Hubbell House owner, Don Pappas offers a greeting at the entrance to the dining room. Behind him is a portrait of the many famous guests who have eaten at the Hubbell House. Photo by Andrew DeZiel
By Andrew DeZiel
It started out as a small, humble wooden building along the stagecoach road, where a thirsty traveler could catch a glass of ale on his journey west, and rest his horses for the arduous journey to St. Peter. Two years later, with business taking off, the proprietor of the place, John Hubbell, realized a bigger building was needed, and so on Thanksgiving Day 1856, a new, three story limestone building was dedicated.
Since that beginning, 160 years have since passed and the restaurant has built a reputation as rock solid as the locally quarried limestone of which it was constructed. The old fashioned piazza, where westbound travelers were once entertained with stories of the wild frontier awaiting them, still stands, and casual conversations among satisfied, soon to return customers still take place there.
Over the years, many famous people have walked over the Hubbell House's threshold - Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower, W.W. Mayo, Bishop Whipple, Kent Hrbek, Harmon Killebrew, and Mickey Mantle, to name a few. But most importantly, the Hubbell House has maintained a steady stream of devoted clientele.
"There's a lot of people who've come here a long time. I'll have people tell me they are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and they had their first one here too," said owner Don Pappas, whose family has owned the restaurant since it reopened in 1946.
Five years after it had suffered extensive fire damage, Walter and Esther Stussy bought the Hubbell House for just $500 dollars in back taxes, in order to save it from destruction. While stationed in Texas During World War II, their future son-in-law Paul Pappas had eaten some good seafood, and developed "...a vision that it'd be really nice to sell some seafood back here along with steaks," according to his son Don. "My dad was looking for a place to start this restaurant, so he'd seen this old building and thought it might be kind of a good place to put in a restaurant."
Some were skeptical of Paul's idea of putting a steak and seafood restaurant in an old building in a small town. But Paul Pappas firmly believed in what would become the family motto: "Put a good meal on the plate, charge a fair price, offer a pleasant atmosphere and treat your customers and employees right. If you do, people will come back." And come back they have. Paul was able to open up in June of 1946, and the restaurant quickly became a southern Minnesota institution.
The most popular dish at the Hubbell House is a close call, according to Don. "If I had to pick one, it would be steak, closely followed by shrimp and barbecued ribs" he said. As for sides, he noted that garlic toast, onion rings and salad with the restaurant's famous Hubbell dressing are very well liked.
In 2014, the storied tradition of heading west (or east, for that matter) to the Hubbell House, begun by our forefathers 160 years ago, is continued by many a resident of southeast Minnesota, and many Mayo Clinic patients. In 2012, the Hubbell House was even named Restaurant of the Year by the Minnesota Restaurant Association, a rare accomplishment for a restaurant in outstate Minnesota. The year before that, the place was awarded Best Landmark Restaurant by the Official Best of Minnesota 2011.
In the 1850s, before Minnesota was even a state, the Hubbell House was the undisputed cornerstone of Mantorville - and 160 years later, it remains so.