By Max Sullivan
Hampton Union, April 8, 2016
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON — Seventeen years ago, the Higgins family thought its restaurant the Old Salt might have been finished for good. That year, it burned down in one of Hampton Beach’s worst fires.
But on Wednesday, the Old Salt began preparations for its 30th anniversary in the parking lot of its current location on the corner of Route 1 and Exeter Road. The Higgins’ revealed a restored 1954 Chevrolet 3100 pickup truck it plans to raffle off, as well as the new Old Salt 30th Anniversary Lager, made special by Neighborhood Beer Co. in Exeter.
The truck, which has “Old Salt and Lamie’s Inn” painted on its doors, will be given away at the Old Salt’s tailgate party in its parking lot Oct. 22, the restaurant's actual anniversary. Tickets for the truck raffle will be given away with every Old Salt lager sold, as well as sold for $7. The beer is only available on tap at the restaurant.
The Higgins family and friends met outside the restaurant at 11 a.m. to unveil the truck and have a glass of the Old Salt lager.
Kathi Taylor, who co-owns the restaurant with her brothers Joe and Mike Higgins, said their mother Nancy would be proud to see them carry the business through three decades. Nancy, who died in 2007, opened the restaurant in 1986.
“My mom is looking down on us and saying, ‘What a great job,’” Taylor said. “We’re all still here, all still together going strong.”
The Old Salt was originally the name of a guest house rented by Nancy Higgins on J Street, which she opened in the 1970s. After about a decade of running rentals, Nancy was offered to buy the Corona House restaurant on K Street. She sold the house, bought the restaurant, changed the name to the Old Salt. Her children, Joe, Kathi and Mike, were co-owners from the start.
“We needed a job. We were all in the field," Joe Higgins said. "We figured rather than work for someone else, let’s buy the (Corona House) at the beach."
The Old Salt was a hit during the summer, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to long lines of customers and providing live entertainment. Kids loved the restaurant’s two 235-gallon fish tanks, one saltwater, the other freshwater.
Then, in 1999, business came to a halt when a fire destroyed the restaurant, along with the Springfield Motel, Cecile’s Gift Shop, Lexie’s Pizzaria, Haven’s Café and six apartments. Two firefighters were injured in the blaze.
Selectman and former Hampton fire captain Rusty Bridle recalled the disaster. He rushed to the beach from the Statehouse in Concord that day where he was representing Hampton as a state representative.
“There was still plenty to do when I got home,” Bridle said. “It was one of the biggest fires we had on Hampton Beach in a long time.”
Joe Higgins said he thought, “My life was over.”
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said. “I didn’t know I was ever going to be here (at Lamie’s Inn).”
The Higgins family rebounded quickly. Two weeks after, they began operating the Whale’s Tale in the Hampton Beach Casino Complex. For the next two years, they ran that restaurant and considered building a new home for the Old Salt.
Building plans changed when Lamie’s Inn went up for sale. The Higgins family saw it as a perfect opportunity. It would allow for new business in the winter, which was a dead season for the Old Salt at Hampton Beach. The family purchased the building and opened the Old Salt at its current location in 2001.
Joe Higgins said the Old Salt deals and promotions for the restaurant’s 25th anniversary five years ago were a success. That year, they offered fish and chips for $2.50 from 2 to 5 p.m. on the 25th day of each month.
The Higgins’ hope the same will be the case for this year’s anniversary. Neighborhood founder Mike O’Donnell said the Old Salt beer is a German style lager that is light enough to appeal to most palates. Mike Higgins said the hope is the lager becomes the restaurant’s best selling beer.
Before grabbing a lager for himself, Joe Higgins said he’s proud the restaurant has lasted this long – even if he is a little surprised.
“I’d say 30 years is a lifetime pretty much," he said. "I don’t know where it’s gone."