The Lapp family closed Good ‘N Plenty Restaurant just before Christmas for their usual winter break.
But for the first time in more than half a century, they won’t be reopening it.
Debuting in 1969 with tourist-friendly meat and potatoes meals, the Smoketown restaurant was among the first to offer heaping portions of traditional Pennsylvania Dutch food for people visiting the area. But after 52 years serving all-you-can-eat, family-style meals to busloads of tourists, the owners of Good ‘N Plenty have had enough.
“At the end of the day, we just said, ‘It’s time,’” said Glen Lapp, whose parents Christ and Arlene “Dolly” Lapp began the restaurant he now owns and operates with his sister, Judy Eisenberger.
Changing customer tastes and the lack of younger family members interested in taking over the restaurant prompted Lapp and his older sister to step away and put Good ‘N Plenty up for sale. Lapp, who is 60 years old, said they see a real opportunity to remake what continues as a traditional Lancaster County restaurant even though they have come to the realization that such an effort is not for them.
“There can be a lot done with the property. We, just at this time, didn’t feel like we had the energy to do it,” he said. ”And with there not being any family coming behind, you begin to think, ‘How long do we try to make it work?’”
Good ‘N Plenty is a nearly 600-seat restaurant that also has a bake shop, gift shop and small playground/petting zoo with goats, sheep, ducks and other farm animals. It sits on a nearly 10-acre tract along Route 896, less than a mile north of Route 30, putting it close to American Music Theatre, The Shops at Rockvale, and other tourist attractions along the busy commercial corridor.
“There’s already a few staples that they’re very well known for. I think there’s a great opportunity in addition to what could be done with the physical space of the business,” said Doug Young, vice president of Summit Advisory, a Lancaster-based investment bank advising Good ‘N Plenty’s owners.
Young, who will handle inquiries from potential buyers, said Good ‘N Plenty is not being offered at a specific price since it includes aspects that could be valued separately, including the Good ‘N Plenty brand, the property, and existing products such as ice cream and baked goods. Proposals will be reviewed and negotiated individually, he said.
“One of the biggest things is knowing the history. That is one of the strongest points about this,” Young said. “People know the name, and not just locally.”
History of a tourist landmark
Christ Lapp had been a farmer and then a car salesman before he helped launch a new restaurant just west of Intercourse. Named for a 1950s Broadway musical depicting the Amish, the Plain & Fancy Farm opened in 1959 as an “authentic” Amish house and barn meant to appeal to tourists.
Offering pass-the-dish dining, Plain & Fancy became popular with visitors who sat at communal tables and ate traditional Lancaster County meat-and-potato dishes as if they were sharing a big family Thanksgiving Day meal. The concept proved successful.
In a further appeal to tourists, Lapp launched Dutchland Tours in 1959, offering bus tours of the Amish countryside to customers he would pick up at the hotels where they were staying. Lapp left Plain & Fancy in 1963 but then in 1969 he and his wife, along with Edwin and Erma Hershey, began Good ‘N Plenty restaurant in a remodeled farmhouse.
Like Plain & Fancy, Good ‘N Plenty featured traditional Pennsylvania Dutch food served family-style. In 1971, the dining room was expanded to its current capacity.
The Lapps became sole owners of Good ‘N Plenty in 1981 when they bought out the Hersheys, who by then were also operating Hershey Farm Restaurant near Strasburg. By that time, the Lapps also had Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market, which they opened in 1976.
As the owner of several tourist businesses, Christ Lapp actively promoted the area to out-of-towners, and was one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Dutch Visitors Bureau, now called Discover Lancaster. He died in February 2019.
In 1995, Glenn Lapp and Judy Eisenberger became owners of Good ‘N Plenty, and continued to operate the business the way their parents had. They still catered to bus groups, remained closed on Sundays, and kept family-style meals.
“It was what we did. Our bus groups liked it. There were a lot of groups that enjoyed coming in and being served instead of standing in a buffet line,” said Lapp. “It was a model that did work.”
While customers could order off a menu in a smaller dining room, the options in the main, 450-seat dining room were unchangeable. Guests were grouped at 12-seat tables where potatoes, vegetables and three meats were served in dishes left at tables and then refilled as needed. Cracker pudding was one of the best known of the dessert options.
“This is what you’re eating, you’re sitting with other people, and this is what you’re paying. There was no variation to that,” Lapp said.
Not changing with the times
Glen Lapp has worked all his life at Good ‘N Plenty, a restaurant that was also a first job for many Lancaster County residents and employed untold Lapp cousins, nephews and other relatives.
“We all grew up here,” he said. “This was home. My mom and dad worked all the time, and me and my wife and sister and her husband worked long hours. Our family would get off the school bus here.”
Under the second generation of Lapp owners, the core business operated in virtually the same way as it had from the beginning, even as Lapp said that was “becoming increasingly difficult.”
Since it can leave nearly full serving dishes of uneaten food, family-style dining often creates a lot of waste since leftovers are generally thrown away. But Good ‘N Plenty stuck with it, even as others updated the way they served the tourists who came looking for an authentic Lancaster County experience.
Plain & Fancy dropped family-style dining in 2017 when it rebranded as Smokehouse BBQ & Brews, and began serving alcohol.
Good ‘N Plenty was the only Lancaster County restaurant still serving family-style meals. It has also never served alcohol, although Lapp says adding a brewery or a distillery at the property might make sense for a new owner.
In addition to not having alcohol and being closed Sundays, Lapp said Good ‘N Plenty’s massive, open dining room and rigid menus are looking more outdated, especially as more restaurants open in the area and even convenience stores can be a place for tourists to get a meal.
The pandemic only made Good ‘N Plenty seem like more of an oddball, since its large dining room designed for strangers to sit together and share food was exactly opposite of what many people wanted.
“COVID took a toll, especially on family style. Immediately, that was gone,” Lapp said, noting that family-style service has since returned, but tables haven’t been shared by multiple groups.
Yet even as he says the challenge of finding employees has become exasperating, Lapp said business improved, and 2021 turned out to be a busy year. “When it broke loose, people wanted to get out again,” he said.
With Sight & Sound Theaters set to premiere a new show, “David,” in March, Lapp said 2022 should be a banner year for whoever might be running Good ‘N Plenty by then. A slate of bus tours scheduled to stop by Good ‘N Plenty this summer are still on the calendar, a sign of confidence in the possibility of a quick sale which also offers some built-in business for a would-be new owner.
As he prepares to let go of the family business, Lapp says he has come to accept the idea that the best future for Good ‘N Plenty would be one that shakes off some of what made it successful in the past.
“You have to be willing to change, and I guess to be fair we weren’t always willing to change,” he said. “It was so successful for so long and what we were doing was so ingrained in us that it was difficult to see. … As it’s gone along now, it becomes apparent it probably should go in a different direction.”