About Harry Knowles
Founder & Proprietor, Knowles Hospitality
The Manor | Highlawn Pavilion | Pleasantdale Chateau | Ram’s Head Inn
Over his extensive and storied career as a restaurateur, Harry Knowles has adeptly cultivated the growth of an unassuming three-room dining room into a family of restaurants that have drawn critical acclaim, earned innumerable awards, and attracted an international clientele. More importantly, in Mr. Knowles’ eyes, however, is the fact that he is responsible for enabling generations of patrons to enjoy the finest in dining experiences as well as giving New Jerseyans (and beyond) a home to celebrate life’s most memorable events and make them special. While doing so, Mr. Knowles has also created employment opportunities for hundreds, an impressive number of whom who have worked alongside him for 10, 20, or 30 years, and in some cases even more. He has given many their start; some of whom he’s helped to climb the ladder from within and others who have successfully gone on to open their own businesses, cook in their own restaurants, or lead others.
From the original Bow and Arrow Manor, Mr. Knowles spearheaded its transformation to the fine dining establishment that is The Manor of West Orange, NJ. Adding to his top-tier establishments, Mr. Knowles now lists Highlawn Pavilion and Pleasantdale Château, also of West Orange, NJ, as well as Ram’s Head Inn of Galloway, NJ, as culinary destinations he helped make worthy of the world’s most discriminating palettes. The Knowles properties also include the Marriott Residence Inn at The Manor, also in West Orange, which rounds out his varied hospitality-focused endeavors.
But before that auspicious night on New Year’s Eve in 1956 when Mr. Knowles opened the doors of his first restaurant that marked the beginning of what would become his life’s work, there was much that transpired to get him there.
Harry Knowles has certainly paid his dues in the restaurant business – as a busboy, waiter, headwaiter and nearly every other position within the industry. He grew up in Verona, NJ and attended the Lanning Avenue Elementary School. During the tough economic times of the 1930s, his father, also named Harry Knowles, worked as a crane operator and truck mechanic. He worked for Malpar Trucking in Montclair. Because work was slow, his father applied and earned a position with the Montclair Police Department as a mechanic. The family then moved to Montclair where young Harry attended Nishuane Junior High School. His father supplemented the rent by acting as superintendent for their building, which had a coal furnace and required constant maintenance. The young Harry shoveled coal and removed ashes on a daily basis.
There at One Cedar Avenue in an apartment above what was Kiels Drug Store, he first started to set into practice a habit of hard work he would carry with him all his life. Now a teenager, young Harry Knowles began his search for employment. He indeed found work, and in keeping with his style, lots of it. After school he worked at Clem’s Hamburger Shop, Tony’s Vegetable Store, Royal Fruit Market, as well as Richter’s Drug Store. He delivered eggs for the Bill Lorentz Egg Company. At Kiels he sold cigarettes and worked behind the soda fountain. On school days he sold newspapers at the Upper Montclair train station from 7:00 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. With the money earned from the variety of jobs he maintained before and after school, he bought a bicycle. Though with Harry’s entrepreneurial spirit, could you guess that it wasn’t for leisure? He used the bike to become a delivery boy for several stores. He worked as a grocery clerk and delivery boy at the National Grocery Store next to Kiels, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day but Sunday. From 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. he worked at Megaro’s Tailor Shop delivering dry cleaning items.
At 17 he bought his first car, a used 1936 Chevrolet coup for the grand sum of $325 from Lindaly Chevrolet on Grove Street in Montclair. Over the years, the same work ethic shared by his father, Harry Knowles, Sr., paid off as well, as he rose through the ranks of the police department from mechanic to eventually become the Montclair Chief of Police. Young Harry’s father was subsequently selected to attend the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) training school. He was later elected as President of the New Jersey Police Chiefs Association. He was also credited with creating the country’s first emergency medical treatment program and the world’s first driver’s education course. To this day, if you walk to the intersection of Church Street and Bloomfield Avenue and look to the flagpole in the heart of Montclair, you’ll see a plaque honoring Harry Knowles, Sr., who his son credits as the inspiration for his own hard work and ingenuity.
Not to let a day go by, on Sundays young Harry landed a job working as a busboy at the Robin Hood Inn, in Clifton, NJ, where he made the acquaintance of Doris Herdman, a checkroom girl working in her grandmother’s restaurant. It was there that Mr. Knowles’ knack for running restaurants can be traced back, to Doris’ grandmother and mother, who served American fare with a hint of their Belgian heritage, using homegrown produce and food-stuffs from surrounding farms.
But while working at the Robin Hood Inn on a date not-to-be-forgotten, Sunday, December 7, 1941, Mr. Knowles heard on the radio news that would shock the world–the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Within a month his life would change entirely. He decided a visit to the Newark Post Office was in order, where there he filled out an Army Air Force application to enlist in the Aviation Cadets and serve his country.
He was accepted and went to Atlantic City for basic training. From there he went to the University of Vermont as an aviation student where he learned navigation and received flying lessons in a Piper Cub airplane. After successfully completing his introduction to flight, he went on to Nashville, Tennessee for evaluation, where he would be considered for a position as a fighter or bomber pilot, as a navigator or bombardier. Given his aptitude, he was selected as a fighter pilot and was sent to a primary training field in Camden, South Carolina to fly Stearman PT-17s.
The young Knowles’ next stop was for additional training in Augusta, Georgia flying Vultee BT-13s. He then went on for further training at Spence Field in Moultrie, Georgia, flying AT-6s. Upon graduation, he was given the rank of lieutenant and received his “wings” and “bars.” Then off to Tifton, Georgia to fly the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the famed single engine, single seat US Army Air Corps fighter aircraft.
Continuing a ceaseless progression that would later be seen in his work as a restaurateur, he continued on to Eglin Field in Florida for gunnery and dive-bombing training, and then to Richmond Army Air Base in Richmond, Virginia. There he added to his repertoire of aircraft knowledge by flying the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, known at the time as the largest, heaviest, and most expensive fighter aircraft in history to be powered by a single piston engine.
With still more instruction to come, he moved on to aerial gunnery and skip bombing training in Norfolk, Virginia. While on an aerial gunnery mission from Norfolk Air Base over the Atlantic Ocean, his flight was called back to the field due to thunderstorms in the area. By the time Mr. Knowles made it back to base, the storm had intensified. When Mr. Knowles was in the runway approach pattern and cleared to land, he dropped the flaps that are used to reduce the speed at which the aircraft can be safely flown and increase the angle of descent for landing. A malfunction occurred causing only the left flap to come down, the result of which flipped his plane over. He quickly pulled up the flap handle and made a new approach without any flaps to assist in his landing. Without flaps, in storm conditions, with limited visibility, and a slick runway, his approach could not be slowed. His plane ran off the runway, flipped upside-down on its back and slid into a swampy marsh. To avoid catching fire, Mr. Knowles turned off the plane’s ignition. Fortunately, within minutes, a crash crew arrived and cut him out of the plane. An ambulance took him to the hospital, and then quickly released him back to service. The very next day he was on the flight schedule so he didn’t have the time or luxury of dwelling on the accident.
After Norfolk, Mr. Knowles then went back to Richmond Army Air Base for overseas deployment. He left from New York by sea in a massive convoy. Aboard each of the enormous troop ships in the convoy were thousands of soldiers, including Harry Knowles, who shared a cramped bunk below the ship’s waterline with 11 other pilots. Equally discomforting was the possibility that German U-boats (submarines), known to patrol the Atlantic, could at any time attempt to torpedo the ship, despite the protection of the US Navy destroyers continually circling the convoy. Eighteen long days later, Mr. Knowles arrived across the ocean in England. Upon arrival in England, he traveled to Firth Field
in Germany where the only semblance of a landing strip was made of metal mats on an open field.
Mr. Knowles then proceeded on to duties at Straubing Luftwaffe Air Base. While in Straubing, his squadron was assigned to escort President Harry S. Truman, who was being flown in a Douglass C-54 Skymaster, a four-engine transport plane, to meet with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin at the historic Potsdam Conference where the administration of post-war policies would be established.
The eventual victory in Europe however did not mean the end of the war or the end of Mr. Knowles’ obligations. His flight group was still active and awaiting deployment to the Pacific. But during this interval, he was assigned to Third Army Headquarters in Regensberg, Germany. Mr. Knowles was selected to fly a colonel, who was a military lawyer, to what would become the history-making Nuremberg trials, the series of military tribunals held by the Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany. Flying the colonel to and from the tribunals afforded Mr. Knowles access to the trials. While Mr. Knowles was there, he had an unhampered view of all the individuals on trial, including Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s Deputy Führer; Karl Dönitz, leader of the Nazi Navy; Wilhelm Keitel, Supreme Commander of the Nazi Armed Forces; as well as Herman Göring, Commander of the Nazi Air Force. Göring was considered to be the most important surviving official in the Third Reich after Hitler’s death, and one of the main targets of the prosecution; he was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death. Mr. Knowles learned alongside the others involved in the tribunals that before the sentence could be carried out, Göring committed suicide by ingesting cyanide capsules that had been smuggled in.
Upon conclusion of the trials and his service, Mr. Knowles returned to the States on that same troop ship from which he came, but this time it only took a much more welcomed five days to cross the Atlantic.
Though honorably discharged from the military, Mr. Knowles wanted to continue to offer service to his country. Thus, he enlisted in the New Jersey Air Reserves (now the Air National Guard) based closer to home at Newark Airport. When the Reserves moved to McGuire Air Force Base, Mr. Knowles purchased a plane of his own based at the former Totowa-Wayne Airport—a Stinson Voyager, a light pre-war high-wing four-seat monoplane. He flew the Voyager for several years until acquiring a Navion, a single-engine four-seat civilian aircraft designed by the same makers of the famous P-51 Mustang fighter plane. Other aeronautical endeavors after the war included helicopter lessons at Teterboro Airport and training to fly amphibious aircraft, including the Republic Seabee, which he has used to make water landings on flights to destinations such as Martha’s Vineyard.
With his return to the US in 1946, he also envisioned securing a position as a commercial pilot with a large airline. However, the many pilots who had manned the larger multi-engine bombers of the war were soon favored over the pilots of smaller single engine fighter aircraft such as Mr. Knowles.
Thus, Mr. Knowles was steered back to the industry for which some might say he was destined. Back to the Robin Hood Inn. He worked his way up to serve as a waiter, a bartender, and during the evenings, as a banquet manager. And along the way he also worked his way into the boss’ daughter’s heart. When Harry and Doris fell in love and married, they began a restaurant career together in earnest. Their first son Wade was born while the two lived above the Inn.
Though no longer flying fighter planes and not in the airline business, Mr. Knowles’ love of flying kept him from remaining grounded. On occasion, he would still pilot airplanes when the opportunity arose. On one such personal excursion, Mr. Knowles ventured to Cuba, back when it was permitted and relations with the country were on good terms. Little did he know, until he heard gunfire erupt that those relations with the country were soon to change. As fate would have it, Mr. Knowles was in the country when fighting erupted that would later be known as the Cuban Revolution. He couldn’t be certain then that it was an armed revolt lead by Fidel Castro, but he knew for certain that as an American, he needed to escape the country. Quickly rushing to the airport and shots rang out, Mr. Knowles boarded his plane and began taxiing for takeoff. Instructions and threats were sent over the radio from the airport’s control tower, revoking his permission to fly and instructing him not to leave the ground. He had two choices before him—to leave or to stay, both with their own different uncertain and risky consequences. Deciding to trust his instinct and skill as a pilot he preceded down the runway and prepared for takeoff. One thing above all loomed large in his thoughts—He knew that Cuban Air Force flew P-47s, the same deadly fighter craft that he operated to great effect during World War II. The irony was not lost on him—to incur the definite chance of being shot down by his own plane. Nonetheless, takeoff he did, flying a mere 30 feet above the water headed by to American soil. Trying to maintain such a low altitude had its own inherent perils, but on that day, Mr. Knowles training as pilot, calm nerves, and bit of luck ultimately ensured his safe return to land in the United States where he learned from afar the full details of the overthrow of the Cuban government and installation of the revolutionary socialist state. The events of history never seemed far from his experience.
Opting for less perilous endeavors, while working nights at the Robin Hood Inn, he started a jukebox and vending machine company during the day which he named Valley Amusements, building the business from one location to 81. Despite his hard work and early success, he didn’t see much of a future in it.
While servicing the music system at The Moresque Restaurant in West Orange, NJ, he happened to mention to that he was planning to open a restaurant of his own to its owner, Maurice De Berg. The owner’s reply was to ask, “Why don’t you buy this one?”
It was a simple question, but one that would forever change the course of Mr. Knowles’ life. He sold Valley Amusements and bought The Moresque Restaurant.
On one of the busiest nights of the year in the restaurant business, Mr. Knowles reopened the restaurant as his own on New Year’s Eve 1956, renaming it the “Bow & Arrow Manor” in homage to the Robin Hood Inn where his interest in his two great loves, his wife and the restaurant business, began.
He would soon change the concept of his new venture from a supper club to a restaurant. And with his full attention on the restaurant business, he sold his Navion airplane and his flying days, with the exception of an occasional aircraft rental, were over.
After a few years and some initial success, he shortened the name to just “The Manor” and evolved the concept to a more refined dining experience to meet the demands of his customers. Over the next 20-plus years The Manor was in a constant state of growth and change, as Mr. Knowles continued to reinvest the restaurant’s success (and its funds) into improvements in the building and the dining experience. With so much growth, Mr. Knowles was known to say that in the first 30 years it seemed as though he was in the construction business.
One of his early priorities were the utilities. The Moresque kitchen equipment was, quite frankly, old. All cooking was done by oil burners, the water—supplied by wells—was inadequate, as was the electric service. Thus, as it became possible, one upgrade followed the next. He continued making improvements each and every year and bought acres of the surrounding property to add extensive gardens, as well as parking for the newly built ballrooms. Now The Manor grounds would be bordered by the over 400-acre Eagle Rock Reservation to the east, Montclair Golf Course to the north, and overlook the Watchung Mountains on the west
Mr. Knowles and his wife transformed the 100-year-old, stucco-shrouded structure into a restaurant modeled after the great English and French country houses. Over the years they filled it with antique furniture and treasures from the London silver vaults. They continued the family tradition of raising their own produce and sourcing food locally, well before any chefs ever boasted of doing such a thing. They built a staff of resident craftsmen to support and care for the growing operation that included a coppersmith, silversmith, upholster, glazier, and a kitchen staff filled with talented professionals.
While a member of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, Mr. Knowles had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of fellow members and restaurateurs Fred and Ethel Noyes, well-known as the developers of the Smithville Inn and the surrounding town of historic Smithville. When Ethel sadly passed away, Fred no longer wanted to continue operating the Ram’s Head Inn in Galloway (formerly Absecon), NJ, which was one of their restaurant properties. Knowing the care with which Mr. Knowles operated The Manor, Fred offered to sell him the property. While Mr. Knowles was not interested in operating a restaurant so far from The Manor, given the attention he liked to pay to day-to-day operations, he decided to indulge Mr. Noyes. Upon visiting Ram’s Head Inn, the quality of the restaurant along with its authentic Colonial charm and history won him over. In 1978 Mr. Knowles purchased Ram’s Head Inn, and has continued to keep much of what made the venue so appealing alive to this day.
Back in northern New Jersey, over the years, while The Manor continued to evolve and grow in popularity, the building known as the “Casino” within the over 400 acres of land across from The Manor, which was Eagle Rock Reservation, experienced a less fortunate path.
By the early 1980s, the building, owned by Essex County, fell into severe disrepair and had become a safety hazard. The Casino had sadly been abandoned and vandalized over a 34-year period.
When the tremendous cost of renovating the structure was fully considered, and funds to repair or even demolish the structure were not sufficient, the County Board of Freeholders chose to offer the building to an outside entity for possible restoration and creation of a revenue-generating business. When it was determined that the best possibility could be a restaurant, Mr. Knowles stepped forward and took on the challenge at his own expense.
In 1984, Harry Knowles became the first private businessman to partner with Essex County. At the time, he signed a 30-year lease for the opportunity to fully restore and operate the Casino building as a restaurant and private event venue, something for which all his years of hard work on The Manor had prepared him well.
Mr. Knowles now had a massive undertaking before him; transforming a mere shell of a building into what he would come to call “Highlawn Pavilion” after the large grassy area at the top of the park on which it stood—“high lawn.” It was a year-long renovation challenge on a grand scale, that would also enlist the efforts of his two sons, Wade and Kurt Knowles, who had themselves worked their way up through the restaurant business. Even the structural steel supports that kept the building standing were rusted and rotted, creating an engineering nightmare only overcome by meticulous architectural planning and the careful installation of all-new steel supports, before the old, decayed steel could even be removed.
In addition to addressing major structural problems and installing previously non-existent gas, electric and water lines (there had only been one half-inch water line to supply a drinking fountain), Mr. Knowles decided to expand upon the original Florentine styling of the structure. In December 1985, Harry Knowles and his son Wade traveled throughout northern Italy seeking design elements and color schemes to determine the décor.
Appropriate antique furniture, garden pieces and lighting fixtures were found and the central “open kitchen” was designed to reflect some of the oldest restaurants in Milan, Italy.
In historical deference to the era of the Casino’s original construction, Mr. Knowles acquired an immense bronze and crystal and chandelier as a focal point for the two-story-high foyer. He reclaimed the chandelier from the also abandoned Embassy Theater, built in the 1920s on Main Street in Orange, NJ, preserving this artifact of jazz age craftsmanship. However, saving this piece of local history would be no small task. Just to remove the chandelier from the theater, a wall had to be demolished. A large dump truck was set in-place inside the theater below the chandelier, while the fragile crystal behemoth was carefully lowered into the vehicle’s bed by a winch placed in the attic ceiling. One could almost imagine that moving the chandelier through the streets of the neighboring towns to reach its new home was an event in itself. It was only then that the work of raising it in place, while the walls were still open wide enough to fit it through, could begin.
Since completion of the renovation and its successful opening, Highlawn Pavilion has gone on to win numerous awards and recognitions under the Knowles family’s direction, including “Four Stars” from The Star-Ledger, an “Excellent” from The New York Times, “Most Romantic” and “Best Restaurant” from Suburban Essex magazine, and “Best Chef” from Montclair Magazine. New Jersey Monthly readers voted it “Best North Jersey Restaurant for Business Dining” as well as “Best Date Spot.” Highlawn Pavilion is also a recipient of the DiRoNA Award, placing it among the top one percent of restaurants in North America.
Today, Highlawn Pavilion has evolved into a magnificent setting in which to enjoy world-class culinary creations backlit by the extraordinary skyline of Manhattan and Montclair below. The County with which Mr. Knowles originally entered into a partnership has since extended his lease for well into the future.
In 1991, Mr. Knowles was a director of the National Restaurant Association with Richard Marriott, the man whose father built The Marriott hotel empire from its own origins as a humble root beer stand. This meeting would mark the beginning of Mr. Knowles’ next endeavor. His interest in making it convenient for out-of-town guests attending weddings and events at his restaurants to find a place to stay sparked a discussion between the two, leading to a meeting with the Marriott’s franchise manager and a partnership that ultimately culminated in the building of a Marriott Residence Inn on The Manor’s property, between the Montclair Golf Club and The Manor.
Then in 1994, Mr. Knowles acquired the historic Pleasantdale Château estate, the former home of Charles Walter Nichols, a renowned industrial leader and founder of the Allied Signal Corporation. Mr. Knowles, along with his now three-generations of family actively involved in the restaurant business, endeavored to expand upon the grand notion of the Château, updating it with deference to its history, so that the estate could be shared and enjoyed by a discerning public for use as a special occasion venue.
Chief among Mr. Knowles’ and his family’s efforts was the construction of the Grand Ballroom. This spectacular event space is unique in its self-supporting octagonal design and its English-Norman architectural style. Mr. Knowles also invested in several restorations that were made without sacrifice to the essential character of the buildings. Efforts included the addition of over 900 trees throughout the estate and beautification of the surrounding gardens and grounds. Upgrades to the Château’s conference center, meeting rooms and other facilities added to its value as a corporate retreat and destination for business gatherings.
In keeping with the property’s earlier roots as farmland, Mr. Knowles later restored the farm, greenhouse and apiary on the grounds. To this day they provide fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey that the Château, as well as The Manor and Highlawn Pavilion use in preparing fresh meals for their guests. With even The Manor having its own herb garden since early on its development, Mr. Knowles was a proponent of the farm-to-table concept long before the term was in the restaurant lexicon.
Under his direction, his venues have become and remained a sought-after destination for those looking to make their events special. From hosting rare events such as the Miss Universe Pageant to tens of thousands of weddings over the decades, his goal has been the same—to make each event as extraordinary as the next.
Throughout his career as a restaurateur, even while managing all that goes into operating a restaurant, directing the countless business endeavors, and ensuring venue improvements, Mr. Knowles has also been active in many professional societies and associations. Included is his service on the board of directors of the National Restaurant Association and on the founding board of governors of the Master Chefs’ Association. He is also a member of the Chevaliers du Tastevin.
Mr. Knowles was also selected to review and evaluate, over a month’s time, US Air Force foodservice operations throughout the world. His evaluations resulted in the selection of the respected Hennessey Award. While on this assignment, Mr. Knowles met an Air Force colonel who, in deference to his military service, secured clearance for him to fly a T-38 jet at McGuire Air Force Base. This afforded Mr. Knowles the opportunity for a brief return to the cockpit and the chance to pilot a jet-powered aircraft.
As a member of the exclusive DiRōNA (Distinguished Restaurants of North America) Hall of Fame, Mr. Knowles is recognized amongst the top-tier of restaurateurs throughout all of North America. To even be considered for this recognition, one must have contributed at least a quarter-century of dedicated service in the restaurant community and have made significant contributions to the distinguished dining business.
A heralded member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s oldest international gastronomic society, Mr. Knowles has been personally acknowledged by the organization for “Extraordinary Service” and formally recognized for achieving and surpassing the milestone of 50 years of service.
Mr. Knowles is also a recipient of the prestigious Ivy Award, conferred by Restaurants & Institutions magazine—a unique award, in that the winner is nominated by past award winners and voted for by fellow restaurateurs. This award is substantial in that it is a genuine recognition of achievement by those in-the-know, Mr. Knowles’ peers. The Ivy Award is one of the most coveted accolades in the foodservice industry.
Inducted in 1998 as a Fine Dining Hall of Fame Legend, Mr. Knowles has received multiple recognitions for his commitment to quality dining by the Nation’s Restaurant News. The International Geneva Association also named him Restaurateur of the Year. In 2014, Mr. Knowles was bestowed with the New Jersey Restaurant Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his far-reaching career, contributions to the quality of New Jersey’s restaurant and hospitality industry, countless accomplishments, and long-term success.
In 1992 he traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, as a member of the U.S. Culinary Olympic Committee, and in 1984 he was named “Restaurateur of the Year” by the New Jersey Restaurant Association.
Though too humble to personally remark on of any of his personal achievements and industry recognitions, or even speak of himself as part of what others have dubbed “The Greatest Generation,” Mr. Knowles served his country proudly as a World War II fighter pilot, and has carried over that same sense of military precision and ethic of honorable service to the restaurant and hospitality industry.
In his quest to constantly improve upon his accomplishments, Mr. Knowles and his family have spanned the globe, studying the culinary world while simultaneously taking inspiration from the grandest architecture. Evident at each location, one more unique than the next, is Mr. Knowles’ reinvestment of his restaurants’ success in the unending pursuit of excellence.
Even now, The Manor is in the process of undergoing extensive upgrades and updates to continue to be at the forefront of the needs of a new generation of customers. For Mr. Knowles, whether it was as a waiter, a fighter pilot, or the patriarch of restaurant family who can count its customers in the thousands, it is, and has always been, about service, hard work, and giving the best.
“Its splendor is solid and genuine…The Manor clearly excels…Expect a tradition of excellence whether it’s a business luncheon for 2 or 25 or a corporate event for 225.”
— Restaurant Hospitality magazine
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