HARWICH ─ Three years ago Dillon Murphy had something of a crisis. Though he loved his job as owner/operator of the Land Ho! in Harwich Port, he didn't love the time it cost him with his wife and children. Longing for a life beyond Cape Cod, Murphy knew it was time to make a change. Fortunately, change can be good. Not only has Murphy's family embarked on a new adventure, but the Land Ho! has found itself an enthusiastic new owner.
“We found someone who's a perfect fit for the property,” Murphy said. “Granted it's going to be a new tradition and a new place, but they have a similar concept in mind and want to keep much of the staff, if possible.”
That someone is local restaurateur Ben Porter, who also owns Viera in West Harwich. He is joining forces with Matt Kelley and Lou Malzone in creating the new, but still very familiar, Lanyard Bar and Grill.
“I grew up in Harwich and always enjoyed going to that location when it was the 400 Club, and then the Land Ho! as well,” said Porter. “With the Lanyard Bar and Grill we plan to continue with the same concept, same price point, same kind of food.”
Porter said his interest in owning the iconic venue stemmed from his upscale restaurant, Viera, which is seasonal. Porter wanted something that would allow him to engage with the community year-round, and the Land Ho! was an ideal fit.
“For me it's about connecting with the community in more of a year-round atmosphere,” Porter said. “This will give me the opportunity to cook and work in more of a year-round establishment.”
What Porter doesn't plan to do is change much about the establishment. Folks familiar with the interior will appreciate that the scores of signs from area businesses will remain, as will much of the staff.
“I don't want to change it very much because it is such a well-liked establishment,” said Porter. “We're going to try to continue in the spirit of the 400 Club, as the Land Ho! did, with the same fun, lively atmosphere. The staff is such a fundamental aspect of the restaurant. My family and I frequent the Land Ho! and always get good service there. We wanted to continue the tradition with a cohesive transition, which I think will be very important.”
What will change? Not much beyond the name and a few new menu options, as well as a coat of paint.
“We're going to change the name and logo, we're also going to change the menu,” said Porter, who added that the hoped-for opening day for the Lanyard is March 17. “I'm a chef, a cook at heart, so we'll continue with the favorites that are on there now, burgers and sandwiches and entrees in the evening, but I think maybe we'll bring a different approach.”
Porter noted that the overall changes will be those that work well with the well-loved traditions.
“The main point we've been trying to get across is that we want to maintain a cohesiveness in the transition,” he said. “Light changes to the menu, new (name) signs, and keep rolling.”
All of this comes as a comfort to Murphy, who is in the process of relocating with his wife, Kerrin, and four children to Kauai, Hawaii, where the family decided to move after a test run last winter. Murphy said his and Kerrin's first priority was their kids, whom he said have been thrilled with the move.
“We took the kids out of school in Orleans and put them in school in Hanalei,” Murphy said. They had a great time, met a lot of cool and interesting people from all over. It's kind of a melting pot of unique cultures.”
Murphy said initially he considered leaving the restaurant for his father and brother to run, but decided an outright sale would be the better option. Though Murphy was pleased to find an excellent buyer in Porter, he acknowledged that moving on is bittersweet.
“The things that I've always heard about the restaurant is that it was comfortable, a homey kind of place, and I hope part of that is the way we ran it,” he said. “A business like that is like a child. You create something, you nurture it as best you can, and when you move on from a business it's kind of like a kid leaving home. Thinking about walking out of the business for the last time, that's tough. That will be a little bit of a challenge.”
That day is fast approaching as the Land Ho! officially closes on Feb. 18 after eight years and three days and one final sendoff. Murphy said he'll miss the people most.
“The staff is a huge part of it, those people that I spent battling with in the winter and summer to get everybody to understand what our concept was there,” he said. “That's ultimately what you miss when you leave, the relationships.”
At the moment, Murphy is working at the St. Regis Resort on the north shore of Kauai, and exploring myriad opportunities, among them collaborating with his wife and delving into adventure fitness.
“I'm focusing on the water activities,” said Murphy, an avid surfer who taught summer camps for years before concerns about sharks brought about their end. “I didn't feel comfortable leaving my kids in the ocean, even close to shore. I stopped doing the surf company last year. When parents come up and ask your opinion on enrolling your kid in surf school...it got harder and harder to be positive about it. I felt like there could be a slight danger. That's a risk I'm not willing to take anymore.”
Murphy said he's excited about the future for Porter, and for himself.
“Ultimately my dream is obviously to provide for my family,” he said. “Beyond that, forging relationships with people. Seeing where life takes us. Putting ourselves in a place where we can be the most successful. Owning a restaurant and a local establishment like that has been awesome. I learned a lot about myself and my fears, and I'm just thankful that we were there for eight years.”