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Through Glory Days And A Retail Boom, A Steak House Survives

Tim Hanna is the owner of Ken's Steak House, an institution in Framingham. (Lisa Tobin/WBUR)

Tim Hanna is the owner of Ken's Steak House, an institution in Framingham. (Lisa Tobin/WBUR)

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — In the 1960s, the glory days, this stretch of Route 9 was the Golden Mile. And Tim Hanna has seen it all.

The owner of Ken’s Steak House, a local institution, Tim is also the son of the restaurant’s founder and namesake, Ken Hanna.

As a businessman, Tim’s father had impeccable timing. Ken moved his steak house to Framingham in the 1940s, after Natick went dry. He got the land on Route 9 dirt cheap. Not surprising, considering his nearest neighbor at the time was a pig farm.

Just a few years later, Shopper’s World opened and business went through the roof. Pig farms and gas stations were replaced by tonier establishments, such as the Chateau de Ville, a nightclub that brought in big talent from points further west than Worcester.

“We would draw stars from Hollywood left and right,” Tim recalls. “It wasn’t uncommon to come into Ken’s and have Diana Ross in the Cafe V in the front of the building and Louis Armstrong in the main dining room. And it caused a tremendous influx of additional customers.”

Ted Williams used to hang around here, too. “He used to sit at that table to the right, four tables away from us right now, and my father used to sit with him and kibbitz,” Tim says.

Tim was just a teenager then, but he remembers the waiting lines — “and the cars my father bought me with the money, matter of fact,” he laughs.

In the glory days, Tim says business was booming. Now, he calls it “fair,” at best. Back then, the restaurant might sell as many as 900 to 1,000 steaks on a Saturday day and night. It’s more like 400 or 450 now, he says.

Over time, the Chateaus de Ville — the independently owned businesses — couldn’t keep up with Route 9’s booming retail success. It became too expensive to do business. Ken, and his son Tim, watched as, one by one, their friends and neighbors were forced to close their doors.

Now, Ken’s has become an island in a sea of chain stores.

“When I was a kid, we had neighbors, there were businesses all around us, who were locals or townies, like me, that knew each other,” Tim says. “Now that sea of businesses are all corporate owned and their home offices are someplace else. So I don’t have any neighbors, so to speak, anymore.”

Instead, they have been replaced by a Wal-Mart, a Big Papi’s Grille, a mattress shop and a hotel. Ken’s is alone out here. A survivor. And Tim’s only able to survive, he says, because his father bought that land for so cheap so long ago.

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