Friday, March 5, 2010

Warren’s Lobster House Celebrating 70 Years of Service

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
The well-known and popular Warren’s Lobster House has a long and interesting history, which will be celebrated in March with a four-day Open House.
In 1940, Warren “Pete” Wurm opened a six-stool clam and lobster stand on the Maine banks of the Piscataqua River.
Over the ensuing 70 years of operation Warren’s Lobster House has grown into a 350-seat restaurant, bakery, lobster pound, gift shop, lounge and 200-foot boat dock and become a virtual Kittery icon.
It also features a well-known and popular salad bar and full-service open-air deck.
Most of the expansion of the restaurant took place between the time it was opened and 1955,” Scott Cunningham, the current owner said during an interview in his office. The exceptions are the solarium and seasonal 80-seat deck in the 90’s. “Other than that the facility was the way it stands today.”
The Cunningham Family has owned the restaurant since 2006 when they bought out their partner, David Mickee. Cunningham and Mickee had owned the restaurant since 1984. Joining Scott and his wife Claudia in the business are their son and daughter, Brad Cunningham and Colleen MacDonald.
The 70th anniversary will be celebrated at the restaurant during the month of March with a four-day Open House recognizing the current and former owners. These include Wurm on March 23, represented by his daughter and family; the Anton and Assad families March 24, the Mickee family March 25 and the Cunningham family March 26.
Details of the celebration can be found on the Warren’s website.
Wurm operated Warren’s until the mid-50’s when the Anton and Assad families purchased it. That group sold it to Mickee and Cunningham, who were working in the food service industry in Manchester, N.H., in 1984, after several interviews.
“We decided we wanted to do something different, so we bought this,” Cunningham said of he and his long-time partner.
Cunningham and Mickee made few changes to the facility.
“We’ve done a number of things over the years in upgrading,” Cunningham, who comes from Pittsburgh, Pa., and currently lives in Barrington, N.H. said, “But we tried to keep it looking as it did originally. We’ve been fairly successful in doing that. We did not want to change what it was all about.”
The restaurant became a year-round operation shortly after Cunningham and Mickee purchased it.
“We decided early on we didn’t want to be a seasonal restaurant,” Cunningham said. “So we did anything and everything we could to bring customers in to make it viable year round to have a year round staff.”
He said in the first summer they noted staff was leaving just when they had learned the ropes, and that underlined the importance of having a year round staff.
Currently, Warrens employs approximately 90 people year around, many of them long-time employees. The staff grows to about 140 during the summer season.
Although well known locally, Warren’s “is a destination restaurant,” Cunningham said. “People plan whatever they’re doing to stop at Warren’s. They come from all over New England.”
Cunningham estimates that about 80 percent of the restaurant’s business came from away when he and Mickee bought it. He now estimates 55 to 60 percent of Warren’s business comes from people visiting the area with 40 to 45 percent from local residents. “That’s exactly what we wanted to do to make it viable year-round.”
Warren’s has been around for a long time and intends to continue to serve the public as well in the future in its own accomplished and widely recognized style.
Photo caption: Warren’s Lobster House is celebrating its 70th anniversary in March. Here it is a long time ago... (Courtesy photos)