Molly's Balances Nostalgia With Appreciation for the New

by Matthew Garvey | 4/2/15 7:37pm

mollys-web
Source: Kathleen Rao, The Dartmouth Staff

“Can I take your order?”

“Yes, I’ll have brick-oven nachos as an appetizer and the northern fried chicken with a side of coleslaw.”

“You got it, coming right up.”

Thirty minutes later, Molly’s Restaurant had done it again. I completely devoured the crispy oven-baked nachos and tender fried chicken, leaving no room for dessert or dissatisfaction.

Every time I make it into town and find myself at Molly’s, I try a new item on the menu. The building is spacious, but it always seems brimming with customers, friendly wait staff and walls filled with Ivy League memorabilia, local sports photos and artifacts.

Molly’s has become a favorite for many students and families looking for a great meal away from campus. In 1982, Marc and Patty Milowsky, the owners of Jesse’s Steaks, Seafood and Tavern, received a zoning permit to open a new restaurant in a central location in Hanover. After just six months of construction, the Milowskys took over the Town and Country Dress Shop downtown and converted it into a 150-seat restaurant and bar named Molly’s Balloon.

Marc Milowsky recalls that the town was the perfect place to own a few restaurants. More than just a promising environment for a small business, though, it also proved to be a place where the Milowskys could envision their lives together. The couple, he said, fell in love with the town in the 1970s.

“My wife and I actually met while we were both working in a restaurant in Vermont, which was a lot like Jesse’s,” he said. “We got married and decided we wanted to open up our own place. Her mom lived in Windsor at that time teaching school, and so we came down and looked in Hanover and thought the area was perfect for business.”

The Milowskys opened The Prince in the Pauper, their first restaurant, in 1973. They followed with Jesse’s just three years later, and in 1983, they founded the restaurant in downtown Hanover that has become a College staple.

The couple had a vision from day one — create a restaurant and eating experience that appeals to all people.

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said Molly’s is a quintessential part of the town, noting that the restaurant benefits from its advantageous location.

“Molly’s is literally at our crossroads of downtown,” Griffin said. “Whether you’re coming in a noontime or during the evening, the place is hopping.”

Liz Lin ’16 echoed Griffin’s thinking. “Because Hanover is so small and Main Street is full of family owned businesses, it has that idyllic college feel to it that most students enjoy,” she said.

For Griffin, the restaurant, along with other eateries, serves as a draw for people throughout the region.

“From a manager’s perspective, we love places like Lou’s and Molly’s that really attract a mix of populations, putting students with young and old families,” she said.

It’s worth noting that Molly’s has other ties to the College. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of all employees are current students at the College, both undergraduates and graduate students, Milowsky said.

Milowsky said that when the restaurant first opened, the menu emphasized Mexican cuisine. Over the years, though, the menu has evolved to include an array of diverse cultural dishes to reflect customers’ preferences, including thin-crust pizzas, entrees cooked in a wood-fired brick oven, pasta dishes, the “best burgers in the Upper Valley” and myriad appetizers and desserts.

“[Milowsky] and his chef are pretty savvy in terms of reading the changing food taste markets,” Griffin said. “So over the years they’ve really incorporated a lot of vegetarian and vegan options in the last five to 10 years. I think [Milowsky] has moved away from a more traditional American food to a wider variety of Asian dishes and specials that are unique. So there’s really something for everybody there. It’s quite eclectic, and I think that’s what people like about it.”

Restaurants like Molly’s that have become institutions — fixtures of College life — must balance a healthy regard for the past with the imperatives of serving a modern clientele. Molly’s and Lou’s in particular are awash with nostalgia. At Molly’s, both the old sports memorabilia on the walls and the record covers on the menus indicate that this restaurant looks backward for inspiration. Yet Milowsky said, “Molly’s is a place that believes full-heartedly in keeping up with trends.”

The restaurant went through a several major renovations and interior changes in the last 10 or 15 years to keep the business successful, he said. It eliminated a deli section and bank in the back of the restaurant to allow for more seating.

In 1998, the Milowskys added 25 additional seats inside and a 50-seat outdoor patio, he said.

Neither of these changes, however, would portend anything close to the seismic shift at Molly’s that would disrupt Hanover eating for decades to come.

I’m describing, of course, the inexpensive margaritas the restaurant serves.

Milowsky recalled that right after the restaurant expanded in size from the renovations, it introduced margaritas for only $2.50 that were a big hit among students and have now become somewhat of a traditional drink for upperclassmen. Still, it is a tender time for margarita lovers on campus. Students of all creeds mourn the passing of the $2.50 margarita — it retired last year. Our wallets won’t take too much of a walloping. They remain $3.

Mark Milowsky gave me some Molly’s memorabilia to peruse, illustrative documents that date back through the restaurant’s history. Rather than featuring on old album cover, a menu is adorned with images of a zeppelin. Even then, the restaurant linked itself closely with the College, for the balloon flies over an illustration of Baker-Berry Library. The sense of nostalgia was still present — the menu’s illustrations have an old-timey, 1940s feel — but it’s less explicit, somehow.

“I would definitely say that Molly’s is more than just a restaurant on campus,” Chris Quintero ’18 said. “It’s a great business for the town of Hanover.”

Correction appended (March 5, 2015):

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the margaritas at Molly's used to cost $2.50. They used to cost $2.00.