A Recipe for Success
Deborah Albright knows firsthand that there is no time limit on fulfilling your dreams.
This married mother of three worked diligently toward achieving her dream of owning a business, and today, working alongside her sons and her husband, she has achieved that dream by turning the Union Canal House Restaurant in Hershey into a rousing success.
As a child growing up in Emmitsburg, Maryland, Albright (then Lawrence) and her family were not well off, but she does recall that they always enjoyed delicious food prepared with fresh ingredients.
“My mom always put out a garden and prepared our meals with fresh ingredients. My dad loved to fish, crab, and to hunt. My Auntie Doris lived with us, and she was what I called a great ‘cooker,’” Albright said.
Alright had always wanted to own a business, and while taking business classes at Harrisburg Area Community College, working toward fulfilling that plan, she stumbled upon a brochure “about catering,” she said.
“A lightbulb went off and I said, ‘Yes, that’s it … I love food, people, cooking, and, well, the whole idea of the hospitality industry,’” remembers Albright.
Spurred on by the encouragement she received from her instructors, Albright entered the culinary field of study.
“I was voted Culinary Student of the Year, got on the dean’s list, and won several awards for food presentation. I was on my way,” she said.
Her first venture into the culinary industry was the operation of a catering business run out of her home.
“But that about wore me out,” she said.
When her son decided to move back to the area, bringing with him management experience, Albright hatched a plan for them to open a restaurant together.
“I went to five banks with my business plan and was rejected, but the sixth bank believed in my dream.”
It was in July 2014, at the age of 60, that she achieved her goal by becoming the owner of the Union Canal House, which was built in 1751 and has an interesting history.
“It played host to soldiers from the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars,” Albright said. “A tunnel that is still visible in the basement … allowed the troops to move safely from their fort into the pub so they could enjoy fine food and spirits. We give tours and tell our history to our diners when we can.”
Her husband, Bill, is, as she referred to him, “our most accomplished tour guide.”
Albright is particularly proud of the fact that the restaurant is family owned and operated, and the plan is to keep it that way for many years to come. Her son Justin is the head chef, her son Alex is the sous chef, and even her grandson Jarett is getting into the act.
“He will be involved with the restaurant as soon as he is old enough. I teach him whenever I see him, and he’s at the restaurant quite often.”
Owning a restaurant is hard work and involves long hours, but by spending so much time together, she and her staff have developed a very special bond.
“Our staff is like family,” Albright said. But it’s fair to say that many of her customers are like family as well. “We have a lot of regulars that I know their names … my restaurant is an extension of my dining room at home.”
It is important to Albright that her restaurant be a vital part of the community, and she is happy to support local organizations and events in any way she can.
“I do not physically get time to get out to volunteer; however, I do donate gift cards, for example, to a lot of organizations for auctions, and I also personally support our local pet rescue campaign by donating funds to them,” she said.
Was it frightening to take on the ownership of a restaurant as a 60-year-old woman? On the contrary, Albright, who credits her friends, family, neighbors, and even pets for helping her achieve success, said, “My family was there and we, especially myself, were very excited. I have learned anyone can do what they set their mind to do.
“It’s amazing how I got to own my own restaurant, and I reflect on my path to get here … You must first believe in yourself and if you have a dream, follow it—look at me now, 62 and I am working my dream, living my dream.”
The future looks bright for the Union Canal House as Albright has plans to add a deck with a relaxing, casual atmosphere and also to begin a series of cooking classes for children.
With exciting things on her horizon, Albright has no plans to slow down and, in fact, continues to look for ways to keep building on her dream, while paving the way for future generations to be inspired by her story and follow in her path.
As she said, “You must always give back in some way—it will shine back at you every time.” BW