Peter Christian’s owner takes over Country Spirit restaurant in Henniker 

  • From left: Sarah Baas, Nancy Hall, Bruce Hall, police Chief Matt French, Sgt. Michael Martin, Detective Michelle Dandeneau at the presentation of a $4,000 donation to the Henniker Police Association on Thursday in Henniker. NICK STOICO / Monitor staff

  • Bruce Hall prepares to toss a dollar onto the ceiling as his mother, Nancy, and friends Chris Bremer and Sarah Baas look on at the Country Spirit Restaurant in Henniker on Thursday. NICK STOICO / Monitor staff

  • Bruce Hall and Henniker police Chief Matt French shake hands during a check presentation Thursday. NICK STOICO / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/22/2016 1:57:18 AM

Bruce Hall didn’t have to look far as he searched for the next owner of his late brother’s restaurant in Henniker.

The right person happens to live down the street.

“She’s the perfect fit,” Hall said.

Sarah Baas, the owner of Peter Christian’s Tavern in New London and a Henniker resident, will assume ownership of the Country Spirit Restaurant once the sale is complete by the end of August. Until then, she has been meeting with staff and has guided some minor improvements around the restaurant.

Rick Hall, who climbed the ranks from busboy in the 1980s to owner of the Spirit, died of a heart attack in his sleep in March.

“Rick was a good friend,” Baas said. “I’m honored to be the one chosen to carry on his legacy.”

That legacy was celebrated again Thursday night when the restaurant donated $4,000 to the Henniker Police Association. But the money didn’t only come from the restaurant itself.

It’s an old Spirit tradition for customers to throw money on the bar ceiling. A thumbtack and quarter folded into a bill and tossed hard enough at the ceiling will stick. Thousands of dollars have been collected over the years, and periodically money is taken down and donated to various organizations around Henniker.

The check presentation Thursday was part of a going away celebration for one of the town’s police officers, Nick Rinaldi, who will be moving to Arizona. Hall added that the donation came with regard to the recent shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La.

“With everything crazy going on in this world with police officers being targeted, we wanted the police officers in our community to know how much we appreciate them,” he said.

With his mother, Nancy, by his side, Hall handed the oversized check to police Chief Matt French to the applause of about 25 people at the celebration.

“It was overwhelming when Bruce called me about this,” French said. “It will be put to good use.”

For Hall, the donation wasn’t just his idea. He says it’s what his brother would have wanted.

“I am just the conduit to Rick’s charity,” Hall said.

Rick’s death was sudden at the age of 46 and to the surprise of everyone he knew. The coroner’s report revealed he had an enlarged heart, but that was a surprise to no one.

“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” Baas said. “A very fun loving person.”

The Country Spirit has long been a popular hangout spot for Henniker locals, but also a welcoming place for people visiting and passing through to grab a bite and a beer. After Rick’s death, many of the staff and faithful regulars wondered what would come of the restaurant without its beloved leader.

“It was a ship without their captain,” Baas said. “He left a family behind there. . . . It’s been hard on them pushing along while he hasn’t been there. I wanted to be there to help if they needed me.”

Baas, who has operated Peter Christain’s since 2010 and is also involved with the 19th Hole at Beaver Meadow, a bar, had known Rick for about 10 years. Her husband, Chris Bremer, had been a friend of Rick and the restaurant since he was a student at New England College in the early 1990s. Finding someone local to takeover was important to Hall, and it didn’t take a second thought before he asked Baas if she was interested.

“I knew she was interested in buying another restaurant, and I said, ‘You gotta buy this,’ ” Hall said. “I wasn’t going to entertain anything else.”

“I was so honored to be asked by him,” Baas said. “The community will be happy to know it is someone local and not a corporation moving in.”

As if her ties to the restaurant as a friend of Rick wasn’t enough reason to be interested in taking ownership, there’s more. The house Baas and Bremer share used to sit on the land where the Spirit is now. As the story goes, in the 1970s Route 202 was being built through Henniker and the house was loaded on a truck and moved up the street. When the highway didn’t interfere with land, the restaurant was later built.

“Already it’s like I’m home,” Baas said.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter @NickStoico.)

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