• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #46: Saunders at Rye Harbor, Rye


Party of Four

In putting this list together I've been a little surprised and not a little sobered to realize how many entries don't exist any more. I can remember my parents and grandparents telling stories when I was younger, and often the tales would be punctuated by asides about defunct or demolished or repurposed establishments. I suppose now, in my forties, I've inherited a share of that mantle. Memories are now often equal parts personal recollections and collective archival preservation, heritage in hazy amber.

Another one of these gone-but-not-forgotten places is Saunders at Rye Harbor. For nine decades some version of eatery resided there along the harbor adjacent to the state park on Ragged Neck Point. For the last thirty-five of those years Doug Zechel and his family operated Saunders. Story time: they had that big flag out front, and with the gusting coastal winds it had to be changed twice a year. Doug had a deal with my dad Albert Pace - Dad would use his bucket truck to swap out the old flag in return for dinner for four. New England barter at its best. I think the arrangement started sometime when I was in junior high, and the four of us - Mom, Dad, Al and I - would enjoy dinner twice a year at Saunders. I would get the prime rib, and there would be lobsters for my father and brother. Yeah, we'd make the most of it. I can remember UNH music professor Paul Verrette playing the piano, watching the boats in the harbor out those big windows, and feeling vaguely classy.

Later on, in high school and beyond, we boys might bring a girlfriend or wife, occasionally just the brothers and their ladies. I don't really remember when the tradition faded away, but at some point we just didn't go any more. The place had begun to erode before its 2010 closing, and my last memory of Saunders goes back to early 2007. I had won a sales contest at Citizens, and the prize included dinner with my boss Peggy Jipson-Cloutier. Sarahand I met Peggy and her husband Reggie at Saunders, and it was a disappointment. I don't think I went back again, but I was still moved to read about its demolition a few years later, and my memories of our many family dinners there are fond ones.

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