Barbecued Chicken and Ribs! Does It Get Any Better?
Story By Karen Hawthorne
When you graduate with an MBA and work in finance, you might not expect your career path to circle back to dishwasher (and multiple other duties!) at your family’s restaurant. But then again, not many restaurants feel so much like home.
Haugen’s Chicken & Ribs Barbeque in the hamlet of Manchester in Scugog is a landmark destination for cottagers, tourists and locals that is virtually unchanged for more than 50 years. (Think the same vintage chairs from the 1950s and wood paneling on the walls.)
Because you don’t want to mess with a good thing – slow-roasted rotisserie chicken and saucy ribs that you can smell long before you see the big red and yellow sign on the building at Hwy 7 and 12.
“It’s just something special that we have here. There’s a real history with people who came here as kids who are now bringing their kids. People have this connection to the restaurant and so do I,” says Steve Tzountzouris of the family restaurant he now co-owns with his brother John Tzountzouris.
They started working in their parents’ restaurant as kids and then all through high school, in the kitchen spinning chicken and cooking, at the takeout bagging orders, and in the bar area when they were a bit older.
While Steve went on to work in finance, John pursued architecture, and both returned to run the restaurant their parents, Chris and Angela Tzountzouris, bought in 1968 from the Haugen family who had opened it 15 years earlier.
Haugen’s is celebrating its 66th year! Chris and Angela (who still stop in for a homecooked meal), and their partners Tom and Kay Nicolaou, wanted to grow the business. They made expansion efforts and finally tore down the original building in 1976 to put up the larger 8,000 square-foot-building that seats 350. On Wednesday nights, through to August 21 this summer, the acres of manicured parkland out back are packed with classic cars for the Cruise-In show. Vintage Mustangs and bodacious barbecue!
The partners also decided to add barbecued ribs to the menu offerings which has been a finger-licking bestseller ever since. “It was a natural fit,” Steve says. “We have a great recipe for ribs that goes back in our family. Our ribs are so nice and tender, and our sauce is knock-your-socks-off good and tangy.”
Steve says he’s travelled in the U.S. and eaten a lot of barbecue, but has never had better ribs than his own back home. And when Jon Catucci sampled Haugen’s good stuff (including the homemade coconut cream pie) for an episode of the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here, he said the chicken and ribs gives new meaning to the words “ridiculously deliciously awesome.”
The secret to satisfying loyal Customers?
“The No. 1 priority is quality,” Steve says of his commitment to make sure everything is done right. “The chicken is always hot off the spit, so it’s fresh. Most of the time it’s hard to keep up. We keep our machines running from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.”
And there’s something about the old-fashioned family ambiance of the place that Steve compares to the church lobster suppers he’s been to in P.E.I. “It’s all about enjoying the food and seeing people you know,” he says.
It’s also telling that some of the friendly servers have been on staff for decades. Brigid, for one, is in her 43rd year. Steve’s son Connor is a server this summer on break from Queen’s University and his younger son Cameron is just starting out learning the business. His brother’s son, Christopher, is also waiting tables.
That’s reassuring. The Haugen’s tradition will no doubt continue with the next generation.
“A lot has changed in Port Perry, but we’re still the same,” Steve says. “People like what we’re doing.”
One big beautiful lake. Hundreds of adventures.