What happens when three friends invest in a golf course, sell the golf course, but end up holding the golf course liquor license? They find the liquor license a new home. That challenge faced Mike Attara, John Goeke and Rich Rutzler, when, as the former owners of the Hopewell Valley Golf Club, they sold the establishment to Mercer County in 2020.
While the three looked for the right location in and around Hopewell, Attara said, “we saw the QuickChek had closed, and we started thinking.”
They liked the location and the layout of the defunct business. With two entrances, one on Route 31 and one from Route 654, people could run in-and-out to grab a nosh. They wanted to maintain that accessibility for patrons.
“People were passionate about the QuickChek because it was a place to stop, gather and get coffee,” Attara said.
But Goeke’s memories of what used to sit on the site, Hiohela Sportland, became a driving force too. “We had a number of conversations about tying the location back to what it used to be,” Attara said. The more they discussed the idea with people in the area, Attara said, “we could see their excitement.”
This past December, the three opened Lakeside Cafe & Liquors. They want customers to think of Lakeside as a location of convenience. It’s part grab-and-go food, part stay eat and chat, part bar for a drink, and part liquor store, all located within 5000 square feet of space.
You like coffee, it’s there; black, flavored Cappuccino, or Nitro/Cold Brew. There’s tea. There’s hot chocolate. The cafe has bottled juices. There’s pork roll on a bagel for those who love to engage in that pork roll versus Taylor ham debate; there’s salmon for those craving omega-3s. You can have a plain bagel with cream cheese, a scone, or muffin. The breads and baked goods come from Baked in Brooklyn, which has a location in New Jersey.
Breakfast is served all day. But other offerings include salads; sandwiches and dressed toast. Toast dressings range from butter and cinnamon to whipped ricotta with marcona almonds and truffle honey, to smoked salmon. If you have children along, they can enjoy a bagel with butter, or an AB&J dressed toast–almond butter and strawberry jam.
Soon to be installed, a pizza oven. Attara said, going forward there will also be deli offerings for dinner–vodka riggies, or dumplings, or other interesting options. People will be able to swoop in and get a prepared main course to take home for dinner.
The bar and liquor store combination is walled off from the main cafe. Patrons enter the alcohol area through one of two sliding barn doors enabling the area to be closed off for events, or to keep the cafe feeling family-friendly. There are IPA offerings on tap; a variety of wines line two walls. There is an array of liquor; there are six-packs in a cooler section.
But what truly makes Lakeside extra special for many is the homage it pays to a Hopewell institution of the past. Rutzler, who owns Future Signs in Hamilton, and Attara grew up in Monroe Township, didn’t know the history of the location, although Attara said he would drive by Sportland as a young professional golfer. But Goeke, who grew up in Ewing, “had memories,” Attara said. Goeke knew the site used to house a well-known and well-loved Hopewell establishment for bowling, swimming, dining and dancing.
A little over 80 years ago, the Hopewell Herald newspaper prepared area residents for the opening of “one of New Jersey’s most modern sportslands . . . to be known as Hiohela Sportland.” The new attraction was called “modern in every respect” and would include “eight of the most modern streamlined bowling alleys.” And while bowling was the main attraction, “space has been arranged for an indoor quoit court as well as shuffleboard, dart boards and Ping-Pong tables.”
For the outdoor sports lovers, Hiohela promised swimming during the summer months and skating in the winter. “A 28-foot lunch counter and soda fountain has been installed,” the story read. Patrons could also dine at tables “along the lakeside,” a Tap Room was in an adjacent building containing “a circular bar 80 feet long.”
Owners William Weart and Otto Schleicher were set to open the new establishment on September 1, 1941, according to the story. The Grand Opening celebration, complete with dinner, hats and noisemakers, happened on October 24, 1941, two months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
According to a Trenton Times story which ran on Christmas Day, 1999, Hiohela is “an Indian name meaning pure water.” Located just beyond the spit of land where Route 31 and Pennington-Hopewell Road split, Hiohela Sportland remained an active entertainment site until 1999, when the owner of the property, Bruce Meier of the Ewing Leasing Company, rented the facility to QuickChek.
And while Sportland offered many activities, bowling was the most popular attraction–just ask the 400 people on the Facebook Page called Hiohela Bowling Alley, Bar, and Swim Club. Colleen Attara, Mike’s wife, connected with group members who have shared stories with her about their days at Hiohela.
“What surprised me is what a family [Sportland] was like back then,” Colleen Attara said in a phone interview. “I don’t know if I understood fully the nostalgia connected with the place” until then. “The group has been wonderful at spreading the word and getting us connected.”
Paul Andres, of Ewing, is one of those people who has been writing and posting photos on the page. His father, Fran, was the last owner of Hiohela. Paul wrote in a Facebook message, “over the past several months I was able to provide the new owners of Lakeside Cafe with some photos that I was able to dig up. Even though it’s coming up on 23 years since we closed, I am still friends with a good amount of our former customers and employees. Everyone at Hiohela, our employees, our regular bowlers and even the casual customer, was one big family that I miss terribly.”
There are old Hiohela advertisements hanging on the walls of Lakeside Cafe and Liquors, as well as old photos. One of the pictures gracing a cafe wall came from the Martinette family. Charles Martinette, was a co-owner, then owner, of Hiohela from 1952-1977. The photo shows Martinette standing at the edge of the pond with his young daughters.
The 1999 Trenton Times story recounted the building of the pond. “Before opening Hiohela Sportland, the original owner, William Weart ‘got a permit and built a dam at Hiohela Creek, creating the lake for swimming and ice skating. [He] covered half the lake bottom with concrete for swimming, and left the other half with a mud bottom for fishing.’”
The concrete lining remains in place. In December, the Hopewell Township Committee adopted a $650,000 bond ordinance to pay for the dredging of the pond. The Department of Environmental Protection has already approved the project permit allowing for the removal of “accumulated sediment.”
The lanes play a starring role again today at the old Hiohela site. “We wanted to honor what this place was,” Colleen Attara said. While making the counter for the bar where people sit, Mike Attara and his partners, Goeke and Rutzler, tracked down old bowling lanes in Pennsylvania, and refinished them for that use.
Hiohela Sportland was so loved that since opening Lakeside, people have come to see what remains. The site is like a Trevi Fountain of Hopewell; except, instead of leaving three coins, visitors share stories and memorabilia. David Wynn and Stacey Olswfski bought, at auction, the old Martinette property on the other side of the pond. Hanging in their garage were old signs from the Hiohela property. People have brought bowling jackets to show the owners. Some have given the owners treasures like an original bowling pin and a boot-shaped glass mug.
“These are people’s childhood memories,” Colleen Attara said. “This was a place where things were simple and comfortable.”
The three partners ended up buying the entire building, which also houses a Sew and Vac store and a physical therapy office. One Saturday morning, a couple sitting at the bar asked John Goeke if Lakeside would be bringing back bowling! “I wish!” Goeke said.
Outdoor seating will be dressed up in late spring. Mike Attara said it was too early to say if Lakeside would do something next to the pond; but he is excited that the township is dredging it. “It’s going to be good for everyone. It will beautify the area and create a better environment for wildlife.”
When asked what has surprised him the most about opening Lakeside Cafe and Liquors, Attara said, “I think the piece of tying [the business] back to Hiohela. We had the concept, and QuickChek left everything that we needed for a cafe. Then, when we talked to people about the [Hiohela idea] and they became excited, we knew we needed to do it.”
Lakeside Cafe and Liquors. 129 North Route 31, Pennington, NJ 08534. Phone: (609) 621-9998. Web: lakesidecl.com. Hours: Monday and Tuesday 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Wednesday through Friday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Bar opens at 10 a.m.