Like the dairy farm that shares its name, M.L. Shaw’s Country Kitchen and Gifts is about generations.
The popular breakfast and lunch stop opened in 1986 when Warren Shaw and his sister, Ruth – themselves part of the fourth generation of the family that has operated Shaw Farm since 1908 -- decided to branch out into the restaurant business.
M.L. Shaw’s opened in the Village Square Plaza at 14 Loon Hill Road/101 Broadway Road. Warren’s daughter, Lyndie, washed dishes and bused tables when it opened.
Today, Lyndie Shaw and her ex-husband, Jason Zolkos, own and operate the restaurant, which has become a common stop for residents of Dracut and beyond for a hearty breakfast or lunch.
M.L. Shaw’s is Dracut Economic Development’s Business of the Month for September 2023. September happens to be National Breakfast Month
“We serve breakfast all day and lunch starting at 11,” Lyndie said. “We have sandwiches, burgers, salads. We’re well-known for our lobster rolls. And we sell them year-round. Our burgers are also super-popular.”
After working as a kid at the restaurant (as well as putting in some time at Mama’s Italian Restaurant on Lakeview Avenue, like many other Dracut kids before and after her), then earning a Marketing degree at the UMass Lowell, Lyndie was ready to take on a larger role.
“One day my father called me and said, ‘Hey, how’d you like to work for me and open a restaurant in downtown Lowell?’ So I went and did that, and I’ve pretty much been here ever since,” she said.
“We had a good six years there,” she added of the second location in Lowell’s Kearney Square.
But Lyndie soon took over the Dracut shop as well, in 2000.
“Running two restaurants and raising three kids was a little crazy, and we knew the Dracut location was going to be our bread and butter,” she said.
So they closed the Lowell restaurant and expanded the Dracut location.
Then, the retail bug bit her.
“Like I didn’t have enough to do, I bought a gift shop,” she said.
The shop was attached to Brothers Sports Bar & Grille in the same plaza.
“I always loved retail,” Lyndie said. “I grew up working in Shaw Farm’s store, and I was the store manager when the new farm store opened. I’ve just always loved retail, and I had to have a gift shop.”
She eventually closed the shop, moved the merchandise into the restaurant to make it more manageable, and changed the name to M.L. Shaw’s Country Kitchen and Gifts.
“It has a Cracker Barrel feel to it,” she said. “People come in and say they feel like they’re on vacation because they can shop for gifts while they’re here for breakfast or lunch. I try to have a feeling when you come here like everyone knows you, a feeling of warmth and welcoming. It’s a country good feeling.”
Also while you’re dining, you can read the dozens of signs that adorn the walls with homespun words of wisdom, like “Always find time for things that make you smile,” “True love stories never end” and “Home is our happy place.”
The signs are for sale, and Lyndie said they sell like hotcakes.
Like her father, Warren, a former selectman whose vision over the past 50 years has helped Shaw Farm expand into an ice-cream stand, a farm store and, yes, the restaurant business, Lyndie is always looking for ways to improve M.L. Shaw’s. A couple of years ago, she acquired a beer-and-wine license. There’s always a seasonal brew from Navigation Brewing (founded by another Dracut kid, P.J. Mercier) on tap and a half dozen or so varieties of mimosas available.
“It’s really added another option for people,” she said. “I’ve always been about breakfast -- eggs and pancakes -- and ice cream, all my life, and all of a sudden I have to learn about serving alcohol. But I have some people on staff who helped me with it, and it’s been a really nice addition.”
Those who know Lyndie know that running a restaurant and gift shop seven days a week isn’t enough to occupy her time. She also serves on the executive board of the Joseph Middlemiss Foundation, and has taken on co-chair duties for the Dracut Old Home Day, which is September 9 this year. She and Dan Croce are the go-to people for the annual event.
“Ken and Sandy Cunha and Dave Paquin ran it for years and years, perfectly,” Lyndie said. “I helped the Cunhas for a couple of years with social media and other things, and they asked me if I’d take over when they retired.”
Lyndie sees her work with Old Home Day happen as her legacy to Dracut.
“It’s my gift to the town,” she said. “I’m not going to run for political office, like my father did. But I can help run this awesome event and meet a lot of friends, and that can be my gift to the town.”
Well, that and operating one of the most beloved breakfast and lunch spots, not just in Dracut but across the Merrimack Valley.
And getting back to the idea of Dracut institutions remaining in the same family for generations, while Shaw Farm is on its fifth generation, M.L. Shaw’s is second-generation -- but the third is waiting in the wings -- and on tables.
Lyndie and Jason’s youngest child, Loran, 19 (they also have Matthew, 25, and Madison, 22, as well as a grandson), works alongside her mom several days a week, learning the ropes of how to run a restaurant. Loran is studying Business at Middlesex Community College, and her mother hopes she’ll want to keep M.L. Shaw’s going after she retires.
“Ideally, it would stay in the family,” Lyndie said. “I’m hoping my youngest really likes the restaurant business and fills my shoes when I retire.”
Well, her name is already part of the restaurant’s name. The “M.L.” in M.L. Shaw’s stands for Mark Loran Shaw, the originator of Shaw Farm back in 1908. Since then, there has almost always been a Mark or a Loran, and Lyndie’s youngest is her generation’s.
And while Loran’s college studies may help with some aspects of the business, Lyndie said waiting tables and washing dishes is just as, if not more, valuable.
“Everything I know about the restaurant business, I learned hands-on,” she said.
M.L. Shaw’s is open seven days a week, from 7 a.m.-1:45 p.m. Call 978-454-0800, or visit https://www.mlshaws.com.