exclusively and, in 1954, they opened a 12-seat restaurant specializing in turkey sandwiches and dinners and many of the early customers still remember hearing the gobbling of the turkeys as they drove by on Ladd Hill Road.
Russ became the sole owner when his brother Larry passed away in 1960. In 1965, he phased out raising his own turkeys, discovering that he could equal the quality of the home-grown birds by selectively purchasing them from turkey farms that met his standards.
Hart says his father's point of view was always "If you want it done right, do it yourself," so practically everything served at the restaurant is made right on the premises, including relishes, salad dressings, fresh whipped potatoes, gravies, soups and chowders (made from simmered rich stocks), pies, dinner rolls, puddings, and even Hart's own premium ice cream.
Over the years the restaurant continued to expand and in 1986, Russ and Helen's children, Lynn, Dale, Russell T., and Glenn, purchased the restaurant and continued their active involvement in its daily operations. In February 1998, the family lost Glenn and is still grateful to the community for the support which was forthcoming following his death.
Hart's also operates a catering service which is capable of serving thousands of people at single events and caters all over northern New England.
Hart says that restaurant's web site features a memories section in which customers are invited to share their memories of Hart's and that he always gets a good feeling when he reads their comments.
''We've been fortunate to have such loyal customers and have a next generation here led by Sim which is making sure that the customers get the same quality food and service that we've always prided ourselves on.''
He says that Hart's has always been a strong supporter of the community and promote Lakes Region events such as Laconia Bike Week, Soulfest, and the Great Rotary Fishing Derby, as well as supporting local nonprofit groups.
Russ Hart of Hart's Turkey Farm greets invited guests at the restaurant's annual open house held for members of the area tourist industry Wednesday. About 600 people attended the event. Hart's marks its 60th anniversary season this year. (Roger Amsdenfor The Laconia Daily Sun)