At age 75, Laube's not sure what he'll do next, although food service and the restaurant business are in his blood. It wouldn't surprise me to see his skills and local appeal surface nearby. A Rotarian, he also has hosted the Pleasanton Rotary (Downtown) Club since buying the restaurant. Rotary will now squeeze back into Hap's Restaurant starting Thursday, Jan. 15.
Laube became interested in restaurants as a high school teenager in Syracuse, N.Y. when he took a summer job at his uncle's restaurant in Buffalo. For a time, he worked at his uncle's concession stand across the border at a Canadian amusement park, riding the roller coasters between serving diners. He dreamed someday of owning his own restaurant. Later, he earned a degree in hotel restaurant management at Cornell University, following that with a job in the food service business in Minnesota that catered to local schools. Restless with the daily routine, he moved to Greece for two years with the Army and Air Force exchange service that served all of the military PXs and retail operations. He returned in 1964 to work for Saga Food Service, which was headquartered in Menlo Park.
Still not satisfied, Laube went to work for a Lebanese food service management company in London that wanted him to open a U.S. office. They picked San Diego which pleased Bill and Vernie, although he traveled extensively in Europe and to Saudi Arabia, where the company was a major supplier to ARAMCO, the American oil consortium. Always looking for a chance to get back into the restaurant business, Laube heard about the Pleasanton Hotel opportunity from Martinovich, who had purchased the hotel in 1981, and Laube bought out the existing restaurant two years later.
It's been quite a run, with Vernie helping out during the peak holiday periods, and Bill at the restaurant almost every day when it opened at 11 a.m. for lunch and closed after midnight. Sunday brunch has always been Laube's busiest and most profitable offering, although, as with other restaurants, the customer base has been declining recently. His business was especially hard-hit when local wineries opened with banquet halls, caterers and an atmosphere that attracted the wedding reception and banquet business that accounted for much of Laube's profits. Not long ago, Laube would host two weddings every Saturday; that hasn't happened for years.
Other special events have been popular. Laube just finished his 13th year of Thursday night meals and dancing to the "blues" on the patio, which appealed to an older clientele who know that kind of music. His "Mystery Dinner Theater," which held its last performance Sunday night, started 15 years ago and has more recently been produced by Jack Gibson from Benicia. Gibson, whose mysteries and other locations can be found at gibsonhouse.com, put on two shows a month, with new shows each month. The production involves audience participation after the meals are finished and a mystery-environment which Laube's Victorian Room provided. Besides being fun and exciting, especially in a hotel known for its ghosts, it was also profitable.
Now it's over, although Martinovich, whose parents once owned the Elegant Farmer in Oakland, might try opening a different type of restaurant at her hotel, one that would be like Elegant Farmer and appeal to a younger crowd. For the Laubes, who have eight children and 15 grandchildren between them, New Year's Day will at least offer some time to enjoy the family after 25 years of nonstop restaurateuring.
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