Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Eating Your Way Down Main Street

One student takes a look into the history of Lou’s and Molly’s, two of Hanover’s most iconic restaurants.

8-17-23-michaelbond-iconicbusinesses.jpg

This article is featured in the 2023 Freshman special issue. 

Walking down Hanover’s Main Street, one might smell the tantalizing aroma of donuts coming from Lou’s or see the warm lights beckoning from inside Molly’s. These restaurants have catered to both the Dartmouth and Hanover communities for decades, and they have become local fixtures that students and alumni return to again and again. The Dartmouth sat down with their respective owners to learn more about these restaurants’ histories.

Molly’s Restaurant and Bar 

Jennifer Packard is the general manager and soon-to-be owner of Molly’s, Hanover’s one-stop shop for American food classics and three-dollar margaritas. 

Molly’s has gone through quite a bit of change throughout its history. According to Packard, it started in 1983 in the building that used to be Hanover’s Town and Country dress shop.

“The original owners, Marc and Patty Milowsky, already had Jesse’s Steakhouse [another restaurant outside Hanover] and thought that downtown Hanover near the College could use a fun, pub-style environment,” Packard said. 

Originally, Molly’s — named after the Milowskys’ daughter — was going to be called Molly’s Saloon, but Packard said that “Hanover didn’t really want a saloon in a college town.”

“It got changed to Molly’s Balloon,” Packard said. “Every guest would walk in the front door and get a balloon when they first came in.” 

In 2000, the restaurant was renovated, according to Packard. 

“The original construction had a deli in front … that front door off Main Street that people always struggle to get in,” Packard said. “There used to be a bank in the back, and we took over that space and added on the patio … we updated the concept to be everything that Molly’s is right now.” 

She added that Molly’s quickly became a Hanover institution because of its “proximity to the College and its role as a place for family and students to come and get together.”

Heather Prebish, an Upper Valley local who grew up in Hanover and now lives in Windsor, Vermont with her family, said that she has been going to Molly’s since her childhood.

“[Molly’s] has been a staple in our family just for casual dinners, but also special occasions,” Prebish said. “Being here for over 40 years, I’ve seen so many businesses come and go, and Molly’s has just maintained the quality and has great customer service.”

For some Dartmouth students, according to Packard, the connection to Molly’s lasts even after graduation. Packard, who has been at Molly’s for over 30 years, said that it is gratifying to see returning alumni dine at Molly’s.

“[I] see guests that have graduated come back and bring their children … [or] student athletes from Dartmouth that I watched play 20 years ago come back, and now they have a three-year-old,” Packard said. “They come back and come to Molly’s because that’s what they remember as part of their Dartmouth experience.” 

Visitors to Molly’s will see the walls decked out in vintage Dartmouth signage — according to Packard, they’ve been a part of Molly’s interior design since its founding. 

“We’ve had guests come in and say, ‘I love that sign, can I have it?’ Or even bring a new one,” Packard said. “We’ve added and taken away and tried to keep it fresh.” 

In terms of Molly’s menu classics, Packard said that some of the creative control goes to head chef Ryan O’Day, while other ideas come from guest feedback. 

“We have some menu items that have come through the development of the chef. People have [also] brought ideas,” Packard said. “Some items, guests come in and rave about. People love the Molly’s bread. We have a lot of tables that will come in … get some margaritas and some nachos, and have a great Friday night.” 

Prebish has a regular order — “a cosmo and the sherry [tomato] rigatoni pasta with chicken on top” — which she gets so often, she said it has become a joke among her family.

Molly’s has changed hands a couple times over the years, with current owners Anthony and Erin Barnett having been in control for the past three years. Packard will become the new owner this coming January, ushering in the newest round of Molly’s history, but she said she still wants to honor those who have come before her.

“I don’t want to change anything. I’ve been here for 30 years — this is my home,” Packard said. “I have too much respect for the people who have come before me. Other than word of mouth, people won’t even know that Molly’s has changed hands.” 

Asked about Molly’s role in the Dartmouth community, Packard said that it is an enduring institution where students can return.

“I look forward to the incoming classes learning and getting that bit of history,” Packard said. “Every good college town has to have that place that students remember fondly. Molly’s has been and … will continue to be that place.” 

Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery

Lou’s is a classic diner spot in downtown Hanover, famed for its array of breakfast and lunch items, as well as its delicious bakery. 

The restaurant was established in 1947 by Lou Bressett, who founded it after serving in the Marine Corps during World War II. According to current co-owner Jarett Berke, Lou’s has “only had four owners in its 76 years — not a lot of turnover.” 

Lou’s has evolved through the years, with each owner introducing new features and menu items.

“Bob Watson, the second owner and a Dartmouth grad, did a lot of business in Mexico, so he brought a lot of Mexican flavors that are still on the menu today,” Berke said.

According to Berke, Lou’s breakfast quesadilla and tortilla soup are some delicious examples of Watson’s contributions. Many of Lou’s classic bakery items, like its muffins, cider donuts and cakes, were introduced by its third owner, Toby Fried.

“An engineer turned pastry chef, he is the one who really put the bakery on the map,” Berke said. 

Berke said he is not sure what his legacy will be yet — but Lou’s has certainly undergone huge changes under his leadership.

“[COVID-19] happened about 18 months after I took over, but we had great support from the community and the town,” Berke said. “As a result, we now have outdoor dining and online ordering — we’ve kind of brought the restaurant into the 21st century.” 

Lou’s location downtown is also essential to its status as an iconic Hanover business, according to Berke. 

“Being number 30 South Main Street, we’re super close to the College in the center of town,” Berke said. “Each of the owners before me has been involved in the community, and I’ve tried to carry that on, supporting the local community with this small business. It’s always been a  community gathering place and a big part of the Upper Valley.”

Colby Clarkson, who works in real estate in Hanover, is a regular at Lou’s. According to Clarkson, Lou’s has been a “staple, iconic eatery” since his childhood.

“My dad used to do real estate breakfast with the competing agencies in the area, where all the brokers would get together and do a Sunday sitdown,” Clarkson said. “I got brought up … respecting Lou’s.” 

In terms of the menu at Lou’s, Clarkson is well versed on the hits.

“I go there almost every day, if not multiple times in one day,” Clarkson said. “In the morning, it’s any breakfast sandwich on a Portuguese bun. Their cowboy bowl is phenomenal, their chocolate mousse cake and pies are to die for … and their lemonade is always homemade.”

Beyond the food, however, Clarkson also values the clear commitment Lou’s shows to the Hanover community.

“It’s the way that they treat everybody who comes in, and how much they give back,” Clarkson said. “The feeling of comfort and family when you go there, and the legacy that it holds, it’s unmatched.” 

Lou’s is also well-known amongst Dartmouth students as the location for the Lou’s challenge, in which students pull an all-nighter and go for breakfast at Lou’s right at opening time at 6:00 a.m. on Mondays through Fridays or 7 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

“There are two types of challengers,” Berke said. “The ones that stayed up all night studying for the test [are] certainly our preferred ones. The second types are the ones that stayed up all night drinking. Usually we’re ready for it, but sometimes it catches us by surprise.” 

Either way, Lou’s is an essential breakfast and lunch spot for the Dartmouth community. 

“I think Dartmouth students have a special place in our heart … and maintain that well after graduation, and we have a special place in our heart for Dartmouth,” Berke said.

He encouraged incoming students to “just say hello and come in and have breakfast.” 

Both Molly’s and Lou’s have become culinary institutions over their decades in Hanover — but it’s not their duration that makes them so well-loved by students and locals alike. Through the years, these two restaurants have served up delicious meals with a side of community and tradition — one plate at a time.