By Adam Drapcho
THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — It seemed like a great idea. David and Maureen Kennedy were enjoying the success of their church-turned-Irish-Restaurant in Epping, the Holy Grail, when they were invited to create a partnership to replicate their model in Laconia, renovating the former home of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Veterans Square to create the Holy Grail of the Lakes. From the beginning, though, it didn’t go as planned. The owners planned to open in March, so they could work out the kinks with staff, service and equipment, but construction delays pushed opening to Memorial Day 2014.
Timing can be everything, and such was the case for the Holy Grail of the Lakes. If things had gone according to plan, and the restaurant had opened in early spring, the servers would have had time to learn the menu, and the cooks would have become familiar with recipes and their equipment. They didn’t have those opportunities, though, until they opened the doors at the beginning of the busy tourism season. This would have been difficult for most restaurants but it was especially challenging for the Holy Grail of the Lakes, because so many locals were interested to see how the church had been transformed into a restaurant.
The result was that some diners, unaware of how difficult can be to open a new restaurant, were disappointed with their experience. Meanwhile, there was discord behind the scenes as well, which likely contributed to the staggering rate of staff turnover that first summer – the restaurant went through more than 100 employees during its first five months of operation. The partnership that opened the restaurant has since dissolved, and David and Maureen are now the sole proprietors of the restaurant. They’re asking for Laconia to give them a second chance at a first impression.
“I apologize that when people came in and gave us our shot, they didn’t get what they were expecting,” said David Kennedy. Since then, Kennedy said, the restaurant has worked through all its kinks and now provides the experience that has made the Epping location such a success. Yet, the Laconia location hasn’t seen that success, and the Kennedys have been using profits from their Epping restaurant to keep the local site open.
That’s why they have taken the unusual step of publishing a letter of apology, addressed to “Residents of Laconia and Visitors of the Lakes Region.” The letter was published in an advertisement on Jan. 5. In an interview last week, Kennedy said that he is encouraged by the growing vibrancy of the city’s downtown, but that he can’t indefinitely subsidize the business.
“There’s not enough people coming in the doors to pay the bills – we’re not able to make it unless people are willing to come in and give us a second chance.”
On Saturday, Jan. 21, David and Maureen are throwing a “Second Chance Party” at the restaurant, featuring a live radio broadcast, raffles, prizes and give-aways, encouraging local diners to visit. Kennedy said the party is an open invitation to local diners, to “let everyone know we would love to see them in here again.” He would also welcome people who have criticism, to approach him or Maureen and let them know what they could do better.
“The bottom line is, I don’t know why people don’t come in here,” he said. The restaurant’s location, in Veterans Square, is easy to find, and the interior, as a renovated church, is unlike anything else in the region. With 32 taps, the Holy Grail beer selection includes a blend of the best local craft beers as well as ales and lagers from across the Atlantic. The food is prepared under the direction of Richard Provino, a chef trained by the Culinary Institute of America. Provino said that while the menu is unpretentious, there’s more to the food than meets the eye.
“It’s high-quality ingredients, produced predominantly from scratch,” said Provino. “We cook more here than people think we do.”
Items that exemplify the care given to humble food, said Provino, are the Guinness beef stew, which cooks for hours; shepherd’s pie, which has a mixture of beef and lamb; seafood chowder made with fresh fish; and corned beef dinner, made with brisket brined in-house.
For the Kennedys, making the business sustainable is about more than dollars and cents. “We aren’t the type of people that are in this just for the money,” he said. When they were first looking at downtown Laconia, a few years ago, they saw streets where there were more vacant storefronts than occupied. Since then, several new stores have opened, and with the Colonial Theatre project on the horizon, the future seems bright for downtown. The Holy Gail would like to be part of the downtown’s revival, but David wants to know if local diners want to keep him around.
“We want to keep it going, we want to keep it open. But if no one comes in here, we are wasting our time,” he said.
Chef Richard Provino stirs a batch of Guinness beef stew, one of the many dishes at the Holy Grail of the Lakes that are made in-house, from scratch. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun photo)
Constructed in the former Evangelical Baptist Church in Veterans Square, the Holy Grail of the Lakes boasts an atmosphere unlike anything else. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun photo)