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Out of the Past: Visiting the Big Tree Lunch stand

WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM — Pictured is the Big Tree Lunch facility as it stood on Lake Shore Road in Athol Springs, in 1930. Photo from the historian’s files.
[phoot1]HAMBURG — Shown here is a combination sandwich/hot dog stand on the site that now houses Hoak’s Lake Shore Restaurant in Athol Springs. The building in the photo was constructed on the lake side of Route 5, by John and Francis Weiss, in approximately 1930.

The Weiss family had previously lived in Buffalo and operated a fruit stand at the former Broadway Market. According to family history, the couple also used the fruit to make liquor, during the Prohibition. Francis was the driving force behind the couple’s various business endeavors. She chose the type and location of the business and then worked hard to maintain the stand.

In 1930, the couple moved from Buffalo to a small cottage on Lake Shore Road in Athol Springs. Three cottages were built on the lake side of the road, between where Hoak’s stands today and the location of the former Foit’s Restaurant. The structures were later replaced by Arps Tavern, which was destroyed in the severe 1968 lake storm.

After living in the cottage for approximately 10 years, the Weiss family purchased the old Victorian home across the road. The house, now with new owners, still stands today, across the street from Hoak’s.

After the move to Athol Springs, the couple built the Big Tree Lunch structure with the profits from the Broadway Market venture and the brief, but profitable, bootleg liquor business.

The lunch stand filled a definite need in the community, catering to ice fishermen in the winter and individuals seeking lake recreation in the summer. At the time, Athol Springs was a small, lakeside community. Saint Francis, where boys studied for the priesthood, was a community landmark.

By the end of the ‘30s, the Weiss couple was actually semi-retired, when the two decided to raze the Big Tree Lunch building and replace the structure with the all-brick Weiss Tavern. That building was actually created for their son, Edward.

When the couple’s son was called into the service, the two operated the tavern. John Weiss would open the business at 8 a.m. every day, serving local steelworkers. He entertained a full bar each morning with a few sing-a-longs and plenty of fishing stories.

In 1949, the Weiss couple sold the Lake Shore Road tavern to Ed and Bert Hoak and moved to the town of Evans, where they purchased the Sturgeon Point Hotel and Marina. They remained in business in Evans until 1977, when they leased their facility to the town.

Hoak’s has been operating for more than 60 years, since Ed and Bert Hoak purchased the tavern and embarked on a success story of their own. In the early years, they were joined in the business by brothers Gus and Tommy.

Today, that lakeside business is operated by Edward Jr., his wife Marlene and their children. From the front, the building looks a lot like it did in 1949, but the Hoaks have made numerous improvements, including a new break wall and patio; interior changes to the bar, dining areas and restrooms; an upstairs banquet facility; improved parking and a side entrance.

This column is written by Hamburg Town Historian Jim Baker.

Call Baker at the Hamburg Town Hall between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays or Thursdays, at 649-6111 ext. 2400. Provide feedback by mailing correspondences to 141 Buffalo St., Hamburg, NY 14075.

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