LACONIA — Restaurateur Kevin Halligan was active in the Lakes Region for a little more than 10 years. However, his impact on the local food scene remains even after he has left. Two of his businesses, each aimed at raising the bar for local food, will keep their doors open and pursue their original mission, despite the absence of their founder.
Halligan, according to several sources, has left the Laconia area for Vermont. He did not return a request for comment.
Halligan’s history as a restaurant owner started in 2007, when he purchased the Laconia Village Bakery on Main Street. But his ambitions were greater. Five years later, he opened Local Eatery in Laconia’s historic train station, where he sought to prove that not only could the city support a fine-dining restaurant on par with some of the best in the state, he could do it relying primarily on ingredients produced within a 150-mile range.
Since then, Halligan opened Local Provisions, a meat and fish shop featuring local proteins. And in January 2018, he, along with chef Kaylon Sweet opened Osteria Poggio in Center Harbor, with the intent of serving the best Italian food in the state.
With Halligan out of the picture, Provisions has closed its doors. But Sweet said he is “in the process” of consolidating ownership of Osteria Poggio, and Local Eatery is continuing under the ownership of Reuben Bassett, who also has an ownership stake in downtown Laconia businesses Burrito Me and Wayfarer Coffee Roasters.
Bassett said he became owner of Local Eatery on Oct. 1. He said that he wanted to ensure that the business would continue because he saw it as important to the economy of the city. “It would really be a shame to lose it, because of what it has done in the community. It is a pillar of good food in Laconia,” he said.
“Sometime in the summer, Kevin and I started talking about it. He had gotten to the point that it made sense to move on from it. He was ready for someone else to come in… He took a big risk in Laconia, doing something like this, and he did it,” Bassett said. “He did an amazing thing that hopefully I can take to the next level.”
Bassett, who also sells commercial real estate in Laconia, said he won’t be running the day-to-day operations of the business. That will be left to executive chef Dan McCarthy, who has worked at Local Eatery since it opened, and who ran the kitchen in recent years when Halligan pursued other projects.
“He was able to learn under Kevin,” Bassett said. “Now, it’s Dan’s turn to see what he can do.”
McCarthy is a 2001 graduate of Laconia High School who went on to study culinary arts at Johnson and Wales.
Local Eatery presents a particular challenge to its kitchen staff. In order to adhere to its philosophy of eating as many local ingredients as possible, the menu gets thrown out every two or three weeks and a new one is written based on what is available at that point in the growing season. That represents about 200 full menu changes since the place opened. It’s a never-ending challenge, but one that McCarthy said he considers a “labor of love.”
“It allows me to work with a wide variety of ingredients, fantastically high quality of ingredients. It is hard to beat something that was in the ground 20 miles away, 20 minutes before it hits my kitchen,” McCarthy said. “You start with good ingredients, you handle them with love and care, the flavor sort of writes itself.”
McCarthy said he would describe the food as “American Eclectic Bistro,” meaning that there’s bits and pieces of regional North American cuisines – but he added that he’s just as likely to add in influences from Asia, the Middle East, or from any of the European food traditions.
“There’s nothing we consider off-limits, it’s what can we get our hands on as far as ingredients, what we can do justice for as a dish, and what the customers will allow us to do,” McCarthy said.
Long-time regulars shouldn’t be concerned by the ownership change, Bassett and McCarthy stressed. They are believers in Halligan’s original vision, and they pledged to only make changes that further serve that mission.
McCarthy will be joined in the kitchen by Glen Crawford, with whom he has worked before, and he said he is excited by the opportunity they will have in the near future. “You are going to see some fun stuff come out of this kitchen.”
Just up Parade Road is one of Local Eatery’s nearest competitors. In 2017, Yankee Magazine listed both Local Eatery and Tavern 27 among its “Editor’s Choice” list of places to dine in New Hampshire. Only 14 restaurants made that list. Ray Simanson, one of the owners of Tavern 27, said he’s happy to have Halligan’s restaurant continue to serve.
“I’m one that I look forward to as many restaurants as possible competing on this level. It’s important to me to see that keep going. There’s definitely a need for this tier of restaurant,” Simanson said. He noted that Faro Italian Grille, in The Weirs, closed this summer (Faro owners characterized the closing as temporary and said they planned to reopen in the spring.) “I recognize the importance of having them in the community in the same tier for quality. Especially at a time when we lost Faro not long ago, it would be harmful if we would continue losing the first-tier restaurants in the region. It’s important for the local economy to have them here.”