When brothers Van and Michael Haidas wanted to open a high-end fast-food restaurant in Hyannis, they already had the recipe for success. The January opening of the Knack on Route 132 was the result of lessons learned since they opened the first Knack in Orleans in 2014.
“Part of the reason why we waited so long was because we wanted to really master what we were doing in Orleans,” said Van. “Opening the first Knack was certainly more of a risk. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know what the concept was. We had to let it tell us.”
The brothers grew up in the restaurant business, wandered away from it and then came back.
Their grandparents opened the Kream and Kone in Dennisport in 1953, and their father and uncle started the local chain of Cooke’s seafood restaurants in the late ’70s.
“We were punching out onion rings at 7 years old.,” said Van, who is 43 and lives in Dennis. “We did whatever we could do to help the family and kind of grew up in the restaurants.”
“They gave us little things to do at first,” said Michael, who is 41and lives in Brewster. “By the time we were 14, we were on the schedule and accountable. We learned a ton from that experience.”
Both brothers ended up in New York City after college. Michael was a corporate lawyer and then a public defender. Van was a trader on the floor of the Stock Exchange for about 10 years.
Then Van decided he wanted to make a life change.
“The Cape kind of called me back,” he said. “I told Michael, ‘I’m thinking about doing this. Would you have any interest?’ We started talking and I moved back in 2012 and started looking for some properties.”
From Provincetown to Woods Hole, six deals fell through before they found the right spot. Van was driving in Orleans with their father and passed a building near the rotary that had once been a Dairy Queen and was turned into a taco stand.
“I said, that’s an interesting spot. It’s tiny but it sits really well on the road, it’s got great visibility, and it could be something,” Van said.
“We just said to ourselves, let’s try to make the kind of restaurant on Cape Cod that we think could succeed in New York City,” said Michael.
“When we found the location, that really dictated what the format would be. Let’s update the roadside clam shack. Let’s do traditional Cape Cod food but everything made from scratch and cooked to order. Let’s make every menu item as good as we can get it and go from there.”
The Knack debuted with a soft opening for a few weeks in the fall of 2014 and had its first full season in 2015. It quickly built a devoted local following for its burgers, onion rings and shakes.
The family had sold the Cooke’s restaurants, but the brothers repurchased the Hyannis location.
“It was right after we had a full season of the Knack in Orleans under our belt,” said Michael. “We operated it for five years. We loved Cooke’s, we grew up there, but it was clear over that time that the Knack was appealing to a wide section of the Cape demographic, whereas Cooke’s had stagnated.”
They decided to gut the 42-year-old building and create a second Knack.
“We had enough data that we knew this should be successful,” said Van. “This is a much larger scale than what we do in Orleans, but the building also gives us what we’re missing in Orleans, which is prep space and storage. We can do prep for both places out of Hyannis. It’s going to help us grow the business.”
The Hyannis renovations were happening while they were trying to keep the first Knack running during the COVID pandemic.
“We always told ourselves we do not want to be the reason people get sick,” said Michael “Orleans is only outdoor seating anyway but in 2020 we didn’t ever open the patio. We just stayed take-out only. Here we are two plus years later and we haven’t had an outbreak of COVID in our restaurant. We’ve been careful the whole time with that.”
The Hyannis Knack, which will be open year-round, will have seasonal outdoor seating and the indoor layout is convertible to meet any changing needs for social distancing.
The brothers have been able to maintain sufficient staffing by paying what they call “a living wage for the Cape.” Unlike many Cape restaurants, they were able to stay open seven days a week in 2021.
“From the beginning, Van and I have tried to take care of our employees before taking care of ourselves,” said Michael. “When we get good people, they tend to like working here. The relationship is good for both of us. We know how hard the work is because we do it all the time.”
Fluctuating and rising costs present another challenge. “We’ve seen our costs double on probably more than half of the products we bring in,” said Van. “Cooking oil doubled, meat doubled, lobster doubled, flour doubled. We’ve taken our time with price increases, but we’ve had to go up a little bit.”
The storage space at the Hyannis Knack allows them to stock up on supplies when prices dip. They’ve also cut costs by grinding in-house the meat they buy from a local butcher.
Since the first Knack opened, the brothers have donated 10 percent of the sales of shakes and desserts to local charities. That’s amounted to over $100,000 so far.
“It’s important to help the community you’re in. The better the community does, the better you do,” said Van.
The Knack: 5 Route 6A, Orleans, 1120 Route 132, Hyannis. More info at https://theknackcapecod.com or email email@example.com