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Restaurant owners mark 50 years

November 13, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

HANCOCK - While the bridge over the Potomac River and The Bridge Restaurant both opened in 1939, Lowell and Frances Younker have only owned the landmark eatery for the past 50 years - a milestone reached last month.

"We had free coffee and free doughnuts and even a $50 drawing on Oct. 3. A lot of the regulars came in for that as well as some visitors," said Lowell Younker.

Starting in 1953, the Younkers operated the restaurant seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant hours were 7 a.m. to midnight.

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"We started cutting back our hours in the 1970s and then to just breakfast and lunch in the 1980s," said Lowell Younker. Now The Bridge Restaurant is open only for breakfast from 8 to 11:30 a.m. but still seven days a week.

Over the years, not much else has changed at the restaurant. The breakfast menu still features Lowell Younker's signature home fries (without onions) and hotcakes.

A young couple traveling through the area once complimented the Younkers on their retro furnishings as they were eating breakfast in the restaurant. "I laughed and said it wasn't decorated retro ... it has just always been like this," Lowell Younker, 68, said.

The red vinyl chairs were purchased in 1957 along with the classic green vinyl bar stools at the counter. The booths went in during the 1960s.

The red checked tablecloths, assorted yard sale treasures, old advertising signs and even a collection of 78 rpm records round out the look.

Lowell Younker had a heart bypass operation in 1993. Frances Younker, 68, has had two knee replacements but both say they never seriously considered getting out of the business.

"We were married in 1952. We raised our two children here," said Frances Younker. "It's more a part of our life that just making a living."

Neither son Jerry - a retired teacher who lives in Aberdeen, Md. - nor daughter Kim - an interior designer in Leitersburg - is interested in carrying on the tradition. The Younkers have one granddaughter, Erin, now 17.

The couple says it's the people who keep them going - a devoted core of regulars and a fair number of tourists who stop as they travel through the area.

"That's why we're holding on," said Frances Younker. "We're often here in the restaurant long after closing, just talking with folks."

Lowell Younker was practically raised in the restaurant business. His father had the National Lunch Restaurant in Hancock until Lowell Younker was 10 years old.

"When I was older, I worked at Fairchild for about six months but when there was talk of layoffs, I left there," Lowell Younker said.

While The Bridge Restaurant was never a heavy, three-meal-a-day place, there were good days and slow days, he said. "That makes it hard to plan specials and hard to schedule help."

On some Saturdays, local musicians set up in one corner of the restaurant and play.

"That all started years ago when a man in town asked if we minded if he and a friend could sit and pick some on their guitars," Lowell Younker said. They played for food - no money changed hands.

That tradition has become so popular that the Younkers keep a list of people who want to be called when the musicians are going to play.

The sign out in front of The Bridge Restaurant says "Where Good Food Says It All."

What the sign doesn't say is that much more than food is still being shared there after 50 years of the Younkers behind the counter.

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