First Damn Yankee owner reflects on ‘phenomenal’ early years in 1970s
Last updated Jun 11, 2021

The original owner of the Damn Yankee restaurant in 1972 has reflected on the “phenomenal” early years of the Harrogate institution, as it prepares to reopen with new owners.

It was first opened by Denise Wiand and her American husband, Mike, who worked at Menwith Hill.

Ms Wiand read the Stray Ferret’s article from last month that interviewed the new owners, Thanos Xhanos and Natasha Farmer, and remembered having exactly the same photo taken with her husband almost 50 years earlier.

She said the restaurant was a huge success when it first opened with queues of excited people down Station Parade looking forward to the classic American fare and lively atmosphere that it became famous for.

“We opened the door and everyone flew in. It was a moment for the town.”

Something new

Whereas Harrogate today is spoilt for eating establishments, the 1970’s was a different world.

“It was so different. At that time it was either silver service or downmarket places.

“The Damn Yankee was the first time quality food was served in a fun atmosphere. It was a phenomenal time.”

When Ms Wiand visits Harrogate today she said she is always recognised by people in the street who remember her and the happy times at the restaurant.

An original Damn Yankee business card and Denise and Mike.

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Despite being a fixture on Station Parade for almost 50 years, it almost didn’t happen after a prudish landlord took exception to the name, which they took from a beach towel they owned.

She said:

“When we signed the lease, the landlord didn’t want the name because they thought it was a swear word!”

In the early days, the restaurant’s motto was “the more you give, the more you get back” and they wanted to offer generous portions with some typically American hospitality.

“In Yorkshire at the time you could give someone a cheese sandwich and there’d be a tiny piece of cheese, so everything at the Damn Yankee looked amazing.”

The Damn Yankee drag car that Mike raced during the 1970s

A family affair

Denise and Mike ran the restaurant for five years and she described it as a “real family affair” with characters including their faithful dog Winston who enjoyed sitting at the bar as well as one local lad who would help out preparing the food.

“Meat came from a local butcher. A local boy was a football hooligan and he’d come and stamp the meat by hand. His weekend hobby was causing trouble at Leeds United!”

Denise in the restaurant with Winston and his younger brother Trampus.

After selling the Damn Yankee to American Bob Clark, Denise and Mike went on to open the Warehouse nightclub in Leeds which is still open today.

Ms Wiand wished the new owners Thanos and Natasha luck and gave them a couple of words of advice:

“Just give the customers quality food and fun.”