Hammett House: Famous for Chicken
Claremore, Okla., is an old town with roots going back to the early 1800s when the Indians settled in the area.
Hammett House was established in 1969 by James and LaNelle Hammett. Their dedication to down-home, made-from-scratch foods, as well as a nod to healthy eating inspired by Dr. Maxwell Spellman, have made it a perfect day trip eating stop for people living many miles away.
In its founding years, the restaurant established a strong clientele that came from all over Northeast Oklahoma. Those customers eagerly flocked back after a short closure in the late 1980s. Their famous “Pampered-Fried” Chicken, as well as skinny soup, a low-fat but very tasty vegetable soup, created by LaNelle were customer favorites along with towering homemade pies.
The restaurant was purchased by Bill and Linda Biard in 1991, with the Hammett’s son Jim actively working in the restaurant and LaNelle passing on recipes and helping to revive them.
“Our goal was to maintain the atmosphere and foods the Hammett’s made famous while making additions to bring the restaurant up to more modern tastes as well,” Bill said.
After graduating from college, Bill worked at Casa Bonita Mexican restaurant in Tulsa. He later managed other branches of the same restaurant company in Texas. Eventually, a move to Oklahoma and Claremore brought about a new job with Golden Corral Steakhouses. All in all Bill spent 20 years in the corporate segment of the restaurant industry before it became time to venture out on his own.
“I was far from a newcomer to the restaurant industry when we decided to purchase Hammett House, but nothing prepares you for ownership like the actual experience,” he said.
The biggest challenge the new business faced was keeping finances going after they took advantage of the opportunity revitalizing Hammett House offered. The restaurant has a diner-like atmosphere but accented by cloth table napkins and fresh flowers. Bill habitually walks and greets customers, many by name. He picks up dishes if he sees them and makes everyone feel at home.
“This place has fed a lot of people in 40 years, especially considering we are right next door to Will Rogers Museum,” Bill said. “We may have little curb appeal, but we offer a lot of tummy appeal. People can have a bad day, come here and have a good meal and feel a little better. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
Bill’s friendly and positive but perfectionist personality also fosters employee loyalty. The restaurant has a staff of 52, with Jackie having been with Bill for 32 years, coming with him from previous restaurants. Bill also has many second and a few generation employees, including a trio of sisters: Tiffany, who has been with Bill for 11 years and runs the front of the house; Kelsey, who has been with Bill for 10 years and manages the catering side of the business; and Felicia, who has been with Bill for six years and serves as a waitress and does the books at night.
Of course, the best part of the restaurant is the food. Bill is proud of the style and quantity of food combined with affordable pricing. There are daily lunch and evening specials which range from chicken pot pie to old English style fish and chips to a poor boy filet and a cowboy ribeye with wild mushroom and bean ragout. Regular house specialties include turkey and lamb fries, country gravy and homemade dressings including cilantro lime ranch and the house dressing called pink stuff which is a spicy garlic dressing. The restaurant also serves LaNelle’s 14 different kinds of pies, in addition to daily specials such as Italian wedding cake or orange chocolate cake.
One of the challenges in the restaurant industry is keeping up with infrastructure and cooking methods. The kitchen is undergoing yet another remodel to take advantage of the latest innovations.
Bill is a firm believer that the key to success is to give back to the industry you work in and the community you depend upon. For 30 years Bill has been a board member of BancFirst, Claremore and the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. He also is on the advisory board at the School of Hotel and restaurant administration at Oklahoma State University. This year Bill was the Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year. He said, “When I see the names of other people who have received this award, I am both humbled and am honored.”
Claremore is part of what is called Oklahoma’s “Green Country” and is filled with interesting places to visit. Stopping at the Hammett House as part of a pleasant day is an opportunity not to be missed.