Old Salt celebrates 25th birthday this year

By Nancy Rineman

Hampton Union, Friday, June 24, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

The Old Salt, owned by the Higgins family, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. From left are Joe Higgins, Kathi Taylor and Mike Higgins.
[Deb Cram Photo]

HAMPTON -- Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the Higgins family opened the Old Salt Eating & Drinking Place, and while the restaurant has experienced a number of changes over the years, friendly, professional service and award winning menu selections continue to impress.

The Old Salt Eating & Drinking Place made its debut on Sept. 26, 1986, after Nancy Higgins jumped at the opportunity to buy the former Corona House restaurant on Hampton Beach's Ocean Boulevard. Quickly collaborating with her three children, Joe, Mike, and Kathi, the family opened its now legendary restaurant as The Old Salt, (named after Nancy Higgins' guest house and cottages on J Street at Hampton Beach,) in a whirlwind 10 days from the date of purchase.

"It was a turnover, and (we) slowly turned over the clientele to family dining," Kathi (Higgins) Taylor said.

The Higginses were already established in the restaurant industry after being schooled in the food trade, so the immediate challenge was more about trying to produce meals with the equipment they had and to make repairs where needed. While the restaurant was a year-round business, the Higgins family closed it for the month of January to work on the restaurant's interior.

Then, on a picture-perfect beach day on June 16, 1999, the Higgins' were dealt a blow some thought meant the end of their decade-plus run. The raging Old Salt fire destroyed the building but not the Higgins family's resolve. Two weeks later, all 120 employees of the Old Salt's seasonal staff were back at work, this time at the Whale's Tale Pub in the Hampton Beach Casino block. The Old Salt operated there for the next four summers.

Opportunity knocked one more time for the Higgins family with the news that Lamie's Tavern in downtown Hampton was closing, and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Today's Old Salt Restaurant at Lamie's Tavern opened in March, 2001, with many of the same challenges the family faced with their first location at Hampton Beach: the need to develop a working system, and to do that based on a significant increase in a restaurant with a seating capacity of about 400.

The Old Salt features three function rooms in the 1700s Colonial building: the Goody Cole Room, Upper Lane and Lower Lane. For general seating, diners may be seated in the Garden, Patio Fireplace or Eisenhower rooms, the last so named to commemorate the visit paid to Lamie's Tavern by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1963.

With the purchase of Lamie's, the Higgins family also became innkeepers. Mike Higgins, formerly the Old Salt's head chef, found a replacement for that position, and now oversees the inn and its 32 guest rooms, as well as being involved with the restaurant's kitchen.

The most popular items on the Old Salt menu continue to be the fish 'n chips and the critically acclaimed clam chowder. The restaurant sells a canned version of the chowder, the formula for which was four years in the making, Mike Higgins said. Making the condensed version was a challenge for the manufacturer, and the product was sent back time after time until it met the Higgins' standards in taste.

No Old Salt story would be complete without mention of the restaurant's Sunday Brunch. Whether a diner is in the mood for breakfast items or dinner, the 13 entrée selections lead to carving stations, an omelet center or waffle table. There is a gigantic chocolate fountain for dipping fruits and small pieces of cake, and large trays laden with tempting desserts.

"It's just a tremendous amount of food," Mike Higgins said.

Patrons of the Old Salt are treated to as many local products as possible, including dairy, eggs, and local seafood from the Yankee Fisherman's Cooperative in Seabrook and the fishing cooperative in Portsmouth. Beef has come from Joe's Meat Shoppe in North Hampton "since day one," Joe Higgins said, and soon local produce — fresh corn and other vegetables — will be part of the summer menu, along with Joe Higgins' selection of herbs he himself grows on the premises.

As The Old Salt continues it celebration of 25 years in business, sadly, the achievement will be marked without the presence of Nancy Higgins, who died in 2007 at the age of 72.

"She was the staple," Mike Higgins said of his mother. "The glue that kept us together."

"She instilled all our values into us," Joe Higgins said. "The value of work, and helping others."

"She kept us all together this long," Kathi Higgins Taylor said. "We're looking forward to the next 25."

Since February, the Higgins family has been celebrating the Old Salt's 25th anniversary with a special theme. On the 25th of each month, from 2 to 5 p.m., the restaurant's popular fish 'n chips is served for $2.50. After serving 400 people in March and about 850 in May for those three hours, the Higginses think this month's line out the door might be the longest yet, since the 25th of June falls on a Saturday.

The Old Salt Restaurant and Lamie's Tavern are located in downtown Hampton on the corner of Routes 1 and 27. For reservations, call the Old Salt at 926-8322 or Lamie's Inn at 926-0330.

The Old Salt

What: The Old Salt Restaurant at Lamie's Tavern.
Where: Corner of Routes 1 and 27, downtown Hampton.
Owners: The Higgins family.
Reservations: Call: 926-8322 or 926-0330.