Restaurateur contributes more than food to Emmitsburg

Thursday, Jan. 11, 2007

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Tom Fedor⁄The Gazette
One of Bob Hance’s favorite things to do is spend time with his 5-year-old sons Brian (left) and Bobby. The three are standing at the Carriage House Inn, which Bob co-owns with his father in Emmitsburg.

On a recent Friday morning, tables at the Carriage House Inn were set and ready for a rush of customers. The hardwood floors on both levels of the former feed warehouse were spotless and the soupspoons and salad forks were in their places.

The Emmitsburg restaurant’s co-owner, Bob Hance, is tall and wears a mustache. His shirt bears the restaurant’s logo. Only he and his father – the other owner – and a few of the 70 staff members are in the building on the slow morning.

Hance, along with his father, Jim Hance, annually raises thousands of dollars for charitable causes through the JoAnn Hance Memorial Golf Tournament.

The tournament is named after Bob’s mother, who died 10 years ago. A portrait of her hangs in JoAnn’s Ballroom upstairs.

Bob says his parents had a big hand in guiding him toward supporting charity.

‘‘That’s just the way that we’ve done it,” he said.

Hance is also behind the Emmitsburg ‘‘Christmas spirit night,” a long-running open house at the Carriage House Inn that attracts hundreds of people every year. ‘‘It’s become, now, the town Christmas event,” Hance says.

The Emmitsburg Lions Club, to which both Hances belong, collects donated goods during the event as well.

‘‘His hands are tied into so many things,” said Emmitsburg Mayor Jim Hoover, referring to the golf tournament and the holiday event. ‘‘He’s a great guy.”

Hoover said that Hance’s money-raising efforts for the Lions Club and Up-County Family Center, as well as his efforts to host the Christmas open house, contribute significantly to improving the ‘‘quality of life” in Emmitsburg.

Hance, who grew up in a Catholic family with six brothers and sisters in Rockville, started washing dishes at his father’s restaurant, Gentleman Jim’s, 35 years ago. When his father relocated to Emmitsburg and opened the Carriage House Inn in December1986, Hance came, too, and became the restaurant’s first head chef.

Since then he has organized two popular annual charity events, hired the woman who would become his wife, became co-owner and general manager of the restaurant and developed a successful catering business.

Golfing for the homeless

The JoAnn Hance Memorial Golf Tournament, which raised $9,000 in 2006, got its start under a different name in the 1980s. Back then, it was held to help support his aunt’s homeless shelter in Maine.

Hance’s aunt, Sister Barbara Hance, a nun, came to her brother and nephew to ask for their help to keep the shelter open.

The Sister Barbara Hance Homeless Shelter trains homeless people in life and job skills. Those who make the transition into the real world come back and teach people staying at the shelter what they’ve learned.

Last year’s tournament, held at Carroll Valley Resort in Fairfield, Pa., generated $5,000 for the shelter.

The tournament also generates donations for the Emmitsburg Lions Club and the Up-County Family Center in Frederick County.

Last year’s tournament raised $2,000 for the Emmitsburg Lions Club and $2,000 for the Up-County Family Center.

The center is dedicated to helping teen parents have a better future by offering programs and classes such as GED or flexible evening high school.

Hance also serves as president of the center’s advisory board and has donated money directly to the center, which has gone toward painting the interior and buying a van for providing transportation.

Hance estimates the golf tournament has raised almost $100,000 in the past decade overall, and it’s gotten easier to do every year.

‘‘That first year is the toughest. You’ve got to go beg.”

Although his aunt has since passed away, Hance still visits the shelter and takes pleasure in seeing the donated dollars work for people in need.

‘‘It’s like this big chain reaction of wonderful things, for people down and out,” Hance says. ‘‘That’s what started the whole golf thing up here, was that need.”

Now in his early 40s, Bob is devoting more of his time to his wife, Dana, a former cook, and their 5-year-old twins, Bobby and Brian.

He’s hoping the twins will pick up baseball soon so that he can be their coach. In the meantime, he says he’ll support them in any sport they choose. Except golf.

‘‘I’ll get someone to teach them golf so they don’t golf like their dad, that’s what I’m hoping for. Maybe grandpa,” he said.

His home life and volunteer work haven’t stopped Hance from doting on his restaurant staff.

As a reward for working during December, a ‘‘very hard month” for chefs, servers and caterers, on Monday he took a busload of his employees and their spouses to Atlantic City, N.J., where for three days they stayed at the Tropicana Hotel and dined at The Palm.

‘‘We all get to go out to a restaurant together, which is quite comical. You can imagine the critics you have then,” he says. ‘‘You have chefs, you have [a] dining room manager, you have servers, you have dishwashers at this table: All of a sudden, they’re restaurant critics. To go out and sit as a group of 30 or 40 for dinner and just laugh – it really shows the whole family atmosphere of being employed here. That’s what makes the whole thing work.”

The most difficult of the hard December nights at the Carriage House Inn was on Monday, Dec. 11 — the annual ‘‘Christmas spirit night,” when anyone can come to the restaurant for free goodies and catch a carol or two. The event features a live Nativity scene.

Hance estimates 800 people came this year.

‘‘It’s such a Norman Rockwell Christmas. It’s not to do with commercialism at all. Nothing to do with shopping, money,” he said.