The End of an Era in New Hampshire
Posted: May 3, 2007 10:32am ET
Due to a computer malfunction, this blog did not go live until May 3.
Live Free or Die. That’s the motto on New Hampshire’s license plates. I was there last weekend for another round of soccer in another place far from home and spent another night in another non-descript motel within spitting distance of an Interstate highway. After years of transporting our soccer-playing daughter around the Northeast and Middle Atlantic, that part of our lives is drawing to a close as she heads off to college this fall.
But my wife and I had one last weekend to enjoy with her and her team. We have learned one thing over the years—skip the “continental” breakfast at the motel, and find a diner where the locals gather for a hearty, no-nonsense breakfast.
That’s easier said than done. Finding such a place has gotten harder and harder. Drive down any business strip in any town in America and the breakfast choices range between the drive-thru at McBurgerWendyKingDonalds to Dunkin’ Donuts, or these days if you’re really lucky, a Starbucks that has good coffee but usually no hot food. You can’t count on the Chili’s-Applebees-Whatever-Chain restaurant universe; they usually don’t open until 11 a.m. We drove by most of those chain outlets Saturday morning as we searched for our elusive diner. All in all, the fast food revolution has stripped the country of real roadside diners.
So, it wasn’t until our second pass on an early-morning-empty strip of highway that the Honey Bee Donuts sign jumped out at us. We had driven by on the first pass because the only word we’d seen was Donuts. But right below the donut sign, the word breakfast was clearly printed. We pulled off the highway to park in front of building that looked as if it hadn’t been
touched in 50 years. Well, since 1947 actually, when Honey Bee started serving breakfast. There was a row of three or four small booths, and opposite them, a serving rack for donuts. There were two loops of a counter space with stools at the back, about half them filled with grizzled men, some old and a few a little younger, and all of them apparently more comfortable leaning with their elbows up on the countertop. The walls were plastered with license plates from around the country and world, everything from Aruba to North Dakota. Of course, most were from New Hampshire.
As we sat down, I realized, people were... SMOKING! I turned to my wife and said, “Hey, I guess New Hampshire still allows smoking in restaurants.” She smiled, and pointed to the New Hampshire license plates on the walls, and said, “Live free or die.” Maybe it was my jaded Cigar Aficionado cigar-testing nose, but I hadn’t even noticed the smell of smoke when I walked in. And, I doubt very seriously that Honey Bee had anything other than the most rudimentary form of ventilation system, although there was a grease-stained air duct in the center of the ceiling. At least three or four people were having a cigarette with their morning coffee.
We had eggs and hash browns and toast, and a passable cup of coffee, although the waitress was a little skeptical when we asked for milk instead of cream. One gentleman came in, and sat down across from us. The waitress greeted him by name, and asked what he wanted. He didn’t say anything but got a cup of coffee. A few minutes later she came back and asked if he’d decided. “Yeah, I’ll have the 2-2-2.” That would be two eggs, two pieces of toast and two pieces of bacon for $2.22. Yeah, it’s that kind of place.
So we walked out the front door filled the glow of nostalgia from diners past, and thankful that there were still places like Honey Bee where the locals could come, have a hearty breakfast served by women who knew their names where no one was complying with some big corporation’s rulebook about how often they had to remake the coffee. And, I added mentally, where they could smoke.
As we walked toward the car, now rushing to get back to the soccer team’s motel to get our passengers to their game on time, I looked up at the marquee sign at the entrance to the parking lot. In big black letters, it read: Honey Bee Donuts. Smoke Free May 1. The 1 was in red, a true red-letter day, I guessed.
I moaned. My wife said, “Do you want to go back in to talk to them?” I knew I didn’t have time, but at the same time, I also didn’t want to hear the litany of disgust about what was clearly another step toward a bland, over-regulated world. Even in the Live Free or Die state. Too bad. I was sure the Honey Bee would still there next week, but after 60 years, I thought, it won’t be the same.
Well, it turns out I was wrong about it being there next week. After getting back to desk in New York, I did a little research and found the owner’s name. I called Phil Englehardt up Tuesday morning, May 1st, and told him my story; in the background I could hear the sounds of the restaurant’s clinking plates and loud laughter. He laughed as I asked him the question about going smoke-free. “I knew that was coming,” Phil Englehardt said. “But on May 2nd, the Honey Bee is going the way of the dinosaurs.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Englehardt is closing the donut/breakfast shop today. “Honey Bee is my love. I’ve been here 15 years, but it’s just a financial decision. I can’t keep funding it,” Englehardt said.
Why smoke free on the last day? “My waitresses, some of whom have been here longer than I have, and make more money than I do from Honey Bee, have wanted to go smoke free for a long time,” Englehardt said. “So, I’m giving them a day before we close. It’s already a day of hell. My customers are going to kill me…but it’s also a very sad day for me personally.”
So, not only was May 1 a red-letter day, but on May 2, the Honey Bee will be no more. Hang out the black flags. And, for everyone who enjoyed a cup of coffee and a cigarette, or as Phil said, even a cigar from time to time, it is just one more place gone, one more place lost where you could enjoy a
smoke and the camaraderie of a small town.
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