Jo Knowles explains how she was inspired to write See You At Harry's by her childhood experiences growing up in the restaurant business
BookBrowse's own Tamara Smith talks with Jo Knowles about her childhood experiences growing up in the restaurant business that inspired See You at Harry's
Much of See You at Harry's centers around the family restaurant. Do you have experience with such a place?
Yes, my family owned a series of restaurants when I was a kid, starting with Kellers' Ice-Cream, which was a family-style place as well as an ice-cream factory. Later they opened a second restaurant, and a tiny sandwich place called The Hole in The Wall. Later, they sold these businesses and bought a beautiful old Victorian home which they converted into a more upscale restaurant called The Hathaway House.
Harry's is such a warm, fun restaurant. I get the feeling that the regulars feel like they're home when they are there, and newcomers are pleasantly surprised when they experience the place. Did you base Harry's on your own experiences?
Definitely. It always felt that way when I was a kid. The staff were like family members, and so were many of the customers. There was a counter people could sit at and the regulars often sat in "their" seats when they came in. We couldn't go anywhere outside the restaurant without my dad running into people he knew from the business. It made our errands seem endless because he LOVED to talk to everyone.
Where was your family's restaurant? Did you spend more time there than at home?
The restaurants were in Laconia, New Hampshire. And while we didn't live in the building "officially," we spent a lot of time there. When I was really little, my mom used to have me take naps in one of the back booths.
What jobs did you have in the restaurants?
Our main job was to "stay out of the way" when we were young, and later we did things like help sort silverware and set tables. At the Hathaway house, my sister and I used to help my mom fold hundreds of linen napkins into fancy fans.
Did you have a favorite food or meal there?
My favorite food was my dad's peppermint stick sundae: Peppermint stick ice-cream, hot fudge sauce, whipped cream, and a miniature candy-cane sticking out the top.
Was one of your parents a big idea person like Fern's father?
Both of my parents were big dreamers, and made every effort to make their dreams come true. Looking back on how we were raised, I am amazed by how much they did. When I was four, we moved out of our house in Laconia into a big old farmhouse (my mom's long-time dream). We had horses and dogs and cats and chickens and any number of other animals--plus an enormous garden. So in addition to running the restaurant, my parents were also running a busy household. I don't know how they managed, but they did, and had a great time doing it.
What is the funniest incident you can remember happening in the restaurant? Most serious?
One year a very confused deer jumped through the window of the restaurant. Apparently it was being chased by a dog! My parents were away for the weekend on a rare treat and they called to see how things were going. They didn't believe it when the staff told them what happened. "Turn on Channel 9 news!" they said. Sure enough, there was the story! The poor cook had to sit on the injured deer to keep it still until the Fish & Game people could come rescue it. I supposed that counts as most funny and serious (for the poor deer).
You do such a lovely job of imbuing the energy of Harry's with a sense of family and ritual, in all of its messy, silly, heartful, heartbreaking glory. Is this what your family restaurant felt like? What do you hold within you today that came from that experience?
Oh, thank you. That's so kind. My parents, like Fern's parents, have huge hearts. They always have. They often hired young people who were down on their luck, and gave them a chance to get things together. We had a wide range of ages working at all times, and they definitely felt like family. My parents loved to have parties and we'd spend many holiday celebrations with the house full of staff and relatives all mixed up. Even though it seemed like my sister, brother and I were able to run wild, in reality everyone had their eye out for us. One of my favorite memories is going down to the basement apartment in the Hathaway house where the baker lived and learning how to make cinnamon rolls. She was so patient with us. I remember rolling out the dough on a long wooden table and brushing it with her special spices, then pressing the raisins into the puffy dough. I can still smell it all, just thinking of it now. I also remember my dad making us Shirley Temples from the bar. I think we kids spent a lot of time wishing my parents were home more, not quite realizing that we always were. Home was just wherever we were. Together. I wish I knew that then.