By Paul Lonardo
Fresh home-cooked food served by a friendly face in a clean environment is the way Shanna’s Country Kitchen, 1515 Old Louisquisset Pike in Lincoln, started doing business nearly 30 years ago. Three generations later that is still true.
Shanna’s is cash only but repeat customers, the perpetually filled dining room, and the line out the door on the weekends is testimony to its popularity.
“My mother, who founded the restaurant, had this way about her that she always wanted to reach out to people,” says Cheryl Dolan, who owns the restaurant with her sister, Dale Arnold-Blanchette. “She loved to socialize and talk to the customers.”
Shanna’s Country Kitchen opened its doors on Nov. 5, 1988; its story begins long before.
“My grandmother, my mother’s mother, was quite the cook,” Dolan says. “In the 1940’s, when my mom was a teenager, her parents had a food stand in Lincoln Woods. Both of my grandparents were full Italian and my grandmother made all the Italian dishes, from the meatballs to the pastries. You name it. Everything she cooked was made fresh, by hand, and with a lot of care.”
Dolan’s mother, Gloria, learned how to cook from her mother. At first she worked in a jewelry company. She decided, however, that she wanted to go to hairdresser school. She opened a hair salon close to home and when Cheryl was old enough, she followed her mother into the business.
“The salon was doing pretty well,” Dolan recalls, “but after a number of years my mother suddenly announced that she wanted to pour coffee for people.”
Gloria hoped to open a bakery and coffee shop with her oldest daughter, Dale, who made wedding cakes for family and friends. The bakery never panned out, so Gloria turned to opening a full-service restaurant. At the time, the land that Shanna’s Country Kitchen sits on now was farmland. There were still chicken coops and a horse barn out back and cows in the pasture; the animals gradually disappeared, as did other obstacles and setbacks.
Dolan recalls many roadblocks that confronted her mother: her father got sick, Gloria got tied up by regulatory and funding problems for seven years and the foundation stood unused and the contractor had a heart attack on the job that stalled the project.
“By the early part of fall in 1988,” Cheryl says, “just when it seemed like everything was in order, the weekend the restaurant was supposed to open my dad’s sister passed away, so they couldn’t open on time.”
On Nov. 5, however, Gloria wore an apron around her waist and carried a pot of coffee to her diners.
“What a surprise she got: there was more to it than she thought,” Dolan says. “It was a lot of work… She couldn’t have been any happier.”
Early on, it was just Gloria and a cook working in the restaurant, which was about one-third the size it is now. Dolan still worked at the hair salon, but as business at the restaurant picked up, her mother asked for her to pitch in. Dolan worked when she could, but she had a newborn at home, the namesake of the restaurant, Shanna.
The restaurant was expanded twice in the 1990’s to accommodate the customers and to create a function room for private parties.
“Way back then,” Dolan says, “we were open seven days until 2 a.m. My mother was down here at quarter past five every single day. And I was not far behind her.”
They eventually cut back the hours and then closed on Mondays.
Gloria has since passed, but her legacy of coffee, conversation and family continues through her daughters Cheryl and Dale and her granddaughters Shanna and Courtney.
Dolan watched her daughters grow up amid the cacophonous chatter of voices, the clatter of plates and the clanging of pots and pans. Shanna was 12 when she started helping out at the restaurant, and Courtney wasn’t much older. Now they have pretty much taken over the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. Courtney manages the dining room out front and Shanna is in charge of the kitchen.
With Shanna’s boys in first and third grade, a fourth generation of Dolans is already making its presence felt around the restaurant. Like their mom and aunt who helped crack open eggs in the back for the cooks, Dylan and Devin are doing that now.
“We’ll leave it up to them,” Cheryl says when asked how much of a role the family business will play in their futures.
Shanna’s Country Kitchen is open Tuesday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. Breakfast is served all day and lunch starts at 11 a.m. Catering is also available.