Knowles Hospitality History
When Harry and Doris Knowles opened their three-room restaurant on New Year’s Eve, 1956, they never thought that their dream of creating a fine dining establishment would culminate to be what The New York Times would later dub “as close as one can get to perfection”.
Now a sixth generation family of restaurateurs, the Knowles’ family own and operate five distinct properties that have provided guests with the same dedication to service, quality of food and overall hospitality that have allowed their flagship property, The Manor, to grow and maintain its image of class and sophistication for more than five decades.
Harry and Doris Knowles
Harry Knowles has certainly paid his dues in the restaurant business – as busboy, waiter, headwaiter and nearly every other position within the industry.
As a teenager, Harry was a soda jerk and delivered newspapers before landing a job as a busboy at Clifton, NJ’s Robin Hood Inn, where he made the acquaintance of Doris Herdman, a checkroom girl working in her grandmother’s restaurant. When Harry and Doris fell in love and married, both began their earnest restaurant careers at the Robin Hood Inn. Their first son Wade was born while the two lived above the Inn, for which he cites as the genesis for his interest in food.
As a World War II pilot, Harry had flown a P47 Thunderbolt Fighter and was requested – at the end of the war – to fly a colonel who was in charge of POWs to the famed Nuremberg trials for the purpose of his testimony. While there, Harry had an unhampered view of all the criminals on trial.
Once Harry and Doris decided that the restaurant world was to be their destiny, they looked for a place of their own. A three-room building situated on a pig farm and cornfield and situated across from State-protected land was the right place at the right time.
Named The Bow and Arrow Manor in homage to Robin Hood Inn, Harry and Doris were on their way to great success. Shortly after opening, the restaurant became known simply as The Manor and with the name change came a change in the cuisine from family type restaurant/tavern to a more upscale dining experience.
In honor of his family from Cornwall (Harry’s ancestors emigrated from England in the mid 1800s), he decided to name a private dining room called The Clifton-Ward Room.
Harry’s great grandfather developed taffeta, a fabric woven with metal fibers that today are used in the production of most wedding gowns. One of his taffeta creations was presented to Queen Victoria. The fabrication of textiles and such is still very much a tradition with the family. The Manor has a staff dedicated to the creation and maintenance of all linens, upholstered furniture and the like for each of the properties.
Farming has long been an aspect of the Knowles family. The farm that the family ran in Montclair is known to have been the first to sell cauliflower at the Paterson Farmers Market, which still exists today. Later on, gladiolus (a variety of iris) and watercress were added to the farm’s production.
The Manor’s original staff, made up of European cruise ship chefs on leave, planted gardens in the back of the property. To this day, each of the Knowles restaurants has a small herb garden on their grounds.
The Farm at Pleasantdale Château also continues the Knowles’ farming history. A variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit trees as well as very productive apiary on the grounds of the Château provide The Manor and Highlawn Pavilion with the freshest produce possible.
The Edison Connection
Two of Harry’s ancestors (on the Ward side of the Family) went to work for Thomas Edison as a laborer and was responsible for painting and wallpapering the Edison home. His son was a glass blower for Edison and his son’s wife ran a boarding house for workers of Thomas Edison’s factory.
Fast-forward several decades later and the Knowles-Edison connection continues. In December of 2009, Wade Knowles, Harry’s eldest son, was elected Trustee of the Charles Edison Fund – originally founded in Thomas Edison’s son’s name – to continue and support the Edison legacy.
Wade has also been Chairman, Edison Motion Picture Centennial Committee; Trustee, Friends of Edison National Historic Site; and Vice President, Edison Innovation Foundation as well as conceptualizing the Centennial of Thomas Alva Edison’s laboratories and organized fundraisers to support the preservation and expansion of the Edison National Historic Site that reopened to the public on October 10, 2009.
He also enlisted the help of the recording industry for events including commemorative recordings by current artists at the original recording studio in Edison’s laboratory. He then when on to produce a documentary titled “The Wax Sessions,” which was made to showcase the historical significance of the world’s first recording studio.
Another family member, a great uncle, ran a tavern at Tory Corner near the Edison factory (now the Edison Museum). The story handed down is that musicians who played on the wax cylinder recordings would come to the tavern to play as well.