A Popular Cape Restaurant Decades Ago: Red Coach Grill

Red Coach Grill – This is a menu cover from the Red Coach Grill franchise. Courtesy of the New York Public Library Collection.

In the days before restaurant chains were as common as a foggy Cape Cod spring morning there was the Howard Johnson chain created by Howard Deering Johnson.  The first franchise of his chain would open in Orleans on a tract of land located where Route 28 and Route 6A intersect in 1935.  At its peak during the 1970’s there would be more than 1,000 Howard Johnson locations opened across the United States. 

Only a few years later another restaurant would be established, one which would eventually become linked to Howard Johnson through a buyout.  This restaurant would also become a chain, albeit not quite as well known.  However for those who lived on Cape Cod, particularly in Hyannis from the 1950’s through 1980’s a franchise of this restaurant would become every bit as popular.  Sitting along the Airport Rotary, being seen by thousands of people daily did not hurt certainly.   It was known as Red Coach Grill and although it is long since gone it carved memories into the minds of Cape Codders for three decades.  

A postcard of the Hyannis Red Coach Grill from the 1960’s, courtesy of Sturgis Library.

The Red Coach Grill restaurant chain itself was established in 1936 in Wayland, Massachusetts as a stand alone restaurant. It would be a slightly upscale restaurant known for steak and lobster.  The unique décor consisting of a rustic red roof and a red stagecoach outside would draw eyes to the establishment and lead hungry visitors inside.  In 1937 Howard Deering Johnson would purchase the Red Coach Grill and get to work on creating his second restaurant chain.

The ninth restaurant in the chain would see Red Coach Grill come to Cape Cod.  Taking up residence in the building occupied by a Howard Johnson’s restaurant since 1936 it would open during the Fourth of July Weekend in 1954 and be managed by Arthur Thacher.  Once inside patrons were treated to wall to wall carpeting, pine paneled walls, beamed ceilings, a forty-foot semi-circular bar, and seating for up to 230 people.  Though initially seasonal, like much of Cape Cod during the mid-20th century, Red Coach Grill’s popularity would necessitate it eventually remaining open year-round.  The menu would contain signature items like Jack Larkin’s clam chowder while guests could unwind in the Tally-Ho cocktail lounge and sip on a drink of the same name.  The success of Red Coach Grill continued as the 1960’s began with new franchises being opened in New York City and Miami, taking the Massachusetts based chain far outside of its territory. 

The chain went from having ten establishments in 1961, when Howard Johnson Co. went public, to thirty-two in 1975.  During this time Howard Johnson’s had also created a new restaurant chain called Ground Round.  This would be the peak time for Red Coach Grill and the Howard Johnson Co. as a whole, as the 1970’s drew to a close the restaurant empire began to fall.

The summer of 1982 would be the last season for the Hyannis Red Coach Grill.  After Labor Day Weekend it would be closed for several months.  In January 1983 Howard Johnson Co. would transfer ownership to Exeter Equities based out of Boston with an eye toward reopening Red Coach Grill in the spring.  This would not happen.  Instead Red Coach Grill would be bought in May 1983 by Robert and Gloria Quintal who owned Quintal’s Restaurants in Buzzards Bay and Yarmouth Port, the Yarmouth Port location would become Oliver’s shortly after.  The old Red Coach Grill was transformed into The Red Cabin with the menu being similar to the Quintal’s other ventures.

This photo is of the Chili’s which took over the building that used to house Red Coach Grill, courtesy of Rich Kummerlowe, HighwayHost.com

The stability was short-lived at the Airport Rotary location.  Only three years later Red Cabin was sold by the Quintal’s in October 1986, it would become Chili’s.  The new occupant of the building would keep the same basic exterior of Red Coach Grill except for the Chili’s logo and a lack of a red stagecoach.  The interior was drastically changed with the new restaurant spending several hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations before their grand opening in January 1987.  It would remain a fixture until September 2005 when it closed.  The Red Coach Grill franchise would slowly fade away.

In October 2008 after sitting empty for three years the shuttered building would be torn down bringing to a close more than six decades of business in that spot on the rotary.   Ironically the location of the original Red Coach Grill in Wayland is still in operation today albeit with a caveat.  In January 1976 the building burned to the ground however there would be a new establishment built on the grounds in the early-2000’s which would be named Coach Grill, no official relation to the original chain however it does pay a fitting homage.

From Howard Johnson to Red Coach Grill to Red Cabin to Chili’s visitors and locals routinely visited the establishments since 1936.  Today all that is left at the location is a field of grass surrounded by a fence and the countless memories of those who frequented the establishments as they pass by around the Airport Rotary.

By Christopher Setterlund

737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
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