On April 5, 2007, a new restaurant opened in a Dracut location loaded with history and, in the 15 years since, has survived a recession, a bankruptcy filing and a pandemic while managing to create its own lore as one of Dracut’s most popular restaurants.
As that historic date approached, owners Harry and Mary Kay Gorman were pondering possible names for their restaurant. Harry, Mary Kay and their son, Owen, were visiting their daughter, Jennifer, and granddaughter, Olivia (who they called Ollie), in Florida, when Jennifer said, “Why don’t you call it Owen and Ollie’s?”
The rest is Dracut culinary history.
Only a year separates Owen from his niece, Olivia, and the two have grown up closer than many siblings, despite living 1,000 miles away from each other, so the Gormans decided Owen and Ollie’s was the perfect name.
Harry describes Owen and Ollie’s as “an American-style menu with a touch of Irish in a renovated mill.”
As for the history of the site, Owen and Ollie’s – or O&O’s, as many refer to it – is situated in Beaver Brook Mill on Mill Street, which dates back to the 1700s and changed hands several times involving surnames that are still household words in Dracut – Hamblett, Wilson, Varnum, Coburn, Collins. In 1844, it became a thread mill, and Dracut can proudly boast of being home to the first spool of thread ever wound in America.
In May 1899, the mill’s name was changed to Beaver Brook Mill, after the body of water that runs alongside it and stretches about 30 miles from the Gulf of Maine to its terminus in the Merrimack River.
Fast-forward more than a century, to the early 2000s, when Harry’s brother, local businessman Frank Gorman, bought the empty mill and completely rehabilitated it. (The property has since been bought by and is operated by Lowell-based TMI Property Management.)
“It was so dilapidated,” Mary Kay says.
Since the mill’s use as a woolen and textile manufacturer came to an end, it housed several businesses, including Beaver Brook Department Store and a rock-climbing gym.
Frank had a plan for the mill, and he wanted a restaurant to anchor the site. Since Mary Kay had a background in restaurants, having worked for The Chateau in Andover and the Ground Round in Chelmsford, Frank approached his brother and sister-in-law.
“He asked me if I wanted to open a restaurant,” said Harry, who runs Gorman Tax Service on Lakeview Avenue in the Navy Yard.
“We were ready to expand our adventures,” Mary Kay adds.
As any good businessman knows is key, the Gormans surrounded themselves with people who are knowledgeable in the restaurant industry, and at the top of that list stands Kim Lessard, Owen and Ollie’s general manager.
“She’s been with us since day one,” Mary Kay says. “We are truly blessed to have her. We always equate our strength to our help, and it starts at the top with Kim.”
Kim and three other O&O’s employees have been with the Gormans since day one.
A lot of Owen and Ollie’s clientele have been with them since day one, too.
“It’s the neighborhood crowd,” Mary Kay says, “but we’re always getting new people, too.”
Unfortunately, not long after day one, the U.S. endured what has become known as “the Great Recession,” which started in December 2007 with the subprime mortgage crisis, and continued into 2009.
“It was a big struggle,” Mary Kay says.
In fact, Owen and Ollie’s filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. It out of that period strong and, as Harry says, “we’ve been going strong ever since.”
That includes the two-year pandemic that appears to be slowly coming to an end.
As Owen and Ollie’s prepared for St. Patrick’s Day 2020 – traditionally the busiest day on the calendar for many restaurants, especially those with an Irish theme – the unthinkable happened.
“They told us the day before that we had to close,” Harry says.
Mary Kay adds, “We had to figure out what to do with 1,200 pounds of corned beef.”
In the same boat as every other small business in the country, Owen and Ollie’s turned to the government’s Paycheck Protection Program to stay afloat.
“Thank goodness for the government PPP loan,” Harry says. “Without it, we would have been forced to close. And we wouldn’t have been the only one.”
But as with the Great Recession, Owen and Ollie’s has come out of the pandemic stronger than ever. The Gormans and their staff plan on celebrating the restaurant’s 15th anniversary by kicking it off with a Dine for Dough to benefit Ukraine on Tuesday, April 5. As with every Dine for Dough the restaurant has hosted for local charities, 15 percent of every check that day will be donated to World Central Kitchen, which provides meals in response to humanitarian, climate and community crises.
Through its Dine for Dough program, Owen and Ollie’s has donated more than $100,000 to nonprofit organizations. (To find out more about the Dine for Dough program, call O&O’s at 978-957-4400 or visit www.owenandollies.com.)
Other 15th-anniversary plans include music on Sunday, April 3, with DJ Steve and Sunday, April 10, with the Paul & Chris Duo. In addition, there will be free raffles both days and diners will receive a commemorative LED flashlight keychain and a 15 percent off gift certificate for their next visit in the month of April.
In addition to Dine for Dough, Owen and Ollie’s has raised money for a local family in need each non-pandemic year with a bike ride in the fall and a cornhole tournament in the spring.
And there’s no end in sight for O&O’s. Though Mary Kay is from the Midwest, Harry was born and raised in Collinsville, still lives there and, as Mary Kay says, there’s no reason to change it up now.
“Harry always says the only way you’ll get him out of Dracut is in a pine box.”
For more information on Owen and Ollie’s, visit www.owenandollies.com or call 978-957-4400.