MANCHESTER, NH – When Don and Gail York, owner’s of Indian Head Athletics, retired last year they didn’t just leave behind 40 years of memories, they left a legacy of customer service and community involvement.
They also left the question of what to do with an empty building on a prime piece of downtown real estate.
When you’re part of Manchester’s entrepreneurial York family you take your time and review your options. You think about how you can add value to the community, and then you turn the page and start a new chapter.
Five months later the windows are boarded and the whine of a lone circular saw drowns out the sound of rain hitting the street. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but looks are deceiving.
The interior of the old Indian Head Athletics store at 18 Lake Avenue is a testament to industry in motion and when you walk through the front door you can feel the legacy of the two families behind it.
Men are working inside, outside, and downstairs. HVAC components and building materials are piled wherever they can find an open space, and the floor is crisscrossed with blue extension cords.
Sawdust is everywhere.
Almost a year after closing the doors, the York family is replacing the old family sporting goods store with a sports-themed restaurant, Shopper’s Pub + Eatery at Indian Head.
Building plans take up a big table in the middle of the room and a piece of the familiar yellow athletic cutouts from the old Indian Head storefront peeks down from its storage space above the fray.
With an opening goal of early May, the project is proceeding on schedule.
Kyle York, a third-generation entrepreneur, and son of Indian Head Athletics owners Don and Gail York, points to the pitched roofline in front of us. In a matter of weeks, the familiar Indian Head storefront will be recreated as a focal point of the interior decor and the old facade will take on a new role joining the York family’s storied past with the LaCava family’s future as newcomers to the Queen City.
Joey LaCava, the fourth generation of his family to run Waltham’s beloved Shopper’s Cafe, is excited to bring the restaurant to Manchester. “We’re a small family restaurant. We use my great-grandmother’s original recipes to make our food fresh every day and when you walk in, our staff knows you by name.”
He’s proud of his family and the hard work they’ve put into building businesses that support the community. It’s a trait he shares with York, his longtime friend, and former college roommate.
York says it was “a conscious choice” to bring in LaCava when it was time to fill his family’s old store. He loves Manchester and says “People who grow up here or move here have an almost evangelical pride when it comes to supporting and promoting the city.”
This duo is passionate about this joint project and share its vision for the renovation. They talk about having 20 taps behind the bar, a Jumbotron-type cluster of television screens that will fill one wall and a bank of 90-inch 6-panel screens that will go on another.
Then there’s the food.
Shopper’s may bill itself as a sports pub, but the heart of the business is based on LaCava’s great-grandmother’s original recipes.
York says LaCava would cite the selection of homemade pizza as the top item on the menu, but he thinks the wings, burgers, and steak tips are the best you’ll find anywhere.
It’s an old argument with both men debating perfect crust vs. secret sauce and to-die-for wings.
A quick look at online reviews shows customers are equally divided about their favorite, they all agree about the quality of the food and the price.
LaCava reminds me that everything is made fresh daily, and York adds that nothing on the menu is over $20.
Quality food at an affordable price is another of their conscious choices.
LaCava says “We’re mindful of our price point, we’re proud of it.“
It’s clearly a conversation they’ve had before. They’re both experienced businessmen, entrepreneurs who know their products and their market.
The walls are still bare studs and with the exception of two giant booths in the front, the room is an unfinished shell.
It’s hard to picture 100 people fitting in the room, but LaCava says that the basement level will hold a climate-controlled prep room, complete with walk-in coolers, prep tables, and ovens. It will be like having a second kitchen and will free up a lot of space in the dining room that would normally be allocated to prep.
York says the bar will take the back wall, the rest of the room will be a combination of regular seating and high top tables along the wall. The original plan was for three regular size booths near the front, but it was reconfigured to accommodate two larger groups instead.
“We want Shopper’s Pub to be a place where people who work downtown or the Millyard can come for lunch or stop for a drink after work.”
It’s a big change for a small space, but they want to encourage people to come with friends and get comfortable. He adds that the space will expand more in the summer when the front wall of the building opens up for open-air dining.
The old family sporting goods store has been gutted and reimagined in a way that not only pays testament to the history of the York family in Manchester but the core values that made them a fixture in the community.
York and LaCava go back and forth sharing stories about growing up working in their families’ businesses. They talk about the food, the customers, sports, and the importance of having a team, the family they’ve worked with their entire lives, share their vision for the future.
The bar with its twenty taps and 30-screen Jumbotron television may be a little hard to visualize on this drizzly Friday, but after talking to these two men, Shopper’s Pub already feels like home.