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People Talk: Winter weather puts Hoak’s on media map

Edward Hoak measures years by storms.

Wind, rain, snow – storms can be bullies when you make your living by a lake. Just ask Hoak, whose father opened the family’s namesake restaurant in 1949, about a year before Hoak was born in the city’s old First Ward.

Over the decades, the Hamburg restaurant has become an institution for locals looking for a homespun meal and a panoramic view.

Hoak took over the restaurant after the death of his father, and to this day he spends considerable time behind the bar keeping an eye on his business while watching the weather. Extreme weather, Hoak said, can turn his parking lot into ground zero, a temporary home for national news crews in search of a story.

On Ground Hog’s Day, Hoak will turn 66. He said he’s looking forward to working part time. That’s when he’ll turn the business over to his son Kevin Hoak and daughter Aileen Hoak Lang. Until then, he’ll count the busy days before summer starting with Super Bowl Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, the first Friday in Lent.

Two recent Hoak’s-related weather stories – last week’s ice-encased car parked in the parking lot and November’s nine-foot lake surge that battered the shoreline – put the restaurant on social media map.

People Talk: Did you think your restaurant would go viral twice in three months because of extreme weather?

Edward Hoak: They’re always out there doing the weather. But it’s not that crazy out there now because, in 2013, the town bought my land and built that clock tower. That made conditions a little better, because they shored it up so the water doesn’t come flying over as much. I didn’t like it at first but it turned out OK for everyone. The clock tower is like a gateway for the Town of Hamburg.

PT: What preventive measures do you take, weatherwise?

EH: We have shutters that we put up, but we rolled the dice on this last storm because we saw the temperature was dropping dramatically – with high winds, which means the windows would freeze and that’s instant protection. It’s like an automatic seal. But the two- or three-hour window when the temperature is 40 and the wind is 60, that’s when we worry.

PT: What winter will you never forget?

EH: The Blizzard of ’77, without question. The storm came out of the blue on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. We had 60 people stay overnight here, at least. We had two apartments upstairs. Some people didn’t go to bed. They just stayed up and drank all night. My mother lived upstairs at the time so she shared her apartment with a few people.

PT: Was that when someone’s money froze to the bar?

EH: No, that was when the window broke – another storm in the early ‘80s – an act of God, according to our insurance company. After my father died, my brother and I put the wall up. It’s 12 to 14 feet tall from the front corner of the restaurant to the a lake tower. It was a lot of yards of concrete, I remember at $42 a yard. Now it’s three times that. Before that, the cellar would flood to the top of the stairs. So anyway, a guy was sitting at the bar with his draft beer and money, but everybody started running when the window broke. We came back the next day, and the beer and his change was frozen to the bar in place. Everything else was broken.

PT: Were you destined to be a restaurateur?

EH: I made a brilliant mistake. I was going to be a teacher. I was a sub and was called in all the time. It was 1972 and I just graduated from Gannon University. And then my father died and I figured I should help out here with my brother and my cousin.

PT: You’re the last man standing?

EH: My brother got out 12 years ago. We bought my cousin Pat out, who bought the Armor Inn. He was supervisor of Hamburg, but now he’s retired and works for me here two days a week. The business will eventually go to two of my kids, Aileen and Kevin.