Saturday, June 25, 2022

Luzerne has lost its restaurants

By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer

The central business district of Lake Luzerne-Hadley is without a dinner restaurant, with Upriver Cafe, The Waterhouse and 9 North Wood Fired Pizza & Pub adjacent to Bend of the River Golf Course all having closed.

It didn’t just curtail dining options; it’s making it harder to find workers.

“Losing UpRiver Cafe killed us,” Linda Merlino, owner of The Lamplight Inn, told The Chronicle. She said two Thai students worked summers at her B&B during the day, lived in an on-site apartment, and could walk around the block to work at UpRiver Cafe at night.

UpRiver Cafe closed 2 years ago and has been converted to a residence.

Not this year. “If we had brought in foreign kids, they would have left,” said Mrs. Merlino, “because they wouldn’t have been able to find a second job in Lake Luzerne at night.”

Mrs. Merlino would love to see “a trolley that [comes] down into Lake Luzerne and brought these kids into Lake George to work the second job.”

She thinks all local businesses would benefit, listing horseback riding, whitewater rafting, Huttopia campground, the rodeo, and Revolution Rail rail biking.

Mrs. Merlino said guests likewise miss UpRiver Cafe — “it was so well thought of.”

UpRiver’s owners, Chef Andrew Van Bourgondien and his wife Betsy Brandt, tried for several years without success to find a buyer for the restaurant. They closed UpRiver in 2020; the building was converted to a residence.

At nearby Waterhouse Restaurant, Dan Waterhouse said, “I’m out, thank God.” He said, “I’m 55. And it’s really a young guy’s game.”

Mr. Waterhouse said he sold the property to an LLC which is seeking to sell it again, packaged with the trailer park next door. He does not expect them to reopen it as a restaurant.

Staffing challenges became too much for him, Mr. Waterhouse said. “When you have to pay minimum wage of 15 bucks and you’ve got to pay a chef $20? Is he going to stay for 20 bucks?”

Waterhouse is closed & not expected to be a restaurant after anticipated sale.

“That’s the real problem…guys that have skill and that your reputation is based on, what do you have to pay them if you’re paying the dishwasher $15 that you have to monitor all the time.

“Between that and the big chains are offering big bonuses to steal away employees… I couldn’t do it myself anymore.”

Mr. Waterhouse said of Lake Luzerne, “It’s hard to make money 12 months a year here. It’s easy to make money three months.”

“I still think it’s a great place to be,” he said. “I think a restaurant would do great right now, because the area is full of those Airbnbs…people are in town spending money, but when you don’t have the help to accommodate, it makes it very difficult.”

Incidentally, last year Mr. Waterhouse ran against long-time incumbent town supervisor Gene Merlino — Linda’s hus band — in a heated race Mr. Merlino won.

Nettle Meadow’s new tasting room/eatery

On an up-note, Nettle Meadow Cheese has reopened the long dormant classic log Hitching Post restaurant, as its cheese-making facility with tasting room, bar and cafe, in Lake Vanare, a few miles up Route 9N from downtown Lake Luzerne.

Nettle Meadow co-owner Sheila Flanagan said, “We’re very lucky because we have the cheese plant as well. So if the restaurant has a terrible week, and the cheese plant has a great wholesale cheese week, then we’re balanced out.”

“If we were just a restaurant, oh my God, I don’t think that we could survive.”

Business is “not bad,” Ms. Flanagan said. “It’s a challenge because of rising prices every week. But we’re doing our best to try to keep things affordable for people.”

Nettle Meadow Cheese has revived the classic log Hitching Post on Route 9N in Lake Vanare, between Lake Luzerne and Lake George. Chronicle file photo/Mark Frost

Nettle Meadow serves a lunch and dinner menu Thursday, Friday and Saturday noon to 8, brunch on Sunday 11 to 4, and, on Wednesday, from noon to 8 p.m. cheese boards and light fare. They offer beer and wine.

Hours could expand over the summer, Ms. Flanagan said.

She said, “It’s a multiplicity of challenges for restaurants in Lake Luzerne. We don’t have a huge winter spring population in the area, and it’s a ways for people to travel from Queensbury, Lake George, Glens Falls, so we don’t get traffic every night from those larger metropolitan areas.

“And then I think COVID was huge. Because (a) people were afraid to eat out for good reason. And (b) it took away so much of our workforce and those people haven’t returned.

“And it is a tremendous, tremendous challenge to pay enough to keep people interested in coming back to work every week and keeping prices in the restaurant low enough to keep people coming back.”

Ms. Flanagan commented, “We’ve been very lucky, we’re almost fully staffed.” She said workers who are happy attract siblings to come work there too.

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