Bonanza: gone, but not forgotten

By Daniel Dunkle | Jan 26, 2017
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Pete Lammert with a Bonanza tray.

I ran into Pete Lammert the other day over by the rubble pile at the former Bonanza Restaurant site.

Pete was standing there holding one of the trays you would get when you went into Bonanza, savoring the memories. Here was his tray, but where was his steak?

This image of him brought home to me how big a deal this is to people. That and the fact that ever since Steve Betts reported they were tearing down the Bonanza over by the former Wal-Mart building, I have been hearing about it around town and around the office.

Bonanza closed its doors in Rockland in July 2001, and has sat vacant and moldering ever since, like some scene from "The Walking Dead." You could just picture Glenn and Daryl approaching the building slowly to scavenge old cans of food, only to be grabbed by some ghoul locked in an old cooler.

Then, a little while back, we reported the building was going to be demolished, which it was. The current intel is that the owners plan to "redevelop" the parcel, which could mean anything.

All of a sudden, I was hearing everybody's fond memories of going to Bonanza. I even have a few myself.

When Christine and I first started getting serious, back in the 1990s, I started making my first trips down to South Thomaston. I would generally come and visit her at her parents' house and make a nuisance of myself for the weekend before driving back to Bangor, where I was living in a shoebox apartment at the time.

We would go to church at Owls Head Baptist Church, and if we were good, Rick (my soon-to-be father-in-law) would take us out to Bonanza for lunch. That was when I discovered Christine's weird tendency to order chicken at a steakhouse (Chicken Monterey, to be specific). When she was a kid, she committed an even greater sin, ordering chopped steak. I would get a steak and hit the salad bar/buffet and we would all get soft-serve ice cream at the end. Then we would go home and wonder why church always seemed so filling.

Christine tells me her grandmother used to go over to Bonanza and slip pieces of Texas Toast into her purse so she could use it to make French toast the next morning. Sounds like a terrific idear to me, deah, and I have to say I find it pretty funny, in light of the whole French fries, freedom fries thing, that a Midcoast lady figured out how to turn something Texan into French cuisine overnight. I await letters explaining the political ramifications.

According to my researches online, Bonanza Steakhouse as a company started in 1963 and based its name and western theme on the hit TV western "Bonanza." Dan Blocker, the actor who played Hoss Cartwright, was involved in founding and promoting it (he died at 43 in 1972).

The restaurant chain reached a peak of popularity in the 1980s, with hundreds of locations. Now, as far as I can tell from the company website, there are something like 12 left in the U.S., two in Maine (Sanford and Presque Isle, if you're up for a road trip).

Over the years in this business, I have learned some of the story topics that attract the most readers. Of course, everyone knows that big fires, bad crashes and serious crimes make for strong front pages, but restaurant news is also big.

The comings and goings of franchise restaurants are among the biggest stories we can run in any given edition. My biggest story from the election to the end of the year was likely the announcement that Denny's was closing. That drew the kind of reads you might expect for a major crash or shooting.

It's not just franchise restaurants that gain attention, but famous ones, iconic ones. It made national news when it was reported that New York's famous Carnegie Deli was closing Dec. 30 after 79 years in business. Now what will Adam Sandler sing about?

So I can make an argument that people care about restaurants coming and going. But why?

One theory that holds for all forms of news is that we think in a somewhat primal way. If a story involves sex or violence, or even where to fill our bellies, we gravitate toward it.

However, that's just a piece of it. My memory isn't really about Bonanza itself, it's about getting to know my soon-to-be wife and her family. For you, your memory of this or some other place that has been bulldozed has to do with the people you knew there.

I remember reading in the news that the restaurant I took Christine to the night we got engaged was closing. I was outraged. How could Seguino's in Bangor close? How would I take her back there for our 20th wedding anniversary (which is coming right up)? It was part of the sudden realization that everything changes, whether you like it or not.

Fortunately, there are still a few Bonanzas left for anyone feeling really nostalgic. Maybe I'll run into Pete Lammert there.

After all, he's already got his tray.

I love to hear from readers, so contact me with your questions, comments, observations and memories from days gone by in the Rockland area. Email me at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or snail mail letters to the Editor, 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841.

Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, two children and two cats. Follow him on Twitter @DanDunkle.

Comments (5)
Posted by: Laura Libby-Campbell | Jan 30, 2017 07:15

Lots of memories of that Restaurant...I really missed it :(



Posted by: Maggie Trout | Jan 28, 2017 19:16

No "political ramifications" for Mrs. Dunkle's grandmother, as "French" toast, is only as "French" as the word.



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jan 27, 2017 15:58

How do you do it Pete? Always there with interesting followup.

 



Posted by: Dan Dunkle | Jan 27, 2017 10:51

Thanks Pete, I'm pretty sure we could sell a lot of papers on the story of a new restaurant opening there in front of Walmart and had reporters checking every week to find out if one was coming.



Posted by: PETER LAMMERT | Jan 27, 2017 09:25

Dan, your observation about restaurants is spot on.I believe many generations of families who shopped on Friday evenings after work would "dine out" on whatever they had left in the wallet and Bonanza provided a good meal along with that salad bar.

When the lot in Thomaston Commons across from the Hampton Inn on Rte. 1 was eyed for development, everyone was certain that a chain restaurant would be built there. I even heard that the manager of Applebees was in favor of another restaurant.However, the mini strip mall built there supports a dental appliance business, a company selling mattresses, a chain wirelees company (probably built there to be in direct competition with the chain wireless down the hill,)and there remains a 1000 square foot space awaiting occupancy.

If you ever need an idea about what the year-round population would like for another restaurant, I would opt for the chain restaurant that I dined at while visiting Michigan.It was a steakhouse where, after being seated and ordering your meal, you went to the glass-fronted coolers situated along a wall and picked out your own steak. Then you marched over to the largest hardwood charcoal grilling pit I have ever seen indoors and cooked your selection of meat the way you wanted it done.By the time your meat was cooked, the rest of you meal was waiting for you at your table.

I believe the results of a survey from the Village Soup just might be the way to have another choice of a restaurant on the Southside of the county. Wouldn't it be funny if the survey chose a Dennys !!!

Regards, Pete Lammert,Thomaston



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