Remembering The Good Times at The Christopher Ryder House

Few Cape Cod restaurants have the historical bragging rights of having their building’s plans in the Library of Congress.

Then again, the Christopher Ryder House off Route 28 in Chatham is, at this point, all history. The establishment closed in 1983, but is still fondly remembered by many all these years later.

Many Cape Codders remember the property as if it were yesterday: the dining room adorned with hand-carved cornices and mantels, rich with the deep-brown aged woods and antique embellishments from seafaring days.

History of the Christopher Ryder House

Before a Chatham couple opened a restaurant on these grounds in the mid-50s; before tourists flocked to the Cape from Boston and other communities; before there was even a canal separating the Cape from the mainland, the Christopher Ryder House stood as one of the most historic buildings on the Cape.

The house itself was rumored to have been built in 1809 by seafarer Christopher Ryder, whose family name is also found in Ryders Cove.

His ancestor John Ryder purchased the land in the 1700s from another large Cape Cod family, the Nickersons, who themselves had acquired it from Native Americans.

According to Ryder descendants, Christopher carved most of the mantels and cornices while at sea. When he decided to build, he hired carpenters based in Harwich who travelled six miles each day and worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Their earnings totaled one dollar per day – not bad in a time when many struggled to earn seven dollars in a month.

Donald and Louise Kastner inherited the property in the 1950s. Not much is known about those in-between years, since so many files were destroyed at the county’s registry of deeds in the early 1800s.

Legacy of the House

The Kastner family legacy reaches much further than Chatham’s town limits. Internet forums with posts devoted to their restaurant feature memories from folks as far away as Paris, France and Texas; all with their own cherished memories of summers spent working at the House.

The menu was full of classic, hearty Cape Cod surf ‘n’ turf: Lobster Newburg, beef and mushroom casserole, sea scallops in white wine sauce, and tomato canape were all favorites.

Attached to the dining room was an Opera House, one in which regular “Ryder Revues” were hosted and dances and skits were performed.

These community events kept the place open late, too: in the mid- and later years of operation, hours were kept until 1 a.m., with dinner served until 10:30 p.m. There was also a barn full of antiques and gifts which kept earlier hours.

End of an Era

The daughter of Donald and Louise, Wendy, commented on a forum a few years ago. She said it was touching that, even after her parents closed the place in 1983 to move to Vermont, the Christopher Ryder House’s legacy lives on in the memories of all who worked or frequented it.

She did share something more tangible for people to hold on to: a recipe for their famous Clam Dip.

(Lasts one week; 1 oz. per person)
60 lbs. Cream Cheese
1 lb. Chopped Onions
2 bottles Worchester Sauce (5 oz. ea.)
1 qt. Clam Juice
3 cans Chopped Clams
Makes 7-1/2 gallons for 3,500 people.
Crackers: 1 case per day.

What memories do you have of the Christopher Ryder House?

By Staff


  1. Gary Clanahan says

    In 1973 we stayed in Chatham at the Chatham Motel for our honeymoon. We made reservations to eat at the Christopher Ryder House one night. We dressed up for the occasion and were so impressed with the house and its surroundings. But it was the food that we will never forget! I never could again taste stuffed shrimp the way it was prepared here. We recently revisited Chatham and the Cape and searched to see the remains of this wonderful place where an unforgettable memory was made.

  2. Bacro Yannick says

    I was at the Christopher Ryder House for summer 1973 as a cook in the kitchen with a full team of young French guys like me. I was 20 years old and those two months represents certainly the best summer I ever had. This restaurant was so wonderful. I should say those restaurants as there was different places with different “atmospheres”. I had the privilege to know the kitchen as my place was there, preparing grilled meats and lobsters and I will never forget the chef ordering plates for guests. By the way, waitresses were great and wonderful too and I felt in love with one of them… I presume it makes my “souvenirs” quite more delicious

  3. Remember it so well. See photo:

  4. I worked in the kitchen’s of Christopher Ryder House for seven weeks in 1968 as a British university student on a working holiday student visa on my three month stay in the USA. I was paid a hundred dollars a week which was good money at the time compared to what I earned the previous year for my summer holiday job where I lived in Croydon , near to London.
    It was a great experience but also reflected a troubled time in America’s history with half a million troops in Vietnam , two major assassinations – Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy as well as the 1968 election with all its implications. The Christopher Ryder House was advertised a one of the 57th biggest restaurants in America. There were plenty of other students earning some money as well as veterans home from Vietnam , a few were into drugs in addition to professional chefs and hospitality staff. On busy Saturdays , we often had to do the washing up for 1,300 plus bookings . We were helped by conveyors putting plates and glasses through the washing machines.
    After finishing at the restaurant , I had a flight to Toronto and then went round the US by Greyhound for a month at a cost of £30 ( my student flight having been for £60 ) and returned to the UK to resume my degree in Modern History and Politics at Liverpool University .

  5. Joe Hughes says

    I worked as a waiter in the restaurant during the summer of 1971 – I was attending Hotel School in Dublin, Ireland and Donald Kastner came to the College and interviewed a great many of us for summer jobs – our accommodation was provided by various families around the town and I was allocated the (then) old antique shop on Main Street (actually, back then it was a junk shop) owned by a very old lady named Mrs Calder. The wonderful thing for us ‘kids’ back then was that we were only required to work evenings so we had the whole day to have fun. Our Supervisors were Mrs Shea (the Head Chef’s wife) and Ms Irene La Fleur – they were both much (much) older ladies and though they tried to be tough disciplinarians they were more like mothers to us. One of my strongest memories is of a cabinet that guests had to pass on their way into one of the 4-5 themed restaurants and in that cabinet was the most stunning, luscious Strawberry Cheesecake – it was made purely for display and each night was disposed of but I can guarantee that as folks passed that cabinet they had already decided what they were having for dessert. We worked in teams of two – usually, a girl to work the table and a boy to get the orders and serve – it was a clever system because you had the brawn and the brain working in close cooperation – it was there that I met and worked with Nancy from Manchester, Conn and we have been friends for almost 50 years (!!) there too I met and became great friends with Nancy’s friend from home, Diane, and we too have remained friends – there are others too Elyse who now lives in NYC. Another memory and something that I have used in business down the years – the food was always excellent however most people had filled up by the time they reached dessert and selling desserts pushed the bill up and it also pushed our tips up (we lived on our tips – our weekly wage was $20 and even in 1971 that was zilch) – but back to service – when the table was clear I would arrive with a fabulous tray full of delicious pastries and as I held the tray in over the table Nancy would say ‘…these are our delicious French Pastries but we also have in our kitchen…’ and she would reel off a list of tempting ice creams and sundaes – not one person ever skipped dessert! There were 4-5 different themed rooms in one restaurant – there was a room with a Colonial theme, one with a stable theme, the Pavillion was a huge green and white striped marquee, there was a whaling ship theme – I am vague on those – and then there was the Ole Opry House where there were two shows each evening provided by 6-7 kids from the Boston Conservatory and they were amazing! So talented!
    During that summer I fell in love with Chatham – a group of about 20 of us would descend on Lighthouse Beach (still had the inner beach and the outer beach then) and we would laze away the day in the sun – most of our American friends (colleagues) had cars and occasionally they would take us on trips out to P Town or some of the other beautiful Cape villages and towns. Before service each evening the restaurant provides us with a staff meal (a good idea because it stopped us pinching food during service) so by the time that we had finished service and cleaned up we were hungry and that’s when we descended on the Chatham Squire for breakfast (after midnight) and they served the best egg and bacon sandwich on the Cape. Then we had to sneak into the ‘antique’ shop without walking Mrs Calder otherwise there would be hell to pay in the morning – and she had about 9-10 of us young guys lodging over the shop – Oh, it was basic – we shared one bathroom and one kitchen but we each had our own bed – but we were just in late teens and early twenties and what the heck!
    At the end of the summer, I did a bit of travelling to NYC to visit family before returning home. I did debate returning the following year but didn’t, instead, I went to San Francisco and worked at the Downtown Hilton in the Chef’s Table Restaurant. I have great memories and a life long love affair with the United States!

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