In 1947, the nation was in the midst of great change. Families were reunited after nearly a decade of foreign conflict. Industry took on a new peacetime focus. Government leaders promised a booming era. Wages would be high. Innovation and invention would replace the inconvenience of the latter decade. Above all else, a greater sense of family would develop from the unspeakable destruction and loss suffered during World War II.
Hanover, NH, nestled among the White Mountains and banks of the Connecticut River, was no different. Young men returned from Europe, Asia and Africa with an unparalleled sense of optimism and energy for the growth of their beloved hometown. One man in particular had ambition, and a vision. With only a little borrowed start-up capital, he set out to improve Hanover in a very small way. He invested in a failing restaurant on Main Street, realizing a dream of operating his own coffee shop and full-service bakery. With his hat in his hand, he opened the doors to the newly remodeled diner on April 11, 1947. Slowly – at first – then steadily, customers were beckoned by the smells of fresh cinnamon buns and steaming coffee, a freshly baked doughnut, and a smile from one of the friendly waitresses. Lou Bressett, a recently discharged Marine, dubbed his place “Lou’s,” and in doing so began a Hanover tradition that would last well into the next century.
The good food and low prices drew many young Dartmouth men out of their residence halls, in search of a good home-cooked meal. Their professors were drawn to the corner booths for early morning inspiration, and perhaps a break from the normalcy of academia. Out-of-towners sought local lore and gossip, while businessmen found the morning news and fellow companionship on cold winter mornings. Everyone who enjoyed a cup of coffee or set his elbows on the formica tables was greeted with a smile.
The 1960’s and 1970’s can be blamed for the demise of many traditional institutions. Many wonder why this one restaurant was allowed to persist. Since the beginning, Lou founded his shop not only on conversation and good times, but also on superb food at great prices. It was the delicious dishes and pastries that drew customers again and again, despite any political unrest that may have lured others astray.
In the decades that followed, Lou’s reputation for food and atmosphere spread throughout the state (and, as many postcards attest, throughout the world). Customers traveled from Boston and New York and found their way out of the dorms and off the Appalachian Trail to savor some of the delicate, rich morsels prepared daily in the bakery.
In 1980, Lou Bressett retired as owner/proprietor of this lasting institution. His namesake, however, would live on. The walls contained large, yellowing photos of himself with the various dignitaries and celebrities who graced the counter with their presence. Even the original male “breakfast groupies” had found places along the walls, their eyes keeping a lookout to all who came to share a meal or add an opinion.
Bressett’s successor is best known for his many changes to the restaurant. Perhaps the greater publicized of the two was his choice to remove the aged 8×10 glossies from the walls. This small change stirred controversy in small-town Hanover. The strife was highlighted not only in local papers, but also in culinary magazines and the Wall Street Journal. Finally, after surveying the community, a 2-to-1 vote resulted in the re-installation of these photos, albeit in a somewhat smaller capacity, to the hallowed walls.
In addition to his photo fame, the new owner, Bob Watson, implemented many changes in the menu. In addition to the home style entrees served for years, he added Mexican fare – one that has been called “the closest thing to Mexico you can get in New Hampshire.” The Mexican entrees sparked surprising interest and have remained as a permanent part of the current menu.
Soon after the controversy over the pictures subsided, Watson elected out of the restaurant business and in 1992 turned the place over to Pattie and Toby Fried. While many feared additional changes, most were pleased to find only aesthetic changes in the restaurant’s aging interior. The food, the name, the friendly conversation and cozy atmosphere would remain.
In the summer of 1997, Lou’s celebrated its 50th anniversary with a sidewalk birthday gathering and half-priced breakfast and lunch entrees. The cake was ceremonially cut and served by Lou Bressett, and the gathering was attended by many of his companions from the early years. 2007 marked the 60th anniversary with the cake being cut and served by Ann Bressett. Lou passed away in 2003 and his presence is still missed.
While current “regulars” may not have heard of Lou Bressett or woman’s rights in Hanover, they are aware of the “Lou’s tradition.” They enjoy dining in a restaurant that reflects local culture and welcomes regulars and newcomers alike. It is therefore not surprising that a restaurant of such admiration has successfully endured over a half-century of change. Most people will agree that this dining experience will continue to please customers for the next century, instilling the “Lou’s tradition” of hospitality for many generations to come.