Baker tower stands in the center of the Dartmouth University campus
Photo Credit : Kirkikis/iStock
Learn more about how New Hampshire’s Main Street businesses are caring for their customers in our “Support Local: Go the Extra Mile” series, which includes regular e-newsletter articles as well as regional videos. Sponsored by the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism.
Stretching along the Vermont border in west-central New Hampshire, the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee Region is defined by its variety. It’s home to both lake communities and family farms, a cutting-edge academic medical center and a landmark 1866 wooden covered bridge, a top-ranked family ski resort and New Hampshire’s only national park. Taking the region’s idea of diversity up a notch, the town of Hanover welcomes people from around the world who come to visit, learn, and work at Dartmouth College. And it’s no surprise that Hanover’s eclectic mix is reflected in its first-class restaurant scene.
One of the pillars of the dining community is Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery on South Main Street. Founded in 1947 by a World War II veteran named Lou Bressett, the beloved local eatery is now owned by Jarett and Cailin Berke.
“You don’t go to Dartmouth and not eat at Lou’s — it’s just part of the experience people have when they’re here,” Jarett explains. “Most of the people working here have been around for a much, much longer time than at your typical restaurant. It’s just really a solid brand, wholesome: Good people, and great food.”
The Berkes were only in their second year of ownership when the pandemic struck. With in-house dining shut down, Jarett drew on his experience as a Marine helicopter pilot to plan the way forward. “People who thrive as pilots are those who can maintain their composure when things are a little crazy,” he says. “Covid is scary. But I don’t shy from the challenge of finding ways for us to not just survive, but thrive.”
While many other restaurants were forced to close down and lay off staff, the Berkes never saw that as an option. “Lou’s has been through recessions and hard times and made it through just fine,” Jarett says. “Even in the pandemic, we held true to that.”
Instead, the Berkes kept everyone on staff and began mining new markets. Lou’s increased its takeout options, including family-style meals prepared by its catering crew, which had seen a dropoff in corporate business. “There was an opportunity to do dinners that were affordable but high quality, and allowed families to sit at their dining room table together,” says Jarett. “So when the pandemic hit, we went all in on it.”
Fortunately, the Berkes had already been upgrading Lou’s operations before Covid hit. Changes like improved online ordering helped make the business more nimble. “We did a lot to prepare, just in modernizing,” Jarett says.
He also credits Lou’s employees and customers with being flexible when in-person dining returned. With permission from the town of Hanover, Lou’s turned seven parking spaces on South Main Street into an outdoor dining area last summer, 11 tables sheltered by a large tent. Now that winter is here, Lou’s is serving meals indoors with barriers between seven tables — instead of the usual 16, for proper distancing — along with masks and gloves for all employees and enhanced cleaning throughout.
Lou’s has also been central in some actions taken by the broader dining community. For instance, it partnered with its Main Street neighbor, Boloco, in promoting the Mexican-food franchise’s “Feed the Frontlines” campaign. The two restaurants collected $5 donations from residents to make meals for local hospital workers, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, and other frontline workers. The campaign was so successful – Lou’s and the Hanover Boloco raised more than $100,000 – that there were extra meals to donate to area food banks.
And now Jarett is looking to help organize an Upper Valley delivery service that would be run by local restaurant owners instead of third-party services. The time is ripe for the dining community to strengthen its ties, he says: “The pandemic really brought a lot of us together.”
Thinking of checking out the dining scene in the Dartmouth–Lake Sunapee Region? Here is a sampling of locally owned businesses that are open and ready to take your order! Find more options at visitnh.gov/things-to-do/food-drink/restaurants.
Murphy’s on the Green, Hanover
Three Tomatoes Trattoria, Lebanon