To say they have chemistry is putting it lightly.
Herbert E. and Margaret R. Gould have worked side by side for 29 years as the owners of Shuler’s Restaurant — the husband running the kitchen while his wife served diners. On Friday, they’ll do that for the final time, as they have decided to sell the restaurant at 802 Mill St. to Watertown businessmen Jason A. Tanner and Terry R. Williams, who will take over the business on Saturday.
The 80-seat restaurant has been a fixture on the city’s north side since 1936, when it opened as Baker’s Barbecue. Before that a gas station operated there.
Though the new owners might make minor changes later, the name will stay the same, said Mr. Tanner, who is the branch manager of the KeyBank downtown. Shuler’s will still offer catering, and all 15 employees will keep their jobs, he said. Seafood, prime rib and chicken parmesan will remain staples.
Mr. Tanner, who has owned a Watertown real estate firm with Mr. Williams since 2008, said the business partners decided to buy the restaurant this fall when the Goulds presented the opportunity. “It’s something that both of our families have always talked about and wanted to do,” he said. “Herb and Margaret had built such a great legacy over the last 30 years and reputation, and we kind of hated the thought of it ever closing and wanted to make sure we stepped in and continued their tradition. They’ve built such a great menu, and we plan to continue on with what they have in place. There won’t be any changes right away, but there could be some minor ones later on.”
Mr. Williams, who could not be reached late Tuesday for comment, will oversee daily operations of the restaurant. In September, Mr. Williams retired from the state Department of Transportation after serving for more than 30 years as a safety officer based in Watertown, Mr. Tanner said.
Employees and diners at the restaurant Monday said they’ll miss the Goulds, whom they described as an energetic couple who led by example by doing much of the labor themselves. Joseph W. Simmons, assistant manager at Shuler’s, said he worked alongside Mr. Gould cooking seafood since 1999. He said Mr. Gould took pride in making sure every dish was cooked to perfection — whether it was lobster, scallops, shrimp or haddock.
“He taught me how to cook, and he had a lot of pride in his work,” Mr. Simmons said. “We broil our seafood in lemon wine and use three seasonings.”
The Goulds are natives of the town of Rutland who knew each other as youngsters attending Copenhagen schools. Mr. Gould, 66, said his passion for the restaurant industry began as a high school graduate with his first job as a waiter at the Partridge Berry Inn in Watertown. After serving in the Army from 1968 to 1970 during the Vietnam War, Mr. Gould returned to the north country and married Mrs. Gould in 1972. He worked as the manager of a Ponderosa restaurant in Syracuse until 1977, when the couple bought Land & Sea Restaurant in Black River and operated the upscale seafood establishment for six years.
When the couple bought Shuler’s in 1985 from Charles F. Williamson, they introduced a wide range of seafood to the menu, Mr. Gould said. “We’re different from the chain restaurants because we bread our own seafood,” he said. “Most chains get their seafood pre-breaded, and it’s going to be only 50 percent fish and the rest bread. Ours is 90 percent fish and only 10 percent bread.”
Mrs. Gould, 63, said loyal customers have enabled the north side restaurant to survive in the city, where national franchises have popped up year after year. She said three couples have eaten at the restaurant every Friday for the past 25 years: John P. and Pamela Astafan, William and Judy Curtis, and Ernie Waite and Gina Marie Astafan.
“I know about three-quarters of the customers who come in here every day,” she said. “And if they’re new, I always try to meet them and see if they come back.”
Dining at Shuler’s on Monday night were Brian F. and Andrea L. Hurteau of Theresa and their 10-month-old son, Brody A. The couple said they heard the Goulds were selling the restaurant and decided to visit before it changed hands. The couple said they like the low-key atmosphere.
“I’ve been coming here since I was 12 years old,” Mrs. Hurteau said. “It’s more of a family atmosphere as opposed to a Texas Roadhouse.”
Her husband agreed: “I like that it’s not over by I-81 where the hustle and bustle is,” he said, adding that he enjoys the haddock and prime rib.
Jennifer L. Clark, a waitress, was hired by the Goulds three months ago but has dined here since her youth. “I’ve been eating here my whole live, and my family loves the chicken parmesan here,” the Watertown resident said. “I’ve always tried to get a job here, but it was hard because none of the employees ever left.”
The loyalty of employees and family members of the Goulds was demonstrated in November 2009, when Mr. Gould was hospitalized for about a month after suffering a heart attack while hunting. He was in a coma for 12 days, Mrs. Gould said, becoming teary-eyed as she recalled how people volunteered to work at the restaurant.
“Former employees and family members came in to work,” she said. “I didn’t even have to ask — they just showed up.”
The restaurant was known as Howard’s until it was bought by David L. and Glenna R. Shuler, who operated it from 1968 to 1976. The Shulers sold it to Peter L. Clough and Richard N. DeGon, who operated it until filing for bankruptcy in 1984 and selling it at a foreclosure auction. Mr. Williamson bought the restaurant in January 1985, owning it less than a year before selling it to the Goulds.
The Goulds, both seafood aficionados, plan to dine at Shuler’s often during their retirement. They also plan to visit their grandchildren in California, Florida and Washington.
Although they have decided it’s time to slow down, they said they’ll miss working together at the Mill Street hub.
“We’ve been working six days a week our whole lives, 70 hours a week,” Mr. Gould said. “When you work that long together, you have to have chemistry.”
By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer