Schenectady County

Schenectady’s Central Park Casino eatery tries with full-time operator

After a year without soda and ice cream, residents are not exactly flocking back to the reopened

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After a year without soda and ice cream, residents are not exactly flocking back to the reopened Central Park restaurant. But business at the “Casino” is slowly growing as word spreads, owner Jason Germain said.

“There are some who don’t realize I’m open yet,” he said.

But his staff says they’ve finally turned the corner, after nearly three months in operation. Children know they can find ice cream in 12 different flavors and park lifeguards rely on the restaurant for their lunch of pizza and quesadillas.

The deck and upstairs conference room have proved popular for children’s birthday parties and baby showers.

But the building still bears the scars of its years of disuse. Previous vendors opened the restaurant for only a few months. Last year the city could not find one responsible bidder, even when the City Council lowered the lease to “basically nothing,” as Council President Gary McCarthy put it.

The Casino was shuttered all year. Even now, after three months of operation, the “o” in the sign has not been replaced. One of the coverings for the light in the front door awning has also fallen off.

A small window that overlooks the front porch is also boarded up.

Those issues multiply when the building is vacant, McCarthy said.

“Buildings deteriorate,” he said. “By having someone in there, we don’t lose money.” And Germain’s presence alone may deter vandalism and other petty crime, McCarthy said.

He’s hoping the Casino flourishes under Germain, who wants to keep the restaurant running year-round. It is his only job and he works there full time, which McCarthy said might be exactly the sort of focus the Casino needs.

“I was optimistic that business model might be the one that works,” he said.

Other vendors had higher costs because they didn’t personally run the restaurant. They had to pay more staff to do it for them.

Germain plans to keep the restaurant open daily until the end of summer. In September or October, he’ll cut back to weekends only. He hopes to have enough business to stay open every weekend throughout the winter, fueling the ice skaters and sledders with hot cocoa and pizza.

“My goals are hopefully to be open 364 days a year, eventually,” he said, adding that he has no plans to leave at the end of the year’s lease. “I’m going to be there quite a while.”

It may take that long to win over the public, now long used to bringing picnic food to the park.

feeding the kids

Several residents interviewed within sight of the Casino said they had no idea it had reopened.

“I never even knew there was a food place here,” said Pam Goberdhan of Schenectady. She brings lunches for her children every time they come to the park.

“I have a lot of kids, so I have to,” she said. “Basically we prepare. We come here for a picnic.”

She added that her children would love to have ice cream — but considering the Casino’s prices, she’d rather spend the money on activities.

“To invest all that money in food? I’d rather go to a movie,” she said.

Alex Strzalkowski, 18, agreed. He’s working for the city at the park this summer, and he’s not going to waste one cent of his hard-earned money on food. He brings his lunch. “It’s much cheaper,” he said, adding that the Casino is too expensive for him.

But others said the convenience of a small restaurant was exactly what they needed.

“If the kids need something to eat or drink, you have to run home,” said Kemraj Seenarain of Schenectady.

He’s pleased that they can now just buy a soda at the park.

Parent Roscoe Foster of Schenectady agreed. “It’s very convenient. I’d get in my car, go somewhere else while the kids are having fun — I love this place. It’s great,” he said. “I’m glad they brought the food back.”

It’s also become a staple for the park’s lifeguards, who staffers said have become regulars at the Casino.

Lifeguard Kenya Finn of Schenectady said the restaurant saves her the bother of having to drive to McDonald’s for lunch.

“It’s convenient, so I can walk up, get something to eat and go back to work,” she said.

She has no intention of bringing her lunch when she could eat a fresh quesadilla instead.

“They’re really good,” she said. “And they have good ice cream.”

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