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Willow Brook Restaurant: Comfort food and ice cream in a Colonial setting

The bend in Route 16 near Mendon’s downtown area has been synonymous with ice cream for more than 100 years, and today Willow Brook Restaurant keeps up that tasty tradition with 37 flavors of ice cream and some incredible special sundaes. With seating outdoors in warm weather and inside the rest of the year, Willow Brook is the place to come when you want an ice cream fix. 

Of course Willow Brook Restaurant today is much more than an ice cream place. It’s named after the original Willow Brook Dairy of 1913, which in turn was named for the actual Willow Brook, which ran through the property. In 1917 Freeman Lowell took over the dairy and his name remained with the property as it grew from a milk route to an actual restaurant. The property and restaurant were purchased by relatives of the Lowells, the Hackenson family, in 1974.

From 1987 to 2004 the restaurant, still called Lowell’s, was managed by the Kotsianas family, who moved Lowell’s to the other end of Mendon after a fire destroyed the building in 2004.

Several years after the fire the current owners, Steve and Sharon Hackenson, decided to revive the restaurant. Steve had a contractor’s background and he beautifully redesigned and built the new restaurant from the foundation up. Its design is that of an inviting Colonial home with tall ceilings, wainscoting and special touches that makes those who enter feel welcome. 

Sharon, who often graces the front desk, feels it’s important for customers to feel at home and have an enjoyable experience. She says, “We have lots of parties and events here. It’s not unusual to see spontaneous small meetings taking place in the afternoon and larger events scheduled throughout the week. We’ve had showers, business meetings, birthday parties, graduations, anniversaries, reunions, bereavement gatherings, rehearsal dinners and even small weddings in our main banquet room.”  

Willow Brook features a main dining room with lots of private booths and some table seating, two function rooms that look very much like elegant dining rooms would have looked in the Victorian era, and an intimate pub with lots of seating and a welcome place to come and watch a game with friends.  Steve is proud of the Nautical Boat Room, which is very private and accommodates up to 32 people.  Since Willow Brook does not charge a fee for the use of the rooms, they are very popular with budget-conscious event planners. “We’ve had some really pretty weddings here,” says Sharon. And since we can do a great buffet for under $20 per person it makes the venue very reasonable.”

On Sunday mornings an ‘All You Can Eat’ Breakfast Buffet is served from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., offering an array of popular breakfast items at an affordable price. The daily Early Bird Specials from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. are very popular with the senior crowd and there’s often enough to take home when you’re done. 

Sharon loves the interaction with guests and knows many of them by name. “People love the ‘comfort foods’ we offer and will come regularly. The number one meal is the Pilgrim Dinner, a complete turkey dinner on a plate. Following closely are the stuffed peppers, clam plates, and all the fried foods. Our kids’ meals are only $6.50 and include free ice cream.”

Willow Brook is a family-run operation with Sharon and Steve keeping an eye on things and filling in as needed while Son Matt Hackenson and daughter Jamie Lee Hackenson are the General Manager and Assistant Manager, running the daily operations. 

Live music and entertainment are on the schedule the first week of every month, and not just the first Friday but the first Wednesday and first Thursday too. Every first Wednesday features tableside Magic Fun for all ages from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Every first Thursday Bluegrass Jam entertains guest, with an opportunity to bring your own instrument and join in. And every first Friday guitarist/vocalist Matt Genese, performs in the main dining room. 

Willow Brook Restaurant is located 16 Hastings St. Mendon; phone 508-473-4420; www.willowbrookrestr.com. They are open every day of the year except Christmas.