By Colleen Lent

Hampton Union, Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Pam and Gary Provencher will be celebrating their 15th anniversary this Labor Day of co-owing Hoaty’s Restaurant in Hampton.
[Photo by Sarah Zenewicz]

HAMPTON —- If you plan to hunker down at Hoaty’s of Hampton for a Sunday-morning stack of pancakes or eggs and hash, wear comfortable shoes and slacks with an elastic waistband. The waiting line is long and the helpings are hearty, according to Tracey Macarty, owner of Repeat Boutique in North Hampton.

Macarty isn’t a weekly patron of the restaurant known for its pig motif, fresh-baked cinnamon sour cream coffee cake, veggie and meat lover’s omelets, and homemade soups. However, she remembers celebrating a relative’s engagement at the breakfast and lunch hot spot, where meals are served with a side order of homey hospitality and humor.

Behind the counter are husband-and-wife owners Gary and Pam Provencher. As the couple is preparing to celebrate 15 years of ownership on Labor Day, they say their affinity for conversation, cooking and comradeship is the key ingredient for operating a successful business.

Formerly employed at Seacoast restaurants Galley Hatch and Brown’s Seabrook Lobster Pound, Gary honed his culinary and management skills inherited from his mother.

“I like the cooking side and the people side,” he says.

Working in the insurance industry, Pam traded in office attire for an apron and order pad, greeting customers and feeding her husband slips as he manages the grill.

Ahhh … frying a few eggs and hamburgers for friends. It sounds easy. Now imagine cooking up breakfast and lunch platters for 405 hungry guests on Mother’s Day. The clusters of paper slips sometimes seem infinite, much like ants surrounding a melted ice cream cone on the sidewalk.

“I try to be the calmer one of the group,” Pam says.

Yet, the Provenchers say they enjoy the hectic environment of their 1,180-square-foot restaurant. A few longtime patrons often roll up their sleeves and wipe down tables or run to Hannaford’s next door for an emergency pound of butter or loaf of bread. Even Pam’s parents, Jim and Laura Djerf of Hampton, pitch in, washing dishes three times each week for a reasonable wage: a hot meal.

“It’s kind of a nice way to see them,” Gary says. Meanwhile, Gary’s mother, Edith Follansbee of Seabrook, simmers her crock of homemade baked beans each week to complete the “Hoaty’s Favorite,” which also includes two eggs, corned beef hash, home fries and toast.

And there’s longtime employee Shirley MacDonald, of Rye.

“She came with the restaurant,” Pam says, explaining the previous owner hired MacDonald. “She knows everyone.”

The Provenchers say MacDonald plays the role of a mother and grandmother.

“She kind of takes care of everything,” Gary says, adding MacDonald is there to greet 6 a.m. customers, including local teachers, construction workers, mechanics, managers, town employees and retirees.

About 80 percent of Hoaty’s customers are regulars, exchanging tidbits of family news, lamenting when the Bruins lose, donating pig trinkets for the rotating front window collection, and enjoying coffee from their favorite mugs kept onsite. There’s an unwritten code governing conversation topics. Talks about Pedro, Brady, “Survivor,” landscaping and wedding cakes are encouraged. Discussions about Kerry, Bush, C-SPAN, zoning and gay marriages are discouraged.

“Politics and religion we try to stay away from,” Gary says, as Pam nods in agreement.

Through the conversations, the staff learns of anniversaries, birthdays, promotions, vacations and surgeries. When an elder regular doesn’t show or call, Pam calls his or her home to see if everything is OK. The Provenchers see the kids and grandkids of their customers, or “Hoaty’s Piglets,” grow up. Customer-supplied photographs, affixed to a handpainted, pink pig mural, provide tangible evidence of little ones graduating from rattles to textbooks.

At the same time, customers ask about James, the Provencher’s son, who is studying marine biology at the University of Rhode Island.

“He’s our favorite dishwasher,” Pam says, adding with a chuckle that the chore isn’t on her son’s list of top 10 things to do on semester breaks.

Over the past 15 years Gary and Pam have witnessed a series of local and national changes, including new businesses and restaurants cropping up on Lafayette Road and diet trends grabbing the headlines, including the low-fat movement of yesterday and the low-carb craze of today. Even so, one thing remains the same: foot traffic at Hoaty’s.

“We’re thankful and blessed,” Pam says.